Charity schools 'brainwashed staff'

The Guardian, London/July 9, 2001
By Ian Katz, Tom Sharratt and David Ward

A Danish educational organisation which runs two schools In Britain and recruits British teachers and volunteer workers, has been accused of using cult techniques and brainwashing its staff.

Tvind, which runs more than 40 boarding schools in Denmark, and others in Norway and the US, specialises in taming problem children, and emphasises a communal lifestyle and pro-third World outlook. Students and teachers work to raise money for the organisation's charity Development Aid from People to People (Dapp), known In non-Scandinavian countries as Humana.

The British branch of Humana is at present being investigated by the Charity Commission following a Guardian investigation which revealed that the charity had been donating thousands of pounds to a bogus emergency aid organisation.

Questions have also been raised in a number of European countries over how charitable funds are transferred through Tvind's network of offshore companies and charitable trusts centred round Its financial base in the Cayman Islands.

Tvind's two schools in Britain, the Small School at Red House, in Norwich, and the Small School at Winestead Hall, in Hull, take children from problem backgrounds referred by local authorities.

According to Anne Ellingsen, a former Tvind pupil who has founded a group to campaign against Tvind in Norway, the organisation 'is not a religious sect but a sect which officially doesn't have any ideology at all.'

Tvind was founded in the late 1970s by a group of radical left wing teachers who decided to pool their wages and live a communal lifestyle.

Subsidised with grants from the Danish government it grew rapidly, establishing a giant headquarters campus in the Danish town of Ulfborg, where mature students built the world's largest electricity generating windmill, which has since become the symbol of the organisation.

The Tvind schools operate a strict regime, requiring students to adhere to a "programme."

Emphasis is placed on practical teaching, outdoor activities and travel.

In addition to schools the organisation has a university, a school for training Dapp/Humana volunteers, and a teacher training college.

Two Oxfam officials who visited the Ulfborg campus with a view to running a joint programme with Dapp were at first impressed with the vigour and application of the Tvind teachers, but began to have doubts. In an internal report to the charity one of them wrote: "We both began to question whether we had not been 'brainwashed'." We suddenly found that things we had accepted with admiration before began to have dubious or sinister undertones.

Through regular advertisements in newspapers, including the Guardian, Tvind solicits Britons for the four-year course at its Necessary Teacher Training College. which is followed by a year teaching in a Dapp school in Africa.

Its schools, describes as "probably the most exciting boarding schools in Europe" are also advertised in Humana's seven British second-hand clothes stores.

Allegations that the organisation has the characteristics of a cult are echoed by a number of Britons who replied to Tvind ads. Sarah Fradgley, a 22-year old graduate who volunteered to work at a Dapp/Tvind giant flea market in Stockholm returned to Britain disillusioned.

"The whole work ethic of the Danes there was quite totalitarian, almost fascist."

A 21-year-old man who attended an introductory week end at the Small School at Red House was unnerved by the isolated location of the Norwich school and one he visited in Ulfborg.

"Brainwashing is a very fair description of what goes on. With people living in groups so close together seven days a week and isolated from all other social contact, it is a very insular sort of existence; their ideas arid beliefs must slowly become identical."

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