Farming Together, Working as One
Farming is hard work, but nobody is complaining at Onesimus Garden. Instead, they join hands and get the job done. Since August 2017, COH clients have been making their way to the vegetable farm at 40 Neo Tiew Road every Friday to help out with various tasks. They usually begin an early lunch there with the farmers and other volunteers, before proceeding to work in the field for two to three hours, with a break in between.
Depending on the day’s needs, they could be preparing saplings in the nursery, transplanting them, protecting the vegetables from pests using traditional methods, clearing weeds and debris, harvesting or packing vegetables.
Their efforts are part of a three-month programme by COH and Onesimus Garden to train and discover which clients can work on the farm. Thereafter, clients who show an aptitude may participate in paid work. Those who are not suitable, but benefit from farming, can continue to be involved in other ways, as part of the larger community.
The fruits and benefits of farming
Onesimus Garden uses farm restorative therapy to reach out to the marginalised and disadvantaged in society to help them achieve a sense of belonging, identity, dignity and usefulness. In short, it is referred to as their BIDU ministry to transform lives and touch communities.
“The COH clients are experiencing both training and therapy at the same time at Onesimus Garden. For example, casting soil is a form of touch therapy for some of them. There’s a sense of joy when they overcome the awkwardness of having soil in their hands to accomplish the task,” says Farm Manager, Mr Tarani Premchand (Prem) Deepchand.
Being on the farm offers myriad opportunities for people with special needs to be part of a team, and ultimately grow in confidence and independence. “I’ve watched them form a chain to move things from one area to another. After demonstrating a task, some of them can do it on their own. Over time, they will also take an initiative in what they are doing,” says Prem.
“I feel great joy when I connect with them. They may not be able to talk much, but they can express their feelings. It warms my heart to see Bashir smile and giggle when he accomplishes something. It gives me a lot of encouragement,” he adds.
Along with the opportunity to work, farming gives COH clients a break from their daily routine indoors to delight in fresh air. Besides improving their gross and fine motor skills, they develop better communication skills by listening to and carrying out instructions.
Farming also helps build up their physical fitness and ability to adapt. “There are many positive sensory effects on the clients,” explains Mr Harjit Singh, COH Programme Staff. “For example, they are organising their thoughts while balancing and pushing a loaded wheelbarrow through uneven ground. Out in the open, they are also learning to cope with the heat and be less anxious about the sound of planes.”
Working Alongside Crest Secondary Students
On 3 November 2017, the clients worked alongside students from Crest Secondary School who were on a two-week programme at the farm. A specialised school for Normal (Technical) students, Crest Secondary offers a curriculum that integrates academic learning with vocational training.
It was an opportunity for the clients and students to interact and work together. Farm Assistant Philip introduced them by name, paired each client with a student, and got them excited about clearing the nursery next to Daniel’s Plot.
Yen Peng, Kah Bee, and the students partnering them, helped to clear the area. Thereafter, the soil and weeds were loaded on to wheelbarrows and sent for composting. Showing them how it should be done, Philip said, “Work as one. Help each other.” Aware that Yen Peng and Kah Bee could manage the task, he got the students to guide them and resist the urge to take over.
Despite the heat, Johnson cheerfully pressed on, completing the full range of activities he was assigned. He also dutifully drank lots of water from his tumbler when prompted.
Determination was all over Jiang Ker’s face as he lifted the wheelbarrow and pushed as far as he could, before handing it over to his partner for the final stretch.
The name, Onesimus, is a Greek word meaning useful, beneficial and profitable. “It is a place where people with special needs can feel useful no matter how small their contribution to the final work,” says Prem.
About the Author: The COH Resource Team comprises volunteers, content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals.