Transforming Lives, Cultivating Character

For most people, a garden is for cultivating plants for their ornamental or medicinal value, for personal enjoyment and recreation.

But the Community in Bloom garden at Muhammadiyah Welfare Home is more than just a normal plot for cultivating greens; it also serves as a platform to cultivate the character of the boys and youths residing in the Home.

The Home currently takes care of 70 boys and youths referred to them by the courts, other government organisations and individuals. These boys and youths come from various challenging and troubled backgrounds and the Home strives to give these young people another chance to do something significant with their lives.

Gaining through gardening

The introduction of a community garden in 2008 to the Home has provided a therapeutic programme for boys through gardening. Through gardening, the Home noticed some of their residents' behaviours improving, in particular, two young boys.

Fariz*, 9, has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD. That means he has a problem with paying attention in class and can be over active.

Before coming to the Home, he was living with his grandmother as his parents were divorced and could not take up the responsibility to raise him. Unfortunately she was later diagnosed with cancer and had to move to Malaysia to stay with relatives who could care for her and so Fariz was put in the Home.

Fariz had been rejected by other homes which could not deal with him as he was hyperactive and had violent tendencies. However, at the Home, when the caregivers learnt he liked gardening, they placed him in the gardening programme, where after his in-house classes, he would be given time to maintain the garden by doing work such as weeding, forking, loosening the soil and watering the plants.

Fariz (in green shirt) merrily weeding along with NParks volunteers during the organisation's Culture Day activities.

A soothing effect

Through these hands-on gardening activities and by being in the garden, the Home discovered that he was able to remain calm for more than an hour while maintaining his focus on his gardening activities. The Home also noticed that Fariz would give special attention to all the flowering plants by gently watering them and carefully loosening the soil around their base.

Rashid's* parents are divorced and both are in prison. As such, the 14-year-old lived with his grandparents, but was abused by his relatives that were staying in the same house. With no other place to go, Rashid would hurt himself by slashing his arms with sharp objects when he was stressed and frustrated with his situation.

When his teacher noticed the scars and marks on his arms and she quickly alerted the school authorities. He was then referred to the Home by his school.

Providing security

At the home, Rashid discovered that he could find comfort in gardening, saying that plants could understand him. For instance, he would be very happy when the sunflower started to bloom. With regular participation in gardening, Rashid has become more stable both emotionally and mentally. It's now easier to have a conversation with him and his school has reported to the Home that Rashid smiles and chat more with his classmates.

Rashid working with a volunteer during NParks' Culture Day to spruce up the Home's garden.

Because their behavior had improved, both boys are now allowed out of the Home to engage in activities such as helping to man the booth set up by the Home and working with various groups for the Gardener's Cup challenge at last year's Singapore Garden Festival. During the festival, if you had gone by the booth, you would have seen both boys merrily sharing with visitors about the home and its garden that they are both very proud of.

Both Fariz and Rashid hard at work in the garden they love.

*To protect the identities of the boys as they are still minors, their real names are not used here.

By Muhammad Haidir Bin Aman

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