By Sylvester Msimanga
Lesedi Waldorf Centre is situated in Madietane Village in Ga-Matlala, in Limpopo
It started with 75 children gathered together under a marula tree. In 1994, the late Emily Moabelo – who founded the school on 27 May 1989 – started a more formal primary school, with seven children in Grade 1. In 1999, a boarding hostel was established for one child – and is currently home to 115 learners, helping those parents who are not able to provide daily transport for their children.
Goodwill from Germany and closer to home
A specialist in anthroposophical medicine,1 Ekhard Schumann, from Germany, joined the school in the late 1990s. He opened a clinic on the premises in a bid to help the community, and supported the school by donating half of his regular income to the school. His wife, Ursula, also joined the school, and enriched everyone’s lives through art work and plays. With the tremendous input of the Schumanns came a lot of goodwill, volunteers and also financial support from Germany.
In March 2000, Detlef Konig joined the school as an office administrator, and helped to register the school in 2001 with the Department of Education as a non-profit organisation. The first group of Grade 7 learners graduated in 2000 while the school was still in the process of being registered.
Sylvia Mashala, a former principal at neighbouring Madietane Primary School, supported us by sending her own children to Lesedi to experience the Waldorf education system. Even educators from the surrounding public schools brought their children to be educated at Lesedi Waldorf Centre. The chief of the village, the late Samuel Moabelo, allocated more land to the school for development. Most of our learners come from the local village and neighbouring villages, and some from as far away as Johannesburg because they hear about our unique approach, our quality and our reasonable fees.
At one point the school ran out of funds, as it is solely dependent on fees and parents were struggling to pay them. The teachers went for three months without salaries. In 2007, a fundraiser on our behalf by the Michel Mount Waldorf School in Johannesburg, Gauteng, helped to save our desperate situation.
During another desperate time in 2008, the Oppenheimer Memorial Trust2 helped with a generous donation, and so inspired the teachers to continue. Die Freunde Waldorf International Relief Fund3 and a Swiss organisation named Acacia realised that this rural gem needed some assistance, and the tide began to turn in our favour. With funds, it was finally possible to renovate the overcrowded boarding house, which allowed us to house 33% more children there.
The educators’ dedication meant that they turned up everyday to teach the learners, even when there was no income.A Waldorf teacher from the Netherlands, Dick de Rooij, was employed by the Southern African Federation of Waldorf Schools4 to become the mentor of our school and, with the help of others, he managed to regain our government subsidy, which had been lost.
The celebration of our 21st birthday in July 2010 marked our passage through troubled times, our survival and our success.
The Waldorf way
In 2013, I was appointed principal of the school by the Southern Africa Federation of Waldorf Schools, after having worked at Inkanyezi Waldorf School in Alexandra township in Johannesburg.
We are a unique school, as our education system is based on anthroposophy and philosophy developed by Rudolf Steiner. Our learners do not wear uniforms, as we want them to feel free to express their inner beings. Waldorf schooling is childcentred, interactive and participative; a discovery-based and integrated learning system. The first two hours of every school day constitute the “main lesson” time, in which one learning area or theme provides an intensive focus for a period of three weeks. This means Waldorf educators create a main lesson programme for the year, allocating one or more cycle periods to each learning area of the year’s curriculum.
At the start of every Easter holiday, Waldorf teachers from across South Africa congregate for the annual national teachers’ conference. This conference gives teachers the opportunity to further invigorate their practice as they gather in Johannesburg, Pretoria, Durban or Cape Town for five days to participate in lectures and workshops.
Spreading the word
We bring our new ideas back home and they form part of the weekly meetings held by the school’s teachers, who collectively run the school. In a Waldorf school, everyone is accountable to their colleagues. Being an independent school, we enjoy our right to use our own curriculum – which is different, but in line with the national curriculum. Being the only independent school among a lot of public schools comes with challenges, such as people not understanding our system. However, once they get to know our story and learn about our good academic results, they hold us in high regard, and the name of our school spreads. We have many children of educators, nurses and police officers enrolled at our school.
We participate in educational and sporting activities with neighbouring schools – including cricket, netball, soccer, volleyball and cricket, the national Department of Basic Education Spelling Bee league6 and public speaking.
Lesedi Waldorf values assistance
The school looks forward to acquiring more land and building more classrooms to accommodate more learners. As a developing school, our wish is to have a high school. Our rural location has made it important to us to belong to organisations that can be our mouthpiece with regard to any challenge that we may encounter in future. Thus, our school and our teaching cohort are accountable to the public, the Southern Africa Federation of Waldorf Schools, the Department of Education, the National Alliance of Independent Schools Association (NAISA)7 and, more recently, to our great pride, to ISASA.
1. See, for example: http://www.steinerhealth.org/about/anthroposophicalmedicine/.
2. See, for example: http://www.researchoffice.uct.ac.za/funding/fellowships/omt/.
3. See, for example: http://www.freunde-waldorf.de/en/home/.
4. See: http://www.waldorf.org.za/.
5. See, for example: http://www.waldorfanswers.com/Anthroposophy.htm.
6. See, for example: http://www.education.gov.za/Programmes/SpellingBee.aspx.
7. See, for example: http://www.naisa.co.za/index.php?option=com_ content&view=article&id=78&Itemid=54.
Category: Winter 2016