The empowerment project is one of our current projects in Vietnam, which we are very enthusiastic about!
The implementation the first phase began in 2017. The focus was on training the youngsters with special needs to welcome the hundreds of children coming from public schools to visit TTG. The aim of this is to fully empower our young people living with disabilities to become co- facilitators and trainers, together with our staff, of the children, adolescents, students, visitors, and volunteers who come to TTG to learn about ecology, biodynamic organic agriculture, sustainable living, mindfulness, social innovation, arts and crafts, and community life. Some of the young people with special needs received their diplomas last year and are already assuming their new roles with a strong awareness of their responsability.
In this sense, the empowerment project represents a very important shift in social work, as we have gradually moved from a situation where the educators were providing support and services to the people living with disabilities; to co-creating, together with the youngsters, the social field of an intentional community where all stakeholders contribute as partners.
TTG sometimes welcomes over 190 children at once
Children from Hue public schools visiting TTG
According to a recent study:
“Researchers found that senior citizens who didn’t feel useful to others were nearly three times as likely to die prematurely as those who did feel useful. This speaks to a broader human truth: We all need to be needed. Being “needed” does not entail selfish pride or unhealthy attachment to the worldly esteem of others. Rather, it consists of a natural human hunger to serve our fellow men and women.”
Children from Hue public schools discovering mindful eating
This fundamental human need is as real for people living with disabilities as for any other person; but more often than not, this aspiration to be of service is not taken into account when designing interventions for this kind of audience. This project is a pioneering concept that takes the field of social therapy to a new level, by creating an opportunity for young people living with disabilities to be of real service to the larger community and to address a very real need: reconnecting children with nature.
The second phase of the empowerment project, which is currently underway, is to develop educational programs in the field of sustainability, ecology, organic gardening, and Social and Emotional Learning, with the global aim of reconnection with Self, Others and Nature. These programs are currently being implemented and developed within the Happy Schools for Vietnam program, a pilot project which touches 2000 school pupils from kindergarten to university.
“Nature Deficit Disorder” or “NDD” is a wide spread problem in urban settings all over the world, and Vietnam is no exception. Most children grow up in cities, having hardly any connection with Nature. A recent study showed that children spend an average of 6 to 7 hours daily on an electronic device vs. 4 to 7 minutes playing outdoors. This disconnection from Nature and the excessive time spent on electronic devices also tend to disconnect children from their human environment and even from themselves, as their attention is constantly distracted by the screen. Our program meets this need for connection with nature, by giving the children and youths the opportunity to reconnect with nature in an active way, by learning about and practicing organic agriculture, arts and crafts. These activities provide a perfect opportunity to move from virtual reality to hands on experiences, allowing children and youths to develop practical skills in these domains and thereby also gain knowledge through direct experience.
There is a growing awareness in Vietnam of the environmental challenges caused by chemical and other pollution, loss of tropical forest and climate change. In this context, the TTG biodynamic organic garden offers an exceptional setting for children and youngsters to be actively involved in taking care of the planet, by caring for a garden and growing their own fruit and vegetables.
In order for us to develop our activities with school children, we have bought a bigger piece of land, next to TTG.
Until now, we have welcomed two groups of students from 2 public secondary schools in Hue. Each group has nearly 40 students from grade 6 to grade 8. They visit the land and do some simple tasks like seeding and watering in one hour and then play at the playground. All the students were so excited about their work with soils and plants, some of them confessed that they have never been to a garden before, some are so interested in simple gardening activities that make them feel so proud after finishing. They also enjoy the time of playing swings and seesaws and climbing afterwards.
The garden began to welcome the kids and students from TTG kindergarten and adolescence class. Teachers plan weekly visits to the garden. They experience nature through every touch. A walk through the land is a meaningful and enriching lesson about many types of plants, season changing, and diverse species in different areas. Some simple and ecological playground equipment have been built sparsely throughout the land. The kids have their opportunities to play freely and explore themselves.
Children learning how to care for nature with TTG gardener Hung and TTG youngsters
WHAT ABOUT SWITZERLAND?
The ELI team co-creating the Swiss project over the course of a weekend
And in Switzerland ?
The swiss team has the intention to learn from the project in Vietnam and to implement a similar project in Switzerland, which will focus on the integration of vulnerable people, such as refugees or young adults facing difficulties finding their place in the world.
This project will also involve a living community in the long term, but we are already thinking about how to implement elements of such a project in our current activities and in the ELI training programs that we offer.