A niche in decreed happiness. The first Waldorf school in Venezuela

Thomas Wildgruber

“One nation, one heart, a happy homeland. Viva el Socialismo!” With large letters the United Socialist Party of Venezuela PSUV welcomes travellers arriving at Caracas airport. In the luggage hall, Coca Cola says hello on colourful posters: “La felicidad es tu destino.” – It’s your destiny to be happy.” But between the privileges of the political ruling class and the poor kept docile with oil money, it is the middle classes who have difficulty in finding happiness. They try to create some room for manoeuvre for themselves – for example by trying to make a different kind of school education possible for their children.

From 1998 until his death in March 2013 it was Hugo Chávez and his PSUV who brought happiness to the inhabitants. And Socialismo is still Chavismo. At almost every street corner in Caracas I see the slogan “Chaves no murió, se multiplicó.” – “Chávez has not died; he has multiplied.” The party has elevated him to sainthood; thus he is shown together with a picture Christ on the posters all fresh and lively: “Today, tomorrow and forever the liberator of the 21st century.” Thus he is located at the same level as the national hero Simón Bolivar, whose words about education are much quoted: “Nations achieve greatness at the same speed as their education progresses.”

Caracas is a metropolis like many other Latin American cities: chaotically modern, with lack of infrastructure, with daily traffic jams, with trellised houses, but with only few beggars and hawkers at the traffic lights or homeless on the streets at night. The rich publicly display their wealth in this country with their limousines, luxury house and country clubs. They send their children to expensive private schools. The poor live in the “barrios” on the outskirts of the city. There the government gives them subsidised food, cheap electricity and petrol. It is collecting “points”, as the people say, for the next elections. The middle class has to come to terms with shortages, violence and theft, with the bureaucracy that governs private investment and initiatives.

Venezuela’s oil riches conceal the paradox that the capitalist arch enemy, the USA, is the biggest purchaser of its oil and at the same time the biggest supplier of basic foodstuffs in which the climatically blessed country could easily be self-sufficient. The state apparatus has enough money from the oil. Bureaucracy and political arbitrariness stifle any national economic development leading to economic stagnation. The people who have woken up to that are those of the middle class who have the education to be able to see the connections and keep trying to bring about change. They are excluded politically so they build their own cultural niches.

I meet a small group which has been studying Steiner’s texts and anthroposophical literature for some years and wants to take up the agricultural and educational impulse of anthroposophy in their country. The courses we give at the Católica Andrés Bello University are attended by 25 very interested and active participants. A group of ten people, mainly teachers, are now seeking basic training in Waldorf educational methods and looking for teachers in Latin America who support their impulse.

Enrique, the first Waldorf pupil in Venezuela

A private house in the mountains outside the capital Caracas. Carolina, a dentist and mother of two boys, teaches Enrique, her eldest eight-year-old son, at home. She attended courses in Waldorf education in Argentina. Her husband supports her in every respect. Enrique has already been to various schools – always unhappy about the noise and injustices.

Home schooling starts at eight o’clock every morning – with the morning verse in Spanish, with movement exercises, verses, counting exercises, singing and playing the recorder. Enrique is learning writing. Carolina is just in the process of introducing the letters with pictorial stories. Enrique reads and writes slowly. With a long rope he lays out the shapes of the letters on the floor and says, balancing on them, “Luna, Lunes, Lulu …” Then he looks for new words starting with the letter L. At the end of “main lesson” there is a story. Then there are the subject lessons with handwork or painting and the daily work in the garden which Enrique loves so much; almost everything grows there thanks to the tropically warm climate with daily rainfall, particularly the many types of banana. He feeds the ponies and chickens. Then school is finished.

In the holidays, a number of children come to Carolina’s house and the garden to play in a kind of holiday club, do craft work and listen to stories.

To begin with, Carolina was alone in Caracas with her Waldorf initiative for these children. Then she found like-minded people in the anthroposophical study group. She looked for parents and teachers and continues to take the initiative with them in order to make the idea of Waldorf education a reality in her country. The group of teachers which came together after the courses at the Catholic University will study B.C.J. Lievegoed’s Phases of Childhood in Spanish and is waiting for a Spanish-speaking Waldorf teacher who can accompany the start of a first group of pupils in Venezuela.

About the author: Thomas Wildgruber was a class teacher from 1979 to 2011 and an art teacher in classes 1 to 8. He has published the handbook Malen und Zeichnen 1. bis 8. Schuljahr and gives advanced training worldwide in the teaching methodology of art.

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