A year and a half ago I met Fritzie and became aware of the work of GHH. Having moved to Miami from England with my three sons I was looking for some volunteer work where I could use my gardening skills. When Fritzie mentioned she wanted a garden for the GHH foster home I jumped at the chance. Over the past year and a half I have had the privilege of working with GHH and their children, building a vegetable garden for them to grow organic fruit and vegetables and to spend time with nature.
The therapeutic value of gardening and nature has been shown to be significant. I have certainly seen the children benefit emotionally from the neutral safe space of the garden as they peacefully water and weed. To witness the look of joy as they pick ripe strawberries, pull up carrots and eat beans straight from the plant is priceless. In addition to the mental health benefits of gardening the children gain physical and nutritional benefits too that come from being active outdoors and eating fresh organic produce.
Another aspect of gardening in terms of helping the vulnerable is the learning opportunities – gardening is a gentle teacher. One such lesson was about resilience in the aftermath of Irma. We were fortunate that much of our garden survived but our fruit trees took a hit, losing a much loved and super productive papaya and our sea almond was also blown down. However, we were able to rescue the sea almond, prop it back up with supports and stakes and help it slowly recover with months of watering and TLC. In fact it looks much healthier now than it ever has, a shining verdant example of resilience. Much like the children’s experiences of trauma and abuse, events such as hurricanes are completely out of ones control and, just like the post-Irma trees, these children need support and extra love and care so that they have the resilience to weather the storm that life has thrown at them at such a young age.
My knowledge of the American foster system is limited as much of my work has been with the children directly and in the garden. I am aware of but not familiar with the huge amount of work that gets done behind the scenes. However, what I have seen at GHH in particular is the hugely positive impact of the children being housed together with their siblings and peers. At GHH there is such a strong sense of a loving community that I have seen doesn’t exist when children are placed alone with single foster families. The prospect of group homes such as GHH no longer being supported by the system and siblings and peers being torn apart by bureaucracy is truly heartbreaking and frustrating. There is an African proverb that states: “It takes a village to raise a child”. GHH and the group home model create the village these vulnerable children so desperately need. Unless we advocate for those that don’t have a voice, those in power currently will continue to put profit before people. It has been the greatest privilege to work with GHH and it is with a heavy heart that I say goodbye to them as I return to live back in England. I hope that GHH may continue its wonderful work unimpeded by government austerity and the children, much like the garden, continue to grow and thrive.
This month’s blog contribution was written by: Sally Ashby http://www.ghhaven.org/