Children in South Mumbai transform unused land into vegetable patch
In a corner of the Umerkhadi Observation Home in south Mumbai, a group of children are busy transforming an unused piece of land into a vegetable patch. As they sow seeds, tend to young plants and harvest seasonal vegetables, they are in the process of an inner healing.
Begun as a rehabilitation initiative in the Umerkhadi and Bhiwandi children’s homes last year, the Urban Garden Project is the brainchild of the Aangan Trust, an NGO that works with destitute children in Mumbai’s slums and observation homes.
“The idea is to offer children practical vocational skills along with important life lessons. It is a process that will help break the cycles of crime, violence and risky behaviour,” said Shailja Mehta, executive director of Aangan.
The project has been made possible by the active support of SA Jadhav, the superintendent of the Umerkhadi home. It involves more than 500 children accused of crime, exploited by drug peddlers or employers, and often abandoned by their families.
“The students set achievable educational and vocational goals for themselves and take steps towards a responsible new life after their release from the observation home,” Mehta said.
Once a week, the garden is also used as a space to conduct group discussions on anger management, peer pressure, and other issues relevant for children exposed to violence and exploitation.
“These sessions are designed to make them reflect on the risks they are exposed to, the decisions they can make, and their abilities to cope with difficult situations,” she adds.
The combined therapeutic effect of gardening and group discussions has helped the children develop positive attitudes towards personal growth, while instilling self-confidence in them.
“It’s the one time in the day I feel hopeful. Maybe something will change when I go back out,” said a young gardener.
Another feels proud that the vegetables they grow are consumed by other children in the home. “Our garden is the best part about this place. We feel free here, and can lose ourselves without any fear,” he said.