The day began with breakfast, followed by a beautiful choir put together of participants who had met up in church over the weekend. They opened the day with a heart-rending version of Amazing Grace to send everyone off on their way to community work.

The first presentation for the day The Promise: The Power of the Early Years, was presented by Linda Biersteker, Early Childhood Policy and Programming specialist. Linda opened the floor to get the participants views on the following statement, “The image of the child that dominates media, science and policy today is not valued for what he or she “is” but on what he or she can “become” as part of a broader, global, economic agenda.” The second part of the question was how this image shapes the way that society provides for early childcare and education.  Linda gave a reality check that each year seven million children worldwide do not survive to see their fifth birthday. Linda brought up the need to understand major risks and pathways for ECD outcome. The child’s psychological developmental outcome is based on sensory-motor, social and emotional, cognitive, language and health development all being interlinked. The access and quality realities need to be looked at as well. Challenges are the divide between rural and urban communities, children under two being the age group that has the least access to early stimulation, the large private provision and the growing number of compulsory grade zero classes that are not always free of charge. The poor ECD services in impoverished areas was paralleled to the lack of quality and delivery in more advantaged areas as well, bringing to light the poor quality of ECD delivery nationally. Linda raised a point of reflection, asking the participants to reflect on whether there were access and quality issues in the context of where one was situated. She noted that traditionally, children learnt through participation, observing then practising, play, routine and work. In some communities, play is not seen as a separate activity and as a result, play is often constructed around gender roles. Linda ended her presentation by imploring the Assembly to be mindful on how we speak to the parent. Speaking from a point of humility rather than in a condescending way prevents parents from pulling away and withdrawing from their children’s education. After the morning presentation, participants broke into their reading groups before heading off to lunch.

After lunch, AMI President Philip O’Brien gave a brief speech to honour Lynne Lawrence for her 10 years of service as the Executive Director of AMI. Lynne was thanked for her work, unbounded service and guidance and was presented with some gifts as a token of gratitude.

The afternoon session began with a presentation on Serving Children In Kenya and  Training in Kenya. Beth Kosgei, a tutor from St Ann’s Montessori Training Centre in Nakuru, Kenya began her training at St Ann’s in 2006. She has since returned as a tutor and mentor. The courses at St Ann’s fall under the AMI umbrella, which has been happening since 1974. Upon graduation, each teacher is equipped with a complete set of material, which is made during training. After a year of training, support is given in a series of school workshops for a year to support and mentor new teachers. In order for Beth and other mentors to travel to some schools, the mode of transport can range between bus, motorcycle or even on foot. In the rainy season, some have to undertake a 5km walk in order to reach the schools. When she began working with Corner of Hope, the camp consisted mainly of tents. Beth began by visiting the teachers in the camps and tutoring them.  Morning sessions would consist of lectures and discussions with the afternoons being dedicated to making materials. Two hundred students started on the same day with two teachers in the environment. These teachers were later offered the opportunity to earn full salaries if they were willing to leave Corner of Hope and go work for a different school. In a sign of solidarity and commitment to the community, nobody left. Now there are two schools in Pipeline and one in Kisima. Elementary training is now available and the first elementary class is now in operation in Kenya. In another cause for celebration, the government is now in the process of recognizing the diploma nationally.

Terry Koskei spoke about the work that she is doing with the nomadic Samburu people. Terry began teaching at Corner of Hope and was offered the opportunity to work on the Samburu mission. Terry gained the trust of the Maa community by offering Montessori whilst respecting the culture of the Maa.  The region that she covers is wide spread and she is mindful of always maintaining equality to each of the tribes in order to disperse any unrest. Some of her challenges are transport and infrastructure as there are no roads in these regions. Children of different ages who have never been to school need to be integrated. Terry says that whilst the wildlife, such as elephants and giraffe are very beautiful, their close proximity to the community can cause the children to be frightened of these dangerous animals, resulting on them staying away from school and having interrupted sleep due to the elephants shaking trees close to tents. Working with Nomadic people means that they move on often, being there one moment and then gone for varying amounts of time the next. Terry and her team bring backpacks filled with  Montessori materials and then set off on foot to work with the children. The community have been on board with helping to make material. Vocabulary is presented in Swahili, English and Maa. Terry is pleased that Montessori has been embraced in the areas, with four teachers on the ground and six remaining at the base village. Terry ended her presentation by giving thanks to everyone who has helped her on her journey.

Eric Gumah, an AMI elementary trained teacher from Ghana spoke about how Montessori has been implemented in Gumyoko School in Ghana. Eric’s grandfather and father made land available for the school. His father wanted to provide a place that would give quality education free of charge. In order for this to be achieved, they involved the government to help. The school has 60 children in the class, as required by government. There are now 975 children in the school, 73 of which are in the 6-12 class, with two teachers. Eric began visiting other schools and helped teachers to have a better approach to learning, holding regular workshops with teachers. Eric is inspired by Corner of Hope and has a vision of making Montessori accessible for everyone. Eric’s plans to build a bigger school to accommodate more children and plans to have this vision completed in the near future. Eric hopes that one day Ghana will host an EsF assembly.

The Coffee Bay team, Jennifer Moore, Dawn Brochenin, Xoliswa Bala and Nomonde Majongozi shared their story of how Montessori has expanded in the Eastern Cape. Jennifer started by giving contextual history of how Bantu states were set up during apartheid. These regions were deliberately under resourced and suffered from band infrastructure. Nowadays, the area is still suffering from poor service delivery and minimal resources. In spite of this, the team have managed to make a difference within their community. Dawn started Ikhaya Labantwana Montessori in 2010. The school’s modest beginnings took place in a small rondavel. Soon, word about the beautiful school and the happy children began to spread and a long waiting list appeared. Dawn undertook it to raise the money needed to expand the school, her efforts bringing in R900 000. A bigger school was built to accommodate more children. Jennifer trained seven local women who graduated in 2015. Dawn decided to take a sabbatical and moved to  Hole in The Wall. There she was approached by families who asked her to start a school just like Ikhaya Labantwana. Ncinci One’s Montessori school was born in a rondavel in 2016. Soon the space had outgrown the children and more fundraising was needed to build a bigger premises. The school now accommodates 30 rural children who are provided with a holistic education, two meals a day, a calcium supplement and de-worming twice a year. 

Xoliswa began teaching at Auburn House Montessori. Xoliswa has spent 25 years, working in Montessori. She assists in helping to deliver training and having discussions in her mother tongue, isiXhosa, partnering with Jennifer when training is offered. She has discussions with parents, childminders and teachers in order to impart knowledge on how to better understand the young child. She believes in getting the message to parents that the home environment should be no different from the Montessori school environment. 

Nomonde was introduced to Montessori by her good friend Dawn, who then invited Nomonde to come and observe the school. Nomonde was surprised by the beautifully prepared environment and the happy children. She got on board with Dawn and together built up the school in their community. Nomonde helps to build trust as she knows the parents in the community well and whilst she gives instruction in her mother tongue, isiXhosa, Dawn speaks in her mother tongue, English. Nomonde believes that Montessori is wherever you are and a beautiful environment can be created anywhere.

Adolescence: Agents of Change was the next presentation. Sophia and Eva from Young Peoples Community in Brighton U.K. showed us what their community looks like. They spoke of their work, which ranges from academic to practical and community. Although some text books are used, students are encouraged to read about subjects that interest them and then are given the opportunity to see an expert in that field. They finish up by presenting what they have learnt to the rest of the class. Astrid Hoglund from Sweden, showcased the Montessori Centre for Work & Study in Sweden, Rydet. The farm is on a 5 hectare piece of land and boasts a school house, woodland and stream, as well as animals that are put to work as well as being pets. The farm has been refurbished and maintained by the students who all work together for the good of the community. Astrid believes that staying together on the farm provides the students with an opportunity to engage on a higher level and become one large family. Hannah Brissman spoke about what life is like for the average American in high school. Hannah recounted her first-hand experience of what it felt like to go to school in fear,  not knowing if she would return safely from school. Hannah has endured a lock-down in her sophomore year, various threats of gun violence during her junior year and her most terrifying ordeal in her senior year when a message went viral over social media about one of her fellow class mates who threatened a mass shooting. She described arriving at school the next morning, not having received any messages or notification from the school and feeling an uncanny presence in the air, with teachers being edgy and herding students into classes in a hasty manner. Only later on in the morning, did Hannah receive the message in regard to the threatened shooting. Although students were traumatised by this event, they were only permitted to leave the school premises if their parents had signed them out. Hannah, being 18 at the time, signed for two of her friends and left school. The student who threatened the shooting was later apprehended and taken into custody with a gun on him. Hannah made the statement that gun violence in the USA is not only a big school problem, it is a problem in every school, even the small schools. Hannah urged participants at the assembly to remember to focus on the adolescents as they are the current future of the world. She validly stated that the youth have a right to be heard and to have a say within the world. 

Noel, Jenna and Gemma, from Newberry House next spoke about the adolescent programme at Newberry House. Noel is the middle school director. Jenna and Gemma, in the adolescent programme are members of “Team Yum”, a cooking programme offered to the adolescence at Newberry House. “Team Yum” have been supporters of Heartlands Baby Sanctuary is a safe house that offers short term residential care for children who are affected by drug abuse, foetal alcohol syndrome, abuse or neglect. “Team Yum” have raised funds for Heartlands by making and selling lunch boxes and a variety of other treats cooked up through the cooking programme. 

The loudest voice of the day was perhaps spoken by a young man who was not physically at the assembly. On behalf of Ezekiel Singer, his mother Elana Rosen gave us an insight into his life. EZ went to the same Montessori Children’s House as his mother. He had a great love for science, poetry and theatre. After hugging goodnight, EZ went to sleep. The next morning when his mom went to wake him up, he did not wake up. EZ’s favourite poem was Invictus. With the help of some new found friends at the Assembly, Elana and some of the participants read out the poem that EZ had written. Although his physical body was not among us, his presence and life force was hugely felt by all. On behalf of Ezekiel, the EZ. Fund for the Indaba  Foundation & Institute has been established. This fund allows for a scholar from an unrepresented country to attend the Educateurs Sans Frontières assembly for the next 200 years or until the fund is exhausted. Thank you EZ for your free spirit, love of life and the gift bestowed on future educateurs.