Lorna Davids, South Africa

"It is difficult to educate children about honour and truthfulness when their idols are thieves driving around in flashy stolen cars"

Alexandra township is a polluted, crowded and dangerous slum located in the centre of Johannesburg's richest white neighbourhood. This is where Lorna Davids co-founded a Waldorf* primary school in 1990.

The legacy of apartheid - poverty, unemployment and 70 per cent illiteracy - contributes to making Alexandra a breeding ground for child abuse, car hijacking or smuggling drugs and arms. Illegal immigrants from neighbouring African countries also live there without electricity, sewage or running water.

Lorna Davids

Lorna Davis never knows
the exact amount of her salary in advance

The shacks and rubble that surround Lorna's school provide many a learning opportunity. "While teaching nouns and adjectives to my hyperactive 9-year-olds", says Lorna, "they looked out the window and saw a lady relieving herself under the shade of a tree. Suddenly, one of them, Tshepiso, yelled out, 'Lorna! Come and see the big black bum!' I didn't know how to react so I politely continued the lesson based on what they saw: bum was a noun and big and black were adjectives! After that the pupils never forgot what nouns and adjectives were."

In Alexandra, also known for its armed battles between sympathizers of the Inkatha and African National Congress, primary-school children speak up to five languages - Shoto, Tswana, Zulu, Pedi and others - though they cannot write them. For these children, Lorna's school, where teaching takes place in English, is a huge challenge.

"The boys in this township have very few good role models. For example, in a lesson which dealt with Saint Michael slaying the dragon, some children became angry with the dragon and shouted that Michael should have killed it. A timid little boy jumped up and said 'but if Michael killed the dragon, he'd be just as bad as the dragon, he'd become a dragon.' This statement had the class in discussion for almost a week but at the end of it most of them agreed that you cannot fight violence with violence. After that, fights in class subsided."

Because is is not state-run, Lorna's school has to rely on donations from Waldorf schools abroad and contributions from families. Parents who cannot afford the fees give their time to help in the classroom or the garden. Lorna explains: "the money in the pot is divided out between all the staff and often falls short of our needs." However, since Alexandra is a particularly deprived area, Lorna intends to claim for a state grant, but as she says "it is easy to fund-raise for buildings, libraries or even teaching equipment but not for teachers' salaries."

There are seven other schools in Alexandra but, "many parents prefer to send their children to our school because its staff is multi-cultural and we teach in English," says Lorna, explaining that being able to speak English is an absolute necessity in post-apartheid South Africa.

"The climate of violence that reigns in the community has an enormous influence on the children," concludes Lorna. "To teach values and undo their strong inclination for violence is a huge challenge. Teachers need to be motivated to fight the dragon of crime prevalent everywhere in our country."

*Waldorf schools aim to develop creativity and free thinking in children. The first one was opened in 1919 by Austrian philosopher Rudolf Steiner.
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