Cicero once said “If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need”. The term ‘paradise’ itself derives from the Persian words for a walled garden, so somebody must be doing something right at ‘Podem’, where they refuse to accept that somebody born with mental challenges, or disabilities if you prefer, cannot function and have a productive life in society.
Eduterra is a Valencian NGO that is planting the seeds of a project that is actively enabling people like Bernardo, Luis, Alex, José, Pablo, Oscar, Francisco and the two Andrés to become gardeners.
The project, whose final aim is that these young people will be able to achieve at least a degree of autonomy and a job, which will enable them to function in the working world despite the mental and intellectual challenges that they were born with, began in October 2013.
Although intended as a three year course the organisers of the project, chiefly the on site coordinators Manu and Jorge, have created a series of modules so that each trainee can advance and achieve partial qualifications at his own pace, qualifications which are recognised in all the countries of the European Union.
If it proves impossible to find companies willing to take on these young men, another option would be for Eduterra to set up its own business structures in order to provide jobs and sources of income.
Manu is Manuel Medina, who explained the project and hosted a visit to the site by Valencia International. A biology graduate, Manu has plenty of experience in education, having been both a student and a teacher at the La Salle school in Alcoy. Jorge Moreno Jorge has a degree as a social integrator as well as being an electrician.
Podem forms part of Eduterra and is an organization that helps disabled people learn how to become more independent.
Together they and a group of ten other dedicated professionals from Podem run a residence in Olocau, where most of the trainee gardeners live under the supervision of their helpers.
These trainee gardeners have to deal with a number of challenges, with different degrees of mental disability, and in one case additional difficulties such as deafness.
At a time when social programmes are being dramatically cut back, resources and funding are inevitably serious problems for such projects.
Fortunately for Bernardo, Luis, Alex, José, Pablo, Oscar, Francisco and the two Andrés, Valencian businesswoman Teresa Puchades of the property company Avanza Urbana, has been active in obtaining the support of organisations such as the Valencian construction federation FEVEC, on whose premises the project is being undertaken, and where a wasteland is being turned into a fully functioning garden, which even if it isn’t paradise, is at least a step in that direction.
The training centre is an area of what is fast becoming an attracive garden on an urban plot surrounding the training centre of FEVEC in Calle Arzobispo Fabián y Fuero. Here the land is mapped out in sections, each of which becomes a mini project with a series of tasks which the trainees not only have to undertake, but also to plan and organise so that they function as a team and learn to face challenges, organising their own time and efforts.
The plans include growing herb gardens, laying paths, weeding and pruning and the regeneration of the land, as well as installing efficient watering systems.
Other plans in the pipeline include an external nursery, to grow their own plants and trees and a greenhouse.
The project is not only about gardening, which is in itself a way towards the trainees learning to become more autonomous in a wide range of areas of personal development; they also get out and about, for example participating as volunteers in a project to clean up the Turia Natural Park, collaborating in the regeneration and repopulation of local flora.