Waldorf education in Kenya started in 1989 with the Rudolf Steiner School Mbagathi in Nairobi. In 1992 a group of parents founded the Kileleshwa kindergarten closer to the city centre. Due to their growth they moved with the older children to a place called Karen and founded a primary school which subsequently became the Nairobi Waldorf School. Nowadays the school also has a kindergarten.
The initial Rudolf Steiner School Mbagathi now hosts a kindergarten and classes up to grade 8; and an additional 9th year for the National Examination. The school is an Accredited Examination Centre. All the Kenyan schools have been founded by parents.
Silviah, please introduce yourself!
I have now been a kindergarten teacher for 15 years. Before that I was a hotelier, but I soon realised that this was not my path. When I was about 22 years old my little sister was born and I took care of her. And right after that I wanted to become a teacher, but not within the state curriculum because there was no space to express my ideas and no creativity, so I did the British curriculum training in 2000. My first job was working with an autistic boy within the class setting. When this British boy had to move back to Britain, I travelled with him and his family and there I met Waldorf education.
Why are you a Waldorf teacher?
What I like most about Waldorf education is the possibility to follow the child's development. It is not about letters or math. It is really about the child's development as a human being. What are their needs as a whole, but also as an individual? Who is this child? For that I really don't have a clear answer, but together we can find it out. I meet another human being and though they are little and I am their teacher I have something to learn from them. I must constantly reflect on their development, challenging myself, growing, and then the child follows.
And finally, I treasure the opportunity to interact with the parents as part of the community because together we want to move forward.
What is the particular strength of your culture?
Oh, we have so many strengths, storytelling is one of them. We are still a culture with fables, which is almost lost in other places and is getting lost as well within our cultural space. But real storytelling is something very strong for young children and most teachers can easily take it up because it is part of their culture.
We are also a very resilient people. I mean the world has mostly heard about the violence, disease and the hunger in Africa and the people have to cope with these circumstances. For me our strength is to work through almost everything. We are indeed a creative people. Also, there is very little to play with in terms of finished toys, but you find children playing just with sticks or in the mud, in an amazingly creative way and joyfully, with glee, too.
What is particular about your school?
The Nairobi Waldorf School is very multicultural and in order to work together we have to find the best qualities in every one of us. That is also a very powerful instrument and it motivates us. It is also a seed for the future, where the world becomes more global.
Kenya is a nanny-based community so in Nairobi we do nanny workshops so that together with the parents we form a family around the child.
What kind of “religious” education do you celebrate in your school?
The seasons for example form a certain character; they have a particular rhythm. What is behind those changes? They show what is rhythmical in us, but outside of us there is also something rhythmical. So, in the kindergarten we have a nature table that represents the outer changes, but we are also aware of our inner changes. For example in January, February, March it is usually very hot and dry and that is the time for us to go inward. In this period the economy is weaker for some reason. So, for the season table we would have bare branches, stones or ants which look for food at this time. And then in mid March the heavy rains arrive and in two days everything is green. So then we get nourished and it is the time to celebrate with a rainbow festival with all the colours from this transition period. This is a very rhythmical motif of dryness and wetness, of going in and coming out.
What are the challenges of your school?
We are a very multicultural school and the other side of that is that people are constantly moving. So that causes certain instability, but nowadays we have more Kenyan families that balance this. And one of our main challenges is that for many years now, since 1992 when the Kileleshwa Kindergarten began, we have not found our own permanent building or land. That is where our main focus is now.
The other thing is the growing teacher training which was born out of these schools that needed qualified Waldorf teachers. For 17 years now, two South African trainers, Peter van Alphen and Ann Sharfman for the kindergarten, have come every 3 months and have trained the teachers in East Africa. Now we are also in a transition here, gradually more East Africans become involved in the teacher training, strengthening the teacher training.
Thank you very much for the interview!
East African Teacher Training – see also Rundbrief Spring 2015 Freunde der Erziehungskunst.