Students at the school are hoeing, digging and sowing in an effort to bring a sense of pride to the inhabitants of the area, project coordinator Dale Harvey says.
The kids learn caring and respect, kindness and responsibility among other things, from dealing with another life-form that is dependent on them to survive, he says. “You’re growing children in these projects, not just plants. “The kids have ownership of this project, they tell us what to do, I just help guide
them.” Not only that but gardening can apparently help reduce the crime rate in the area, police say.
Sergeant Andrew Graham from the Mangere East Neighbour Policing Team says engaging communities through schools encourages people to come out and take ownership of their properties and neighbourhood.
“There’s a reduction in crime because the more people that come out and are actually on the street looking after their neighbourhood the less crime there is,” he says. He’s hoping the interaction will also help foster a congenial amd trusting relationship between the community and police.
The project is the revival of an idea Mr Harvey had in the mid1990s after his prize-winning garden was vandalised by a group of students from the school. They first froliked in the pond and captured some prized and specially trained gold fish from his pond. Later Harvey discovered that some of his treasured goldfish had been cut up,; some smashed in doors and stuck the severed heads exhibited around the neighbourhood, he says.
The next day he marched into the Principal’s office with the news about this tragedy. The Children were apprehended. Once Harvey talked with them and their Parents, he realised that they thought they had discovered a "magic fairy land". Harvey knew now that this was not an act of vandalism so much as a moment of celebration. These poor Children had never ever experienced the joy of a garden. So Harvey went back to the Principal and gave Her an ultimatum to “either start a gardening programme at the school or be on the national news tomorrow”. Needless to say the gardening programme was started right away and flourished from the beginning. While the Principal had initially been sceptikal about it's success, very soon she became a delighted participant.
Within weeks the students had embraced the project and even began to take ownership of the garden. Harvey and Supervisory Teacher Josie Gardiner encouraged this. In a few short months, the kids beautified the school and all the school grounds with flowers mixed with vegetables. The harvests soon produced enough beautiful flowers and food for everyone. The garden project was so impressive and successful that Mount Wellington Wholesale Nursery donated enough recycled seedlings that all the Children got to take home hundreds of seedling plants to add a little pizzazz to their own homes. Soon Children and their Parents began gardening together raising their own food and beautifying all around their homes.
“The only stipulation I had was that the kids had to plant at least some of them in a place where everyone could see them,” Mr Harvey says. This was meant to beautify and uplift the appearance of the neighbourhood. It wasn't long before the students would wander through each other’s gardens comparing them and their overall cultivating prowess. Instead of staying indoors, both Children and their Parents spent a lot more time outdoors in their gardens. They began to meet their neighbours and now had a mutual topic of conversation about their gardens. They became much more protective and proud of their properties. So now whenever an "unwelcome noise' was heard on the street. There were many neighbours who went outside to investigate. "Crime hates to be seen", Harvey says. So soon crime, tagging and vandalism nearly disappeared from those neighbourhoods!
After nearly five years the project had to finish when Mr Harvey’s mother took ill and his time was spent caring for her at their Mangere East home until her death. In 2011 Sergeant Andrew Graham of the Mangere East Neighbourhood Policing Team and Housing New Zealand approached Mr. Harvey to redevelop the school projects to once again eliminate crime and vandalism and uplift the neighbourhood profile. This time with the honoured sponsorship from Fletcher Challenge company Pacific Steel. The kids of Sutton Park School are once again picking up their trowels, spades and pitchforks to make their neighbourhood a better place.
Green streets: Marthaida Karanga and Robert Kiripati chat to programme leader Dale Harvey.
Photo: TROELS SOMMERVILLE
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