The Butterfly Peace Gardens & