Holy Family Primary memorialises fallen student with peace garden

Sunday, October 28, 2018

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The downtown Kingston-based Holy Family Primary School has created a peace garden to honour the memory of 11-year-old Taysha Hughes who was killed during a flare-up of violence in Parade Gardens in June of last year.

The school, which placed third in the recently concluded Trees for Peace competition organised by the Violence Prevention Alliance (VPA) in collaboration with Peace and Love in Society (PALS) and the Ministry of Education, Information, Youth and Culture, was still reeling from the loss of Taysha, then a student at the school, when an opportunity presented itself to honour her life by participating in the competition launched on Peace Day in March of this year.

According to Dillion Ainkey, guidance counsellor at the school, initially there was some debate regarding the location of the garden, which became known as 'Harmony Garden', and also a fitting memorial for Taysha.

“For a period of time after her death students were mourning, and we had to be doing a lot of grief counselling not only for the effects of Taysha's death but also for the violence that was being experienced at the time in the area,” he explained, adding that while doing so, it was decided that the creation of a space, which was beautiful and offered an escape for the students, was crucial for healing.

In the end, work on the garden, which is located at the rear of the grade six block, commenced with financial assistance from Unity and Peace, the local arm of the international organisation Fight for Peace, which was working in the community of Parade Gardens, where the school is located. Unity and Peace representative and a capoeira coach, Dennis Eckart assisted with the design of the garden and also conducted a workshop with the students on how to utilise recycled items in creating the garden.

“He instructed us in how to cut tyres and make benches out of some wooden pallets that were donated to us. The children were taught how to cut the tyres, stack them, and also how to insert the soil. We painted everything in bright colours,” Ainkey said, noting that flowers were donated by GraceKennedy and the Grace and Staff Community Development Foundation, with trees coming from VPA.

Most of the work on the garden was done on Labour Day in May and a memorial for Taysha, who was affectionately known as Angel, consisted of a plaque with her name and other details placed at the entrance of the garden.

The planting of Harmony Garden has had an obvious impact on the students, as they can be seen visiting it every free period available. It has at times become a distraction so much so that, Ainkey said plans were afoot to teach them how to use the garden.

“We have to now structure the use of the garden so that students don't overuse or abuse it,” he disclosed.

Conflicts among the students are localised to a specific section of the school far away from the garden, which is seemingly considered holy ground. “Maybe the name of the garden plays on their conscience and they don't go near it when there is conflict,” he said with a chuckle.

“It has also affected their moods. I have observed how children react when in the garden. Yes, it is a beautiful getaway but the students, especially the boys, have become more nurturing and caring of the plants, especially the more aggressive boys. I have seen direct positive results of the garden being there. We have to ensure that this translates into how the students treat each other, Ainkey added.

For the most part, the guidance counselor and caretaker for the school Joseph Manning tend to the upkeep of the garden, however they are receiving stiff competition from the students, who want to become more involved in the watering and care of the plants.

Upon hearing that the Harmony Garden was adjudged third in the competition, Ainkey said he was thrilled. “It is the best feeling I have had in a long while,” he remarked, stating that he smiled from ear to ear as the garden for him was a labour of love.

“We went all out to do it...teachers, parents and students. I was happy when I saw the finished product and even more so that we were recognised,” he further stated.

The school also copped the social media prize for being voted the best peace garden by online followers of the VPA's Instagram and Facebook platforms. First place winner of the competition was Prospect Primary in St Thomas while Naggo Head Infant School in St Catherine copped second place.

Dr Elizabeth Ward, chair of the VPA commended all of the schools that entered the competition, stating that all schools required a beautiful quiet space for children to enjoy and find peace. These gardens, she added could also be utilised in resolving conflicts among them.

In addition to the VPA, PALS and the education ministry, partners of the initiative are: main sponsor, CB Facey Foundation; JN Foundation; Sandals Foundation; Forestry Department; National Environment and Planning Agency; the Broadcasting Commission of Jamaica; Jamaica 4-H Clubs; Trees that Feed Foundation; Early Childhood Commission; Mona GeoInformatics Institute; Nature Preservation Foundation and Child Protection and Family Services Agency.

More than 100 schools registered but only 30 gardens were created islandwide; as some were affected by the drought and other challenges

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