Children of the Twelve Tribes

An article I wrote recently for CLAP Magazine in Argentina. You may see the Spanish translation and other lovely articles and photographs here:

Children of the Twelve Tribes-Education Out of Sight

In September 2013 after a massive German police raid, 40 children were taken from a Christian community on a compound in Bavaria, Germany. “Fresh evidence indicating significant and ongoing child abuse by the members”, prompted over 100 police officers and social workers to participate in the operation. Children aged seven months to 17 years old were seized from the grounds of one of the Bavarian locations of the worldwide Messianic Community known as the “Twelve Tribes”. Evidence allegedly showed that children were struck on their feet, arms and backs by disciplinary rods soaked in oil and the 40 children have been placed in the hands of foster families while authorities carry out an investigation. Although the Twelve Tribes’ beliefs most closely resemble Christian Fundamentalism and Messianic Judaism, the group refuses to align themselves with any movement, believing that all religious denominations have fallen.

An international confederation of religious communities located throughout the world, the Twelve Tribes has about 3,000 members at 50 locations in 9 different countries. In September 2011, I spent about two weeks working and living with the sect’s location in General Rodriguez, Argentina. The branch in Argentina is about eleven years old and has close to 70 members that live either on the property grounds or at the community’s bakery downtown. The group has many criticisms of the current state of society which encouraged the movement to leave modern society behind and lead a completely alternative lifestyle. Among their criticisms of the world order is their disapproval of the world’s agricultural system and its lack of available organic food. This is partly why they open up their community to welcome visitors through the organization World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) and how I discovered their existence.

Spending two weeks in an enclosed religious community was one of the most culture-shock inducing experiences I have had. There were many aspects of the Twelve Tribes community that were odd to me especially because I had never witnessed an enclosed religious environment first-hand before. I had to wear very modest clothing provided by the community, alcohol, tobacco products and chocolate and television were outlawed by the group, I slept in a house on the property only for single women and there were strict times for rising and going to sleep. Each morning we awoke at 6am for our communal bible study accompanied with singing and dancing and followed by an organic breakfast typically consisting of rice, onions and peppers. Then without delay, we would begin our work for the day. As a girl, I spent most of my time working with the other women in the community doing household duties such as cleaning the house, washing dishes, preparing meals and sometimes harvesting vegetables in the gardens. Often I would be given the duty of peeling bag after bag of onions, chopping carrots and making pizza bases for hours on end. Even the most monotonous tasks I could withstand though because listening and talking with the women about their lives in the community was fascinating, strange and even scary.

When pressured, at all costs I avoided disclosing my agnosticism and heathen lifestyle of watching movies, surfing the internet, drinking beer and eating candy fearing that I would be not only judged but ostracized. I could not imagine giving up everything in my life, my friends, family and possessions to join a closed community with the intention of never leaving the grounds again, but some people like a 22 year old girl from Australia I met, had visited the community as a WWOOF volunteer like myself and made the decision to adopt the community as her newfound home and family.

As far as I saw, the children of the community were happy, intelligent, talented and well-behaved. If there was any form of abuse as there was allegedly in the German community, I was not aware of it. However, whether or not the abuse occurred, is occurring or will occur, the Twelve Tribes communities across the globe, raise important questions regarding homeschooling children.

Under the veil of homeschooling, children become less visible in society. They may be made vulnerable to educational neglect or even abuse and they have few ways to find help. In the United States, although there are almost 2 million students homeschooled, homeschooling receives very little government attention. Only nine states require parents who choose to homeschool their children to have a high school degree or GED (high school equivalent). Additionally, in all but nine of these same states, assessments that children may be required to take can be circumvented or do not have to be given to officials. Children may fall behind academically and the government would have no way of knowing or providing assistance. Furthermore, if a child is being abused or neglected by their parents, homeschooling can be a means for parents or guardians to avoid school officials, teachers, counselors or fellow classmates from noticing signs of mistreatment or abuse and unfortunately there have been many such cases around the world.

