Peace garden blooms for Holy Family’s kids
A peace garden established at Holy Family Primary School in downtown Kingston last year has been a welcome reprieve for the more than 700 students at the institution who are exposed to acts of violence.
The peace garden was financed by international non-governmental organisation (NGO) Fight for Peace and has resulted in students having a deeper appreciation for nature.
“It is a welcome addition to the school in that it is a beautiful space,” said the school’s guidance counsellor, Dillon Anikey.
“I have had boys who were considered more on the aggressive side, who have, even without any kind of prompting, cleaned up the garden, watered the garden and come back and tell me, ‘Sir, I cleaned up the garden,’” he said.
GraceKennedy Ltd chipped in with plants for the garden, and the students were also taught how to recycle tyres to create decorative items. The garden also inspired the creation of a peace park nearby.
“It is also like a sacred space being created in the school,” said Anikey.
“The caring of the space has been inspiring. The children have really surprised me in how much they are interested in cleaning up the space.”
Several of the students are orphans or have lost a parent. An informal survey conducted at the school about three years ago showed that at least 100 students at the institution at the time had lost their father. The guidance counsellor is impressed with the resilience of the children.
“They are very strong because they have a lot to deal with, and a lot of times, I reflect, and say that if I was expected to learn under some of the conditions, I might struggle, but I am inspired and a lot of times, the students carry around a tough exterior,” he said.
In a bid to appear tough, some students often engage in fights with other students, but for the past two years, Fight for Peace has also been trying to redirect their aggression through contact sports such as boxing and martial arts. These sports are taught to children at the institution and those living in communities surrounding the school.
Fight for Peace is a global NGO working to reduce youth violence through academies. Since 2016, the organisation has coordinated the Safer Communities Programme Jamaica under the collective brand ‘Unity and Peace’. This group has brought together 40 Jamaican partners, delivering more than 60 sessions a week at 16 sites, including schools and community centres in Hannah Town, Denham Town, Tivoli Gardens, Trench Town, Fletcher’s Land, and Parade Gardens.
“The play area was built as part of our programme with UNICEF to improve access to green spaces in the communities where we work. The Holy Family team reported that many children had challenges with grief and other emotional issues, and the school needed a safe, comforting space where teachers and guidance counsellors could speak with students or students could just reflect on their own,” said Kellie Magnus, country lead for Fight for Peace.
Another important component of the Fight for Peace initiative in schools is edu-sports.
“Edu-sport is game-based literacy and numeracy. So you use mathematics and English in order to play and have fun,” explained social worker Cheyenne Lester.
Lester generally observes the students during activities and intervenes when there are behavioural concerns.
“If a child is having a bad day, some will cry, some will come to the sessions, and if they don’t feel like playing, I would have to find out what is wrong and find a solution for what they are going through,” she said.
“Sometimes, in the home, they don’t have the support from the parents, and when they come to school, the aggressive behaviour that they portray is as a result of not having the kind of care that they want from parents,” she explained.
She has definitely seen a change in behaviour since the implementation of the programme. Alphanso Spencer, who coordinates the activities, has also observed better behaviour.
“The teamwork got a lot better. Their confidence got a lot better because some players felt they weren’t too good and their teammates encouraged them,” he said.
Teachers are also upbeat about the benefits of the initiative as they have found that students have become more enthusiastic about mathematics.
“Not all kids can work by the book. Some get bored easily and get distracted, so when you can actually implement it in a game where they are having fun, and they are learning, but they probably don’t even know that they are learning, learning comes natural to them,” said Spencer.