The school in Sofia

Vessela Elenkova

We loved our pre-school teachers and Doctor Todor, the kindergarten’s “Bach Flower Therapist”. We had parents’ evenings every month and eagerly tried to implement what we had learned and the new insights at home. We worked in the garden, prepared cakes for festivals, helped with the maintenance of the premises. In a post-totalitarian Eastern European country, this was very new, and it felt so warm, so friendly, so communal, so ... rewarding.

But the kindergarten time was quickly over, and where should we go with the children afterwards? Everyone knows what an important stage the start of school is and how crucial the figure of the first class teacher is. So we started an initiative to found a school. And we must have been really enthusiastic, because now, looking back ten years, I wonder how we did it. But in writing this, I realise I would do it again if the opportunity arose once more.

We started by meeting regularly and making plans. We had talks with the Ministry of Education. We started looking for a suitable building. A teachers’ group was formed to work on a Waldorf curriculum – which at that time looked very different from the national one. Even a training week was organised with Jan Net from the Netherlands. He had given the first twelve-week introductory course in Waldorf education which gave rise to the first Waldorf kindergarten in Bulgaria and which had once brought us together ...

But shortly before the start of the school year, the initiative split and we were faced with the first major crisis decision: should we start unofficially to enable our children to attend a Waldorf school? Or should we send them to a state institution and concentrate on finding an inspiring teacher? What was the real need of the children? And what served the common good? Should we pursue our own interests, or should we work to strengthen trust in our state institutions by abiding by the law and trying to create a “real Waldorf school”? To this day I don’t know the answer, but the majority chose the second option. Yes, we found a very inspiring teacher, Nelly Andonova, she loved our cause and started to help us.

We began our work. It’s really strange to say it like that today, because our work consisted of meeting once a week and discussing (and sharing dreams) about what we could do, how we could finance our venture and how we could get supporters for our cause – parents and teachers who were willing to get involved. Three Waldorf mothers worked hard to get all the necessary paperwork and the rest – at this point we were just six people – helped as best they could. We didn’t have the money, but we had the energy, the time and the willingness to do something. We were of one mind. And we had the support of the “Golden Corn” kindergarten and the Anthroposophical Society in Bulgaria.

We rented a room in the aforementioned kindergarten and had it prepared so that it met the state requirements for a school facility. We invited Christoph Johannsen from the International Association of Eastern European Initiatives (IAO) to help us organise teaching and administration. With the generous help of the Software AG foundation, we had our miniature one-room school ready for the first school year, which was to start with three pupils, two in class 1 and one in class 2.

Some people left, new people came. Running a school is not as easy as it seems, and all the decisions that had to be made, all the needs that had to be met, constantly tested stamina and resourcefulness. And yet, the few parents still remember the sacred moments they shared in the very beginning, the struggles long forgotten. In 2012, the “Golden Corn” school and kindergarten decided to move into the city together. A massive campaign was organised to attract enough new families to pay the rent in a wonderful house in a quiet residential area near the centre. All the necessary papers were in place (papers are a special keyword in a post-communist state like ours). Everything seemed to be going smoothly ... until the day when the school and the kindergarten got into a big dispute – and could not resolve their conflict. It took years to resolve it, and it was not until 2015 that the two institutions began to work together again.

The school founded its own kindergarten after the break with “Golden Corn”. It was difficult to define roles and responsibilities, difficult to find teachers, difficult to establish rules. Building a school community is a huge effort. There was never enough money, it was not easy. Then, in 2016, a new education law was passed in Bulgaria and the Waldorf school found itself in a new position: it was suddenly seen as a new hope, the bearer of a healthy and effective educational tradition, a valuable contribution to the state education system, a hub for culture and creativity ... Such an ideal is what the team strives for, knowing full well that it is not as simple as one thinks when imagining an ideal. We organised a new course for kindergarten teachers. Then in 2019, the school moved to a bigger building. The number of children grew to 100, art afternoons were set up for children from all schools in the city. As of 2021, the school receives state funding and is now a fully functional institution that still faces difficulties – the difficulties of today, which on the increase.

Despite everything, being part of the worldwide Waldorf family is a special experience.

P.S. The Sofia Waldorf School is still looking for a partner school and is happy about any contact.

About the author: Vessela Elenkova is co-founder of the first Waldorf kindergarten in Sofia and the Sofia Waldorf School; she works in the school administration and as a subject teacher in Bulgarian and English. She is also a freelance literary translator.