A Celebration of History and Culture at Awhi Whanau, Auckland.
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How to establish a school with a culture / environment in line with one’s philosophy has been touched on previously (p21, p26) – a culture / environment that allows and encourages ‘the work’ that needs to be done by adults and children to happen – but what about the history of the place and people in which the school is located?
Located in a suburb of Auckland, on New Zealand’s North Island, Awhi Whanau is an early childhood centre that embodies the Reggio Approach developed in Italy, but in a way that is unique to their context. From the moment one enters the space the Maori culture at Awhi Whanau is obviously valued and respected; they seek to affirm and empower the Tamariki – children – in their identity, evident in so many of their practices:
- we received a very warm traditional ‘Maori’ welcome; the adults – staff and people from the community – along with the children sang and greeted us in Maori
- the outside space is culturally relevant and represents the Maori landscape
- people from the community with a love for, and desire to work with children, are embraced and developed; often going on to study as teachers
- each child has their own learning journal, which records their development – their form of documentation (right: a child shares another child’s journal)
- Maori and English are spoken by staff, with children learning to speak English and Maori
The centre is ‘committed to nurturing every child and supporting their growth and development.’ A statement no doubt many an early childhood centre would claim as one of their aims, but it was the way this was worked out in the unique context of Awhi Whanau that was particularly interesting and inspiring – how the aim was reflected in the built and natural environments the respect and value of the culture, the languages being spoken.
The visit as a whole, especially the Maori welcome – which included an address by one of the elders – and particularly the extended dialogue with Centre Manager Huhana Winiata, and one of the founders Robyn Lawrence, was deeply challenging – in a good way – in particular in considering the unique cultural context of Africa, South Africa, KwaZulu Natal, eThekwini, Inner-City Durban, right down to the one square kilometre of wherever the school will eventually be located.
Awhi Whanau makes one wonder what cultures exist locally – what is common, similar or totally unique about these cultures, and how does one celebrate Durban’s rich heritage without focusing on narratives that – as a consequence of some of South Africa’s past ills – are ‘historical hostile’ by nature (McLaren 2012:117)
In researching the different and shared cultures, histories, languages and traditions that are represented locally there is a genuine desire to develop practices which appreciate, comprehend, respect and value the context/s of the families and community that will one day come to see the school as theirs, practices that develop levels of understanding that lend themselves to deep and meaningful relationships emerging, practices that see education as a joint collaborative democratic effort.
The hope is that this additional piece of contextual, cultural, historical research will inform the very nature of what and who ‘we’ are as a school; that through it, the school will gain fresher perspectives on how to work alongside the community, families and their children – in ways that respects and values all the cultures and histories that are represented.