Six weeks ago I sadly left Andahuaylillas behind and came to Colombia. It wasn´t so easy to leave, I really loved it, I was at home there, but now I am having a great new adventure, and for sure I will be back.
I came here with the purpose of volunteering in the kindergarten of a Waldorf social project in Bogota. I had email correspondence with the project´s director from Peru, but was waiting until I arrived to confirm the details. Very fortunately for me I have a Colombian friend here with whom I stayed when I arrived and helped me so much with everything.
After two weeks here anticipating the work with the project (and ofcourse enjoying myself as a tourist in a new country), I finally met with the director. I was suprised to learn that the director of a social project had his office in the most expensive, fanciest part of Bogota and even more suprised when I entered the fanciest, most luxurious office I´ve ever been in. The director didn´t seem overly pleased to have a volunteer and asked what I would be able to contribute to the project, as if a visiting teacher working for free wasn´t enough and told me I´d have to pay for my own transport and accomodation, which would work out to be quite expensive for a volunteer, as the project is very low on funds. I was, to say the least, a little disappointed.
I decided to work for atleast a week with the project and in the meantime, look for other options. I thought that I might try something different altogether, find a real job teaching English or some other kind of volunteer work. But when I went to search on the internet, the first thing I typed was Waldorf Colombia. I guess I hadn´t quite given up altogether. I found a website with a few lines written in Spanish and a phone number. Very nervous, as I´m still not comfortable speaking Spanish on the phone, but with a really good feeling, I rang the number and spoke with a very kind man. A few days later we met in the university and walked around im the rain. He has been working with Waldorf education in Colombia for 20 years and told me all about how the movement has developed and about what seemed like every single Waldorf school and initiative in Colombia. I was most interested in one kindergarten and one school. Both he assured me have pure intensions behind them and as all good schools should be, generally inspired to improve humanity though education. And importantly, both in rural, beautiful parts of Colombia.
So I passed the next week volunteering at the first project and at the same time organising a visit to both schools. I actually didn´t have a bad week at the project, I was with a teacher and assistant who had a class of 33 children between 2 and 5 years. I admired them for their positive attitudes and constant smiles, working with what I consider to be impossible circumstances. And they were obviously very grateful to have an extra person.
The whole process of organising the visits to the schools wasn´t so easy for me. I was doing it with very short notice, hoping to go as soon as possible. I was always nervous to write emails and make phone calls to new people in Spanish and anxious waiting for the replies. It didn´t help either when my credit card stopped working two days before I left. The whole process would have been impossible if I wasn´t with such kind, helpful Colombians and if I couldn´t speak Spanish reasonably well enough.
But it was all completely worth it as I found exactly what I was looking for. After flying to Medellin, Colombia´s second biggest city, I took three buses and then walked half an hour up a moutain (Luckily I am now an expert packer and have only a small backpack for over a month), and arrived where I have been staying at the house of the gardening teacher, where he lives with his 17 year old daughter, who also works as an assistant in the kindergarten. Below the house is an incredible view of The Andes with scattered houses and many trees and above is a natural reserve, perfect for bushwalking.
I have done many lovely things here in the beautiful nature, climbed a mountain, swam in a natural lake filled with lotus flowers and another beautiful river, gone horse riding, rode on a speedboat and climbed a famous rock, which compared to Uluru is tiny, but has the most incredible view I may have ever seen. And all the Colombians I´ve met are such good people and really pleased to have foreign visitors. So far I have stayed in five different people´s houses, and always felt very welcome and comfortable, only one of whom I knew before arriving in Colombia.
And the kindergarten is just amazing. I feel so happy and blessed to know that such a wonderful place exists, with so much love, here in rural Colombia.
The kindergarten, El Nido, is new and tiny. It began three years ago, with two teachers, both very enthusiastic and dedicated to Waldorf education. For the first year they each had a small group of children in their own homes. Now three years later the kindergarten has two classes of 15 children each, in the mornings. In the afternoons they run art, craft, music and English (which I enjoy assisting) workshops for local primary school children.
What has struck me as so inspiring about the project is the relationships, positive attitutes and dedication of the staff. At the end of each day we all sit together and discuss the day and once or twice a week stay for a longer meeting and all prepare and share lunch together. Everyone is absolutely equally respected and respectful and willing and enthusiastic to both give opinions and listen to others. In South America the hierachal society is very strong and I believe this is a very rare thing that I am apart of. In the two weeks I have been here, I have not heard a single person complain, even once. I think in any kind of working environment that is something quite amazing. And ofcourse, as always, the relationship between the adults and attitute towards work transfers to the children who are always recieved with absolute love and respect.
I am always curious about how Waldorf schools actually run in developing countries, as since they are not public schools, they recieve no government funding. Money has always been a struggle for El Nido. The purpose is to educate local, rural children whose family cannot afford to pay enough fees to support the kindergarten. They pay about $10 a month and the rest of the money comes from sparatic donations from small institutions and individuals in Colombia.
My first thoughts were that it would be wonderful if I could help raise some money to buy new materials. To replace the old, ugly, very heavy table that´s impossible to clean, that we constantly need to move around the room and cover with a table cloth and then a horrible plastic sheet, to buy proper sized paper so there´s no need to cut each sheet of paper in half with child sized scissors, to replace falling apart paintboards and margarine containers that are used as paint jars and maybe add a few more lovely toys. Or even better, so they are able to supply a nutritious lunch for the children or atleast fruit. But actually they just need donations to continue with the kindergarten as it is.
I have translated some information about El Nido and will be uploading their newsletters periodically in this blog http://elnidowaldorfkindergarten.blogspot.com/
If anyone is interested to support a wonderful little kindergarten, I recommend this one, as they really lack financial support and as I have learnt, the smaller the projet, the further a small amount of money goes.
I will upload photos in a few weeks, when I get back to my computer.