When Alpha was 7 years old, his parents were killed by marauding rebels. He was then abducted and conscripted as a child soldier. After 3 years in captivity, Alpha was among 3000 children who were released on the intervention humanitarian organisations in 1999. Since other members of his family could not be found, he became a street child. He has since undergone intensive counselling and now seems to be better adjusted, living with a foster family.
The Goderich Waldorf School is a tuition-free charity-run school in Rokel, about 14 miles outside of the capital, Freetown, Sierra Leone. It is the only Waldorf school in West Africa. It serves a population of children orphaned or displaced during Sierra Leone’s ten-year civil war, children who early in life learn to work for their survival, some as street vendors, others as prostitutes or drug dealers. The Goderich Waldorf School offers them not only primary education but a safe haven where they can receive nutritious meals and medical care.
In Sierra Leone where there is immense personal liberty due to weak government and social structures, there is nevertheless, a dearth of personal freedom. This apparent paradox arises from the lack of opportunities for most citizens to receive even a basic education or vocational training. Without these, most individuals never achieve true freedom in the sense that they never receive the kind of training of their intellectual and artistic abilities that could inform their problem solving or opinions. Most remain stuck in a daily effort to feed, clothe and house themselves, an effort that is often unsuccessful or at least inadequate and that slowly drains individuals of their creativity and personal drive. In more practical terms, the lack of education has dire consequences for most of the population: life expectancies in Sierra Leone are around forty years, mostly due to poor access to, or misuse and ignorance of basic sanitation and medical care; fewer than forty percent of the entire population can read a newspaper; unemployment is the norm as are hunger and illness. Such familiar aspects of poverty have the often ignored consequence of eroding the individuality of the poor. A poor person quickly becomes one of the masses of poor. The aim of the Goderich Waldorf School is to counter these negative forces through an artistic, practical and soul-enriching program that nurtures each of its students to become creative, active, ethical and thoughtful human beings.
In this setting, the Goderich Waldorf School took dramatic steps in the 2007-2008 school year aimed at securing the future of its students and of Waldorf education in Sierra Leone. The major step was the purchase with funds from Freunde der Erziehungskunst Rudolf Steiners of seven acres of land east of Freetown for a permanent campus. At the same time, a medical fund was established for students, faculty and staff. With funds from two Waldorf schools in the United States, a school feeding program ran for six months, providing students nutritious lunches of rice, greens and fish five days a week and employing three local women as cooks. Finally, all faculty members underwent a seven-month professional development program in childhood development and curriculum with a visiting American teacher trainer. These latter programs formalized the school’s commitment to the overall well-being of its students and the capacity of its faculty, already manifest in the provision of free primary education the school has offered for several years.
The Leaden Eyed
Let not young souls be smothered out before
They do quaint deeds and fully flaunt their pride.
It is the world’s one crime its babes grow dull,
Its poor are oxlike, limp and leaden-eyed.
Not that they starve, but starve so dreamlessly;
Not that they sow, but that they seldom reap;
Not that they serve, but have no gods to serve;
Not that they die, but that they die like sheep.
- Rachel Lindsay
Waldorf education prepares young people to meet the world with inner confidence, to trust in the value of each human being, and to think and work with initiative in their lives. Following the indications of Austrian scientist and philosopher, Dr Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925), the children are taught in the context of their stages of development, building an understanding for different subjects out of what is beautiful in the world in the broadest sense of the word. In response to the question, “Why Waldorf?” the school’s social worker Abu Mansaray answers, “These traumatized children need more than a straightforward education. We mean to change men’s hearts through the healing power of this creative education.”