blog posts from GYC's participants, alumni, & staff
by Cher Sprague
This past week the Global Youth Connect delegates from NYC completed their first two days of volunteer work with their organizations. For my volunteer placement, I chose community gardening, which is partnered with the New York Coalition Against Hunger (NYCCAH). To an outsider’s eye, it probably seems like putting a garden in the middle of the inner-city is not human rights related. However, I think that the garden demonstrates things that has to do with human rights. For example, one function of the garden is to help ease food strain on families that live in lower income areas. The AmeriCorps volunteer that we are working with, Jessika, told us that our site, Carver Garden, (located in Harlem) fed around 45 families. In many underprivileged areas, it is hard to find fresh fruits and vegetables and it’s not always economically feasible for these families to buy them from the grocery store. However, NYCCAH has helped make fresh food more available by getting Farmer’s Markets to accept food stamps through their farm fresh program, which is amazing for the nutrition of kids and families. After the NYCCAH visit we discussed food and nutrition as essential aspects of human rights, and I think that this garden is a great demonstration of how the application of this right can play out in the United States.
Another function of the garden focuses on the idea that it is important for human beings to be with and experience nature. My area of interest is environmental sociology, so this particular aspect of the garden is very important to me. There is a body of research that suggests that community gardens in schools can help children do better and get higher test scores. Whether that is the case or not, a case can also be made that the garden is not a means to an end but an end in itself. When children are able to see their power of creation, it opens a whole new world for them. I met a woman named Marilyn who has a plot in the garden and comes there early in the morning with her son. She told me that her son and her water and tend to the plants together. I thought it was so amazing that her and her son bonded over such a simply activity that is out of the range of possibility for many people in an urban environment. Taking care of plants in a garden has the potential to help children (and adults) get in touch with their own humanity. After working in the garden for a few hours (in 95 degree heat) I felt more calm and relaxed than I did at the beginning of the day.
The garden also helps to bring the community together. Jessika told me that she did feel that those who participated in the garden were involved in the community in other ways. She said that many of the gardens have “neighborhood celebrities” that garden there. When we walked to the corner deli to get some water, it seemed that everyone there knew about James (the man who created the garden) and the community garden. Throughout the two days, we had numerous people stop and talk to us about the garden. I had one older woman stop and tell me that it reminded her of her childhood in the rural south. All of these aspects of the garden make me think that something so simple as gardening together can help all types of people recognize the humanity in other types of people different from them.