Behind the classrooms, library, and offices is a sprawling garden. At most times of the day there are a few students outside playing on the tire swing that hangs from a huge tree in the middle of the garden, or a small group huddled together in one of the grass huts practicing the guitar. There is a soccer field that seems expansive amidst the otherwise dense and tangled landscape of banana trees, flowers, and greenery. The Learning Center garden is a safe space for students to play, to have fun together, and to be creative and imaginative.
Many of our students don’t have a safe space to play outside in the community or at home. Some of our students stay at the center all day, particularly those children who don’t have a safe home or caretaker to go to during lunch and in between their class schedule.
Along the dirt path that winds through a part of the garden, students have started planting their own self-run mini garden completely by their own initiative. Dotted along the path is a row of recycled plastic cups and styrofoam bowls, the perfect flower pots. What used to be defunct volley balls now serve as watering cans, so that students can carry water from the spigots to tend to their garden.
Children’s Future provides basic needs and education for students, but creativity, initiative and positive, supportive interaction need the right environment to be fostered. The Learning Center provides this environment, and in this safe space students can express themselves creatively. They can feel confident. It is powerful to see students taking ownership of this space.
Student Gardening Q&A with Sarah:
When Residential Living Manager, Sitha, asked Pak, a 12 year old student if he and some of his friends would be interested in talking with me about their garden, he said nonchalantly, “don’t worry, I’ll tell them.”
I went to the garden in the afternoon for our meeting, expecting 2 or 3 students. To my surprise, he had mobilized all of the rest of his fellow gardeners, and I arrived to a group of 20 of our younger students, aged 6-12, gathered in their garden to tell me all about it. Myself, Sitha, and 20 students all sat cross legged around in a circle in the grass hut. Some of the students who attended typically have a hard time sitting still or participating in class, but when it came to talking about their garden they all lit up, excited to discuss.
For every question I asked, they all did that thing kids do where they’re trying to be polite and raise their hands but are squirming in their seat, sitting up taller and taller, and then pretty much standing up trying to have the tallest hand raised so that they can answer the question.
“Why do you plant flowers and plants in the garden?”
- “I want to make the garden beautiful”
- “Yeah and it smells good”
- “We want butterflies to fly around the garden and they will come if there are flowers”
- “I want to watch all different kinds and colors of flowers grow”
- “It makes me feel really happy” to which all of the students nodded very seriously in agreement
“Why is it important to you all to plant a garden at the Learning Center?”
- “I want to make it beautiful here, because the Learning Center belongs to all of us”
- “Because it is owned by all of us”
- “Because I want to garden with Pak, and to fill all of their (referencing all of the others students sitting around the circle) hearts with happiness. And see butterflies.”