February 2016

Working with the First Waldorf School in Madagascar #1

I recently returned from a 16 day visit to Madagascar where I was invited to work with the first school working out of Waldorf impulses on this island nation. It was a beautiful and transformative experience for the teachers there who have built this thriving school from the ground up and for me as well. Over the following weeks I will be posting reflections on these experiences in the hopes of making their good work more visible and as a means for helping me to develope a closer understanding of the essence of Waldorf education and how can it serve unique communities anywhere in the world. I welcome your thoughtful feedback as a means of filling out this important research. 
- Warren Lee Cohen

Working with the First Waldorf School in Madagascar #1

Madagascar is a world apart, almost a continent unto itself with rich flora and fauna much of which is found no where else on earth. Madagascar has a growing population that is joy-filled and yet amongst the poorest in the world. The Malagasy people have endured the hardships of colonialization, slavery, economic exploitation and intensive environmental degradation as well as more recent political instability. The majority of the population are subsistence farmers who remain illiterate in both their native Malagasy as well as in French, the country’s official language. Schools are run mostly in French and are geared towards three major exams written only in French. Malagasy schools are however poorly resourced and remain inaccessible to children in much of the country. And, where schools do exist, the $1 to $5 monthly fees are more than most families can afford. Access to any education let alone quality education is a big issue facing this nation whose median population is now younger than 20 years of age.

Kathy Lucking, a 25 year veteran Ontario elementary school teacher is deeply inspired by Waldorf pedagogy. Kathy is currently deepening her understanding of Waldorf education as a student in RSCT’s Professional Development for Waldorf Teachers part-time program. She is already using the knowledge, insights and inspiration she is gaining from this program to transform education in Madagascar, to plant vital seeds of hope for the future.

Seven years ago Kathy visited Madagascar where she worked in an orphanage. She soon realised that if she really wanted to make a long term difference in these children’s lives, she would need to create educational opportunities for them. Thus was born the Madagascar School Project. For the past seven years she has been steadfastly working to create hope and educational opportunity for these children who otherwise would not have any access to formal education. The Madagascar School Project has built two schools in underserved rural communities. The latest school, Sekoly Tenaquip educates and feeds over 650 children from kindergarten through grade 12. These children walk to school along dirt tracks from neighbouring villages as far as one and a half hours away. Kathy and her colleagues at the Madagascar School Project are trying to make Sekoly Tenaquip a model of what Malagasy education can be. They can already see that the creative and culturally sensitive approach of Waldorf pedagogy is helping them to create a truly Malagasy school that will prepare students to gain all the skills and vision they need step into their lives and take leadership in their communities.

Village Life

Just 20 km outside of Antananarivo, the loud and sprawling capital city of Madagascar, lies the village of Ambohiborosy (Ambu-ee-bruce). This mud brick village lies at the very end of a gullied dirt road more suited to ox carts and pedestrians than four-wheel drive trucks. Surrounded by rice paddies at the feet of rapidly eroding hills, the people of this village, similar to other villages spread across the vast central plateau, farm for their living on the depleted red soil. They grow rice, an assortment of fruits and vegetables and raise chickens, pigs and their prized “zebu” humped cattle. They live much the way their ancestors lived 800 years ago in mud brick homes thatched with rice straw. Most of these villages know neither plumbing nor electricity. Their homes are dark and filled with thick wood-smoke from the indoor cooking fire. Due to a scarcity of fuel, they often burn wet wood. Their homes have no chimneys. It is not surprising then that many people suffer from respiratory ailments. Whole extended families often live in one house, along with their chickens and oxen. I was invited into one small home 3 x 3 metres that housed a family of nine with just two small beds and only three blankets. At dusk everyone goes to sleep and the villages are completely silent except for the daily thunder shower during the rainy season. No one ventures outside after dark as it is feared that this is the time that bad spirits roam the land.

Sekoly Tenaquip

The Madagascar School project was invited by the mayor of Ambohiborosy to build a school on the side of the mountain for the local children. The closest public school is more than an hour’s walk away. Half of it was destroyed and never rebuilt after a recent cyclone. The mayor helped the new school to find an appropriate site. The Madagascar School Project then procured the land and started building classrooms with funds raised from Canada. Each year they have added new buildings to house the growing school. In just seven years the school has grown into five large multi classroom buildings able to serve 2 classrooms at each grade level kindergarten to grade 12. They have also built a kitchen, canteen and housing for some of the teachers, farmers and volunteers. One more classroom building is still needed to complete the campus and is already in the planning stages. It is an impressive school that now employs over 50 teachers, cooks and farmers, effectively making it the largest employer for many miles around as well as the largest school I saw outside of the capital, Antananarivo.