With many existing problems in the U.S. and other country’s current education systems, compulsory public education should not necessarily be mandated, but there must be some visibility set in place for children to receive the proper education and care that they deserve. Parents are still entitled to the right to oversee their children’s education but they should not possess the right to decide whether or not their child gets an education. No matter how widespread or few and far cases of educational neglect or abuse or may be, there must be some action taken to address the existing issue. There must be more oversight of the practice. This could involve oversight in mandating a parent education requirement to teach their children, tests ensuring at least basic reading, writing and math skills are achieved by the child and the potential requirement for students to attend a public education program for several hours a week to increase the visibility of these students.

The importance of a child’s developmental years cannot be overemphasized. Our childhood years shape who we become as adults. It is during our childhood where we learn invaluable life lessons, views of the world, morals and skills that we may retain for the rest of our lives. If an individual is never taught to read or write as a child, they may struggle with this fundamental ability the rest of their lives. Likewise, children should be presented with a wide knowledge base including alternative theories and methods for learning. In this way they may acquire the capacity to lead the lives they wish and to make their own conscious decisions in their beliefs and about the world around them as they become adults free from the domination of other people and institutions. As they mature, the state will also benefit as children grow to become self-sufficient adults. Should there be more transparency secured in the system, I am hopeful that we can ensure no child will be educationally neglected or abused.


6 thoughts on “Children of the Twelve Tribes

  1. Hey I can’t believe I haven’t found this until now! It’s interesting to hear another perception of those crazy couple weeks! Interesting points about home schooling. Now, I will soon be a certified teacher, so obviously I wholeheartedly agree with what you’ve written here. But a thought did strike me as I read your point about the importance of being visible in society: it seemed that children at Doce Tribus were a lot more ‘visible’ in their families and community than the average kid, who may be very visible in school, but then often retreats to his or her bedroom/iPhone for the evening. I’m still all for public schooling, but I wonder how we can encourage kids to stay visible even after they leave our classrooms.

    What are you up to these days? 😀

  2. Hey there, I can’t believe it took me this long to find this!

    Ohhh Doce Tribus. I like your thoughts on schooling (I’m soon going to be a certified teacher, so it’s something I think about a lot lol). Now, I’m all for public schooling, but your comment on the ‘visibility’ of children made me think: kids at Doce Tribus were invisible to the outside world, yes, but they were VERY visible within the community. They were everywhere! Here in Canada/the U.S. it’s the opposite. Students are very visible in school, but then many of them retreat to their bedrooms/iPhones immediately upon getting home. I think teachers need to do whatever they can to foster that ‘visibility’ outside of school as well.

    PS sorry if this posted multiple times. The website was giving me heck.
    PPS great pic of Sara! 😛

    • Hey thanks for reading!
      That is great that you are going to be a teacher! You will excel at that I’m sure.
      And I agree, the children at Doce Tribus were very visible within the community and such an important part! I would say there ideally needs to be a careful balance that involves being visible at home and at school. And you’re right, far too many students return home to engross themselves in their video games and the like which is such a sad side of technology.
      And for me, I graduated college in June, did quite a bit of traveling for 6 months after and now I’m working as a travel agent in Seattle.

      How have you been?? It would be awesome to meet up again someday!

  3. Hi there
    Such a great article! I was just wondering a few things:
    How did you find wearing the clothing to work in? I always think it seems so heavy in pictures!
    Is it true they must take on a new name or is it voluntary?
    Was the Australian girl part of the tribe over there or just visiting?
    Thanks for the beautiful photos as well!

    • Hey thank you so much for reading!

      I thought the clothing was just fine to work in. It wasn’t too heavy and for the most part the pants and such were really comfortable even if I looked pretty goofy.
      As for the names, as far as I could tell it was voluntary but everyone seemed to have one so maybe it was strongly encouraged.
      The Australian girl was there for the same reason I was-heard about the location through WWOOF, went to volunteer there and decided she wanted to make it her new home.

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