[b]What inspired you to found Escuela Caracol?[/b]
We wanted to share Waldorf Education with our intercultural community. We live in a small town on the shores of Lake Atitlán, and most residents are indigenous Maya who speak Kaqchikel. There is also a very strong international community. Between these two communities there is a significant socio-economic divide, but we saw that both groups could benefit from learning from each other. When you look around San Marcos you find people chopping and carrying fire wood for cooking, making tortillas three times a day, fisherman fishing from traditional wooden canoes, bananas and oranges growing in the forest, a mosaic of colorful flowers and blossoming trees, women carrying baskets on their heads and wearing blouses that were woven on a back-strap loom. You find children who are experts at climbing trees and harvesting avacados from branches that are over 20 ft high. There is great beauty, talent and strength here. We wanted to incorporate that into an educational model. We were also inspired by internationals, many of whom are studying and practicing sustainability and healing arts. We believed that something beautiful could grow out of a cultural interchange, and that Waldorf education could provide a path. And we also saw a deep need for education.
[b]How does Escuela Caracol measure impact?[/b][b] [/b]
We measure impact on a very personal level. We closely observe the children at the school. We not only evaluate their work, we look at how they are growing and changing on all levels. We cultivate close relationships with parents by making yearly home visits and by having bi-monthly meetings. We know that we are changing children's lives because we have countless accounts, because we observe their progress. Parents are constantly telling us stories of their children learning new songs, create things with their hands, of being inspired to invent new games, of learning to read. When we see a huge group of kids gathered outside the gate eager to start the day before the bell rings we also know that Escuela Caracol is having a positive impact. We see the impact when our students graduate and go on to win poetry contests and become presidents of their schools. In the past years we have also received more and more public recognition. We know that we are helping Waldorf education to grow in Central America and thereby planting seeds for educational reform.
[b]What sets Escuela Caracol apart from other grassroots nonprofit organizations that support education? [/b]
Escuela Caracol is the only Waldorf school in the world that is made up of 70% indigenous Maya children who live below the poverty line. We are unique in that we do not consider ourselves a charity. Our project is a cultural interchange. We know that we are helping families, but it is our belief that the indigenous and international families are helping each other. Not only that, we are providing Waldorf teacher training for local Maya teachers.
[b]In co-founding and leading Escuela Caracol, what was the best lesson you learned along the way? [/b]
We learned to believe in miracles and to live on faith. When we tried to work to the point of exhaustion we only crashed and burned, but when we stepped back and took time to care for ourselves, our children and allowed our employees to do the same, we gave space for the divine help that we needed. It takes a lot of patience and a full acceptance of life's uncertainty, and we are still not experts at this. Even so, it has definitely been the most valuable lesson of our lives.
[b]On a personal level, what does education mean to you?[/b][b] [/b]
Education is the ability to see children for who they and to give them the tools necessary to live out their full human potential. Education is the way to bring healing and peace, not only to children, but to their families and to the community. We believe that education is not about imparting information but rather on fostering inner transformation, so that children grow into confident and responsible individuals who know how put themselves into the stream of life and create the world they want to see. In this sense, it is not so important that the child remember facts about a science lesson, for example, but that she engages the material in a living way that changes her as a person. Education is about seeing the children as seeds, full of invisible potential and fully equipped to be who they are. We as teachers meet them where they are in their particular development with reverence, enthusiasm and guidance. Education as such is also a path of self-development for the teacher.
[b]Five years from now[/b][b], where do you envision Escuela Caracol?[/b][b] [/b]
We envision that five years from now Escuela Caracol will be a primary school with up to 120 students. We also want to begin offering Waldorf education for the middle school grades 7, 8, 9. We hope that we will be working more closely with the local public schools to provide necessary training so that all children in San Marcos can receive an education that supports their growth, development and well-being. Perhaps the middle school will evolve in collaboration with an already existing local middle school. We envision garnering the funding we need to establish financial stability for the school that covers the costs of educating all of these children and frees up staff to focus on the work in the classroom.
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