Rice! Rice! Rice!

Sekoly Tenaquip has committed to offering the children who attend a nurturing and filling lunch, perhaps the largest meal of the day for many of them. They also offer rice pabulum for babies and younger children every afternoon. The traditional Malagasy diet - breakfast, lunch and dinner - is boiled rice served heaping on a plate with a little dollop of a well boiled vegetable: green beans, cassava leaves or pumpkin - whatever might be available. Occasionally meat may be served, but this is considered a very special treat. February to May is considered the “Hungry Season” when many families run out of rice from their last harvest and before the next harvest is ready. Many families literally run out of food at this time of the year. The lunches that Sekoly Tenequip offers make it possible for the children to have enough energy to learn. Without this lunch program learning would be severely limited by hunger and malnutrition. With this sustenance the children are able to focus on their lessons and get the most from school every day.

In the next article I will focus on what Waldorf education has to offer Sekoly Tenaquip and how this creative pedagogy can be uniquely tuned to work with these rural Malagasy people in their unique context to help them to enliven their education and their culture. Waldorf may just be the key to help this next generation step beyond the challenges they now face.

Waldorf Teacher Education, Waldorf Schools, Consulting  


  Feb 13, 2016 12:15PM
Gene Campbell
Those remaining at port have always eagerly welcomed returning ships from far off lands.  Every detail of the land, its people, lifestyle, and customs were savored.  This article brought my own vague concepts of Madagascar into living, moving picture so that I could imagine myself walking among and meeting the people of the Sekoly Tenaquip School community.  

I could imagine, in spite of the meager means of the school, how eagerly the children’s eyes still shone afte...

  Feb 13, 2016 14:57PM
warren cohen
Thank you Gene! This whole visit would not have been possible without your paving the way. We felt your presence in many of the experiences we had with these striving teachers. They so much want to create the best school possible.



  Feb 23, 2016 07:19AM
Laura RobleeI have met with Kathy on several occasions when she visited Nova Scotia and have heard her speak several times about the schools and life in Madagascar. A church group that I belong to, helps support the work there. Thank you for this blog. It is such an interesting read. It's on my bucket list to maybe go there someday.  Laura Roblee



  Feb 23, 2016 09:12AM
Christine Thompson
Great article, great read.
Thank you Kathy for your tireless efforts in bringing education to these Malagasy children. Without your steadfast devotion, this project would never have existed. Bless you!

  Feb 23, 2016 10:02AM
Barbara Burton Newman
Kathy never ceases to amaze me. When we think back to her first visit to Madagascar and coming home with this dream and how she has made it work, with much help, and keeps it growing. Sounds like this program is just what is needed. Thanks to all. Love the blog.

  Feb 24, 2016 09:06AM
Jean Doan
This is a great article which manages to show just how dedicated you are, Kathy, to building the strong and vibrant educational community of Sekoly Tenaquip.

  Mar 31, 2016 10:14AM

Thank you for the write up on the Madagascar School!

Is there a a tuition support system set up perhaps? For folks who wish to assist is a child's tuition?




  Apr 01, 2016 09:52AM
warren cohen

  Apr 01, 2016 10:07AM
warren cohenw
Hello Juno,

Thanks for your affirming comment on my article on the first Waldorf school in Madagascar. The Madagascar School Project that funds the school has a program for student sponsorship. A whole year of education is only $10 a month. They also need funds and volunteers for a number of other projects. Here is their website:

All the best,
Warren Lee Cohen
Director of Teacher Education

  Apr 19, 2016 14:25PM
Julia Herman
Good morning from California.

I read the article on madagascar & was happy to see someone who has had similar experiences.I have been travelling in Asia for a few years now to assist with opening new schools in India, Turkey, Thailand & Malaysia.It has always been inspiring to see what is unfolding all over the world. Thank you & best wishes, Julia***I was trained as a kindergarten teacher in Great Barrington, MA. & Im still willing to help anywhere I can, so if you know of an...

  Apr 19, 2016 14:48PM
warren cohen
Hello Julia,

Thank you for your feedback. it is always nice to know of colleagues who are doing this important work of supporting new initiatives. Please send me your email contact to wcohen "at"

  Sep 16, 2016 12:51PM
Bonjour Kathy

Im glad your Malgache School is doing so well. 

How is it at the dispensary ? Any doctor there ?

Ive notbeen in madagascar this year ...

Missing the red island ...

Take good care of you 



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