The experience on the Belarus Youth Leadership Program for Daniel Emelianov (2014; Svetogosk, Belarus/CO) opened his eyes and his heart. During his two week stay at his host site in Castle Rock, Colorado, his coordinator Holly Nichols arranged for the group to visit a class for special needs students as well as a special needs nursing home that has a therapy garden.
Daniel’s life experience with his own disabilities as a child left him extremely uncomfortable being around being people disabilities. At first, he was not wanting to participate in the activities mentioned above, but then something clicked and he started to embrace the learning opportunity around him. At the therapy garden, they invited our participants to practice gardening from a wheel-chair and using the specialty tools they have for the special needs patients at the hospital. Daniel stepped outside of his comfort zone and hopped on into a chair.
This backstory is necessary as to explain how remarkable this program was for Daniel and how it inspired the current project he is working on. In January 2015, Daniel put together a team and got in touch with the head teacher of a local rehabilitation center for children with disabilities. He told her of his the idea to build a ‘smart’ therapy garden for the children at this center. The head teacher loved his project! They began working together along with his team to establish this garden. Daniel also applied for a grant through the US State Department and received $2000 to purchase supplies for this garden!
To start this project; the team came up with two different landscape designs; asked the children to draw what they would like to see in their ‘smart’ garden, and found designs of garden decorations they would like to use. In March they plotted the landscape design layout, purchased the plants, seeds, benches, and a metal garden entrance. Here is Daniel on the garden’s further progress:
“Just a few words as ‘smart’ therapy garden for the children in Svetlogorsk Rehabilitation centre is progressing. As expected the end of April and May were extremely busy. The project team, children and their parents, the center staff worked very hard to complete our garden. We planted tomatoes, potatoes, cabbage, onions, peas and other vegetables. 4 new apple trees and 4 thujas have been added to the garden. Grass is green, flowers are in blossom, vegetables are growing and the whole look of the garden is such a pleasure to see! What a difference we have made!”
Daniel continues to work hard to achieve his goals for this project: Educate and support these children, parents, and volunteers in developing urban agriculture and community gardens; help develop cognitive and creative abilities as well as practical life skills for these children, raise awareness in his community about the benefits of community gardening by involving them in his project.
It is clear that this is more than just a capstone project for Daniel. It has become a way of life for him, his team, the head master, and the children at this rehabilitation center. Daniel has truly made a difference in his home community.