Haiyan Child Victims Find Comfort in Garden | Pinay.com
In the summer of 2014, I was given the opportunity to experience a life-altering event. Thanks to a grant from the American Montessori Society’s (AMS) Peace Committee and the help of family, friends, and a local government, I was fortunate to serve the child victims of super typhoon Haiyan that hit the Philippines on November 8, 2013.
Haiyan packed winds of over 315kph killing over 6,300 people, with almost 30,000 more injured or missing. Disturbing images of the devastation, shown for over a week on U.S. televisions, prompted me to come home to help the children.
My father had a small garden with orchids and other ornamental plants. I sensed his peace of mind and simple joy when he was tending to them. But I did not fully realize how therapeutic a garden could be until we started a gardening project in my school in Florida. Observing the joy and wonder in the children’s faces whenever they were with the plants made me appreciate the positive effects of a garden. If I were to help children heal, I would use gardening as my vehicle and expand it into a peace curriculum.
I chose to go to Estancia, Iloilo upon the recommendation of my nephew who worked there after Haiyan. Along with a grant from AMS, I designed a fundraising activity in my school. I sold raffle tickets for a Reiki session and a consultation on Montessori At Home. I solicited funds through letters, asking for donations from family and friends. To implement my curriculum, I purchased books on peace and asked the teachers and parents of my school to donate new and slightly-used books. I asked my sister, a plants-nursery owner, to accompany me to Estancia for three days as adviser on everything I needed to create an edible garden.
Estancia Central School (ECS) has 3,300 students from Kindergarten to Sixth Grade. It lost 43 classrooms and other buildings to Haiyan with 95% of the children losing their homes and livelihoods. Each classroom—with one teacher and no assistant—was packed with 50 to 60 students. The rooms had deplorable conditions but for the children of ESC, it didn’t matter. It was their second home.
After coordinating with the local government and teachers, we designed a garden for the 500 fourth grade students. With four hired laborers using hewn wood from buildings destroyed by Haiyan, we created a beautiful garden with a bamboo arch, trellis, and log seats. We named it “Peaceful Garden,” with the children painting the sign themselves along with labels of the vegetables they were growing. This was their special place, their sanctuary.
I donated gardening and school supplies. My brother supplied 6,000 packets of seeds enabling me to donate to the families of ECS, other farmers in nearby towns, and an elementary school. My ideas on peace education were also shared.
While the laborers did their work, I was in the classrooms reading to the children and decorating garden journals. The children looked delighted as they gently worked with the pretty construction paper and coloring materials. We discussed ideas on how to develop the garden, how to share with others, and how to promote caring for the environment. Peace education, especially their own inner peace, was evident in those joyful smiles. On my last day, every child in one class handed me a thank you card with pictures and words that melted my heart. The teacher was pleasantly surprised by the children’s gesture. (One Filipina reached out to the disadvantaged in “Filipina Teacher Gives Inmates Second Chance”)
We can never understand the full extent of how blessed we are until we have witnessed the misfortunes of others. It is unfathomable to comprehend the impact of such pain on children and families. Haiyan stripped us of our pride and forced us to face a challenge that would test our humanity. My “Healing Garden” was a small step to rebuild the peace and comfort that the children of Estancia had momentarily lost. They will be haunted by the images of the storm for years. But I hope that they will also be reminded of the peace within them that has always been there—they just had to find it again. (See related story on “How to Make Peace in Mindanao.”)
Also read about the author and her new book “The Making of Writer Marissa Jarmin Hartwig” by Isagani Cruz.