Born in 1938 in Germany, I pioneered Associação Comunitária Monte Azul, Alliance for Childhood in Brazil, and co-founded the World Social Initiative Forum. I stand up for upholding human dignity in all walks of life.
Ute Craemer interviewed by Nicole Asis on May 16, 2019 | Photos: Associação Comunitária Monte Azul
Nicole Asis: What led you to work in the favelas of São Paulo?
Ute Craemer: I was a teacher in a Waldorf School in Brazil. At that time, most Waldorf Schools here were for the elite, which is why I wanted my students to have a glimpse of the country’s poorer reality and its marginalized side. I think it is very important to bring in what we call the “Social Curriculum” in the Waldorf Schools – to have the feeling and the active sense of what is the reality out there. Through this experience, the student can actively get out of the bubble they lived in. It was in 1975, during the military dictatorship, that we started this exchange at my home. In the beginning, we wanted to create a bridge between these two realities – my students in the Waldorf School and the children from the favelas. How can we make a change with not only the poor people but also with the richer people?
Nicole: Can you expound on what you said, “making a change also for the richer people”?
Ute: Every human being has to make living experiences – working and cooperating with different people in different settings – so that the soul is touched, not only the head. And this has to occur many times because my soul transforms itself little by little and the same in the soul of my friend or even opponent! Little by little, the heart is touched and may realize smaller or bigger deeds in the reality of the world. This exchange continues in a wider sense up to now.
It has been 41 years since Associação Comunitária Monte Azul started. We have had students from Waldorf Schools visiting us in Monte Azul and experienced living together with children and with younger people. They are doing something together like painting a wall with indigenous forms. Thus, they also get to know about the lives of these children and young people in the favelas. One of the Waldorf students even said, “It is better than most of the things we learn in school because we could really experience it!”
What is the life of these children? What is coming out of the souls of young people who are living in the slums? What are their dreams? They have – more or less – the same dreams as we. But many times, they cannot realize it because of the economic barrier.
Many Waldorf students experienced that they are equal to the children in the favelas – equal as human beings. But there are many obstacles they face and many cannot study. They cannot see the world, not even have the chance to see the ocean, which is not so far away from where they live.
For the people in the favelas, there are many evident obstacles – hunger, underemployment, no access to quality health care. We at Monte Azul try to alleviate these obstacles. With the help of the community and other organizations in Brazil, of course.
Imagine, for instance, how is life in the slums now in Covid times?! Without water, without food, living in a 10 m2 hut!!!! The World Social Initiative Forum is the same idea – to see the plight of the marginalized. That even if you are living a comfortable life, you can create a kind of community with those who have none. Where one is giving strength to the other, in both directions!
Nicole: Celebrating more than 41 years as an association, what are the contributions of Monte Azul to the social fabric of Brazil?
Ute: Since our humble beginnings during the military dictatorship, we had joined many people and organizations and fought together for many things. We fought for clean water and electricity in the favelas, night lessons for people who are in the working class, and education for children. We also fought for financial agreements with the social sector and education ministry. That is one.
Another contribution was not only to have classes in the favelas but also to study what kind of pedagogy is adequate for the children. What is best to nurture the development of their soul and multiple intelligences. That is how Waldorf pedagogy gets into the favelas.
We organized Waldorf community educators’ training with different methodologies: from observing the children and their environment to acting and creating awareness. Monte Azul also became a research lab for students studying education in universities, where they could have hands-on experience on Waldorf pedagogy and “child-centered methodologies” for their master’s theses.
We also initiated a project called “Family Health Strategy” – a humanized prevention or salutogenic approach to health through anthroposophical therapies and biography work. It is our attempt to humanize healthcare. We are working together with the government and we have reached more than 300,000 people.
Nicole: Has the “Monte Azul Impulse” expanded beyond the shores of Brazil?
Ute: Well, I don’t know, because the global community has to say this. But since the 80s, we have been invited to give contributions to the field of pedagogy and community development, for example to the youth in Japan, Latin America, and New Zealand.
I think this is one of the big ideas of Monte Azul – that Monte Azul is not just a place. But it is a humanizing social impulse that can spread in the world. One of these impulses is the World Social Initiative Forum. We are inspiring people to do something to alleviate suffering, misery, discrimination. How? Through writing, talking with people, creating social art, accompanying new initiatives. And now in the pandemic, we do it through touching lives, webinars, zoom, etc.
We do not need to be there the whole time to enable change. But we can inspire and be ready to transform ideas while widening horizons, touching hearts, and inspiring actions.
Nicole: How are you linking Brazilian culture and its folk-soul with your work in Monte Azul?
Ute: One of the aspects of Waldorf Pedagogy in Brazil is how to link the curriculum to Brazilian culture and its folk-soul. We created a study group called PINDORAMA, where we study the configuration of Brazilian culture. What is the impact of Brazilian culture? What are its Indian roots, African roots? And we tackle many more on this.
We also encourage people to find the link of Anthroposophy to the specific culture of a country, also outside of Brazil. To encourage people to research the myths and form drawings in one’s culture and to find out in which stage of child development they are suitable to experience. To have the child’s development going side-by-side or linked to the cultural epoch and the folk-soul one is born into is very important.
Nicole: How is Anthroposophy guiding the impulse in your community?
Ute: The image of the human being is guiding us. By merging through cultures and having dialogues with people, we find out how an image of the human being lives in them without saying in the beginning: “ We will teach you Anthroposophy.” You have to find images for this first. What is a star, for instance? Is the star in the sky or in your heart? Do you see a guiding image in yourself? And so on. You can make questions to make the person who is not linked to Anthroposophy find the answer in and by himself. You have to find the language, and also the images, that can awaken him to connect himself to his spiritual nature.
Nicole: What are the pressing needs that Monte Azul is currently working on?
Ute: I think the pressing needs of our time are to understand what is really human and what is in the human being. The impact of Artificial Intelligence is there. It is doing almost everything we can do. We have to be more profound to feel what is really human, what no robot can do. What is the essence of humanity? What makes us human?
Nicole: How has Monte Azul enriched your life?
Ute: I think that I have transformed myself in a way that my whole life is linked to the life of the people in the slums. Not only in the slums but also to the people who work in the field and ever more human being in the whole world living in distress. When you are young, you have a lot of preconceptions – that everybody would be more or less like you. And then you meet people and you find out that they are so different! They have their dignity and their way of living, feeling, and thinking. With this, we can learn from one another. I learn from them and they learn from me.
The Monte Azul impulse is wider than the favelas in Brazil. It is a humanizing impulse in action – in Japan with the Children Resource International, in the World Social Initiative Forum, in the Aliança pela infância (Alliance for Childhood), and so on.
Nicole: What for you is the essence of the humanizing impulse of Monte Azul?
Ute: The essence is to inspire other people to discover and not forget that they are human beings. Same with the World Social Initiative Forum, where we include everybody. That means that the grassroots are really being included and given a voice. You have to use a different kind of language – through arts and in doing – so we can be our authentic Selves. With that, we can feel at home in our uniqueness and dignity.