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Summer special

"You need to find your feet in a new community"

by Lebogang Mokoena, Linda Engel

In brief

Lebogang Mokoena

Lebogang Mokoena

Lebogang Mokoena is a 25-year-old journalist from Soweto, South Africa. Since September 2016, she has been volunteering in Berlin, Germany in a nursery school based on Waldorf/Steiner education (Freie Waldorfschule Havelhöhe). In Germany, early childhood education largely depends on private institutions which receive government funding. While almost all children over the age of three attend some kind of pre-primary education, the majority of children under three stays at home. However, this is slowly changing: since 2013, every one-year-old child has a right to a nursery or similar form of childcare.

Lebogang, what kind of work are you doing in Germany?
I work in a very special kindergarten which is based on Waldorf education. The Waldorf pedagogy was developed by Rudolf Steiner and stresses children’s social and creative learning. Around 70 children between 1,5 and six years visit the nursery school. I am placed in one of the four groups; I play with the kids, tidy up, participate in the different activities and support the day-to-day work.

Did you know about Waldorf beforehand, and what is your first impression?
No, I learned about it when I came to Germany. I generally find it fantastic, but at the same time I believe that there is more than one way to properly raise kids.

Please give us an example of a typical day at the nursery school.
We start at 8 a.m. by welcoming the kids. I then support them in their different activities like drawing and tailoring or building different things. Afterwards we have a breakfast, which is mostly organic and vegetarian. In a setting of a nursery school, this is definitely new to me! Afterwards the children play outside for around one hour regardless of the weather, rain or snow. I think being close to nature is an important part of the Waldorf approach. Later they have lunch and take a nap. A lot of kids are picked up early at around half past two, but we have also an afternoon programme for children who stay until 4 p.m.

What do you think could South African nursery schools learn from Germany and vice versa?
South African nursery schools can learn particularly using affordable methods like teaching outdoors and using natural resources to learn such as wood, grass or flowers. Perhaps, Germany can learn how different communities with diverse backgrounds integrate children and teaching methods in such spaces. I think Germany as a cosmopolitan country, like South Africa, has to start thinking ‘’integration’’.

How did you hear about the volunteering programme?
In South Africa I did a Bachelor Degree in communications science. At the same time, I got involved in volunteering with kids. For four years, I have been working with the Kliptown Youth Programme (KYP) and other various child-orientated organisations such as Childline Gauteng. I was at first involved in an after-school programme to assist children with homework and other related challenges. I also taught English and, for example, initiated a reading project. It was there that I met a lot of German volunteers and learned about the possibility of volunteering abroad. However, before coming to Berlin, I learned German for 18 months.

What are you teaching your host organisation?
The kids are very much interested in the English language, but I also believe that I have a positive impact simply by engaging with the kids– even if it is not directly tangible.

What kind of lessons are you learning yourself?
I am learning about the Waldorf education, which I didn’t know beforehand and of course, the language. Without the language you feel isolated at first. You need to find your feet in a new community. But I am also learning much about Europe, not only Germany, the people and the culture. My other interests have been to look into history, the relationship of Africa and other EU countries and mentalities and stereotypes towards Africans.

What will you take home?
The language! Apart from that, different teaching methods and of course the Waldorf concept, which is international. There are also Waldorf kindergartens in South Africa, something I didn’t know before. My career as journalist is equally important for me. That’s why in my free time I blog about my stay here. My blog is called „My scripted journey miles away from home: 365 days in Berlin, Germany“. I am also taking a global perspective with me.

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