A Letter from Jen Johnson in Guatamala

Hello Imhoff Waldorf Community.
I am sending love to you all during this time of change. I have been thinking a lot about how special a Waldorf School is, for the community that is born and that comes together to weave and hold together a harmonious space for our children. For the first time, I am experiencing a Waldorf school on another continent. The first time I set foot inside the Kindergarten classroom of Escuela Caracol, in San Marcos La Laguna, Guatemala, I remember thinking: “This feels like home. I know those play stands, and those crayons, and those knitted sheep that never come out looking like sheep!” At that point, I had been living for 6 months in a country so different from mine in every way. The language, the way people look and dress, the food, the buildings and the streets, the plants and landscape, all are so different. I stick out like a sore thumb and often am met with very puzzled gazes. Once I walked inside the new classroom, however, I felt “home”. I also felt connected to all people in all Waldorf schools all over the world, as I realised that there is an invisible golden thread linking us all.Jen 2
I have been observing the links between work, imitation and play in the classroom. The children here have very different lives to those at home. Many of them live in very small semi-formal houses, together with an extended family. Many children in the smaller villages of Guatemala start helping their parents to work from a very young age. Boys of 6 or 7 years old wield machetes in the field with their fathers, and girls of the same age are often expected to help watch the baby in the house, and many help their mothers to go to market, do the washing, and make tortillas in the kitchen (this sounds simple enough, but believe me, making proper tortillas by hand is extremely difficult, and I often get teased by the 6 year old girl in our classroom, who can make them far better than I can!) The children here in the village are constantly surrounded by people working in their trades. Inside the classroom today, there was a group of boys driving the “lancha”, the boat-taxis here on the lake, and calling out the various stops to potential customers. There was a girl selling coconut water, with a basket on hear head, and shouting “hay cocos!”, in exactly the same voice as the man in the village who sells coconuts. There was a boy who tied a piece of string around two felted cats, and dragging them around the classroom from child to child, he called out “leche de cabra!”, just like the man in the village who leads his two goats from house to house calling out to sell goat’s milk. Those who were not playing were either cleaning the beeswax crayons, finger knitting, or washing towels and play-cloths in the pila (our big wash basin in the kitchen). The children that I have met here in general are far less interested in having chats with the teachers, and not once in two months has a child exclaimed “I’m bored!”Jen 1
Since being in this new classroom, I have been reminded just how blessed I was at Imhoff Waldorf School, to have had such a wonderful relationship, and open communication with the parents in the classroom. Here, it is not the norm for people to share openly, and even though I share the classroom space with another teacher from the community, who speaks Kaquchikel (the Maya language of our village), parent communication and participation is close to zero. Most of the children in our class have extremely heart-breaking histories, and it is very, very difficult to work without the support and presence of the parents.
It is a very big challenge to teach in a language that is not my own, and very often I can’t find the right words in the moment, or lack the vocabulary needed (especially in faculty meetings!). It has allowed me to see from a different perspective, a child who is feeling tired, or ill, or frustrated, and hasn’t mastered the art of expressing himself yet. We are both learning to use our words! It has also reminded me that with a strong rhythm, and lots of purposeful work for the children to imitate, there is very little need for words.
Wishing you all warmth as you move into the light of Spring!
Jen Johnson

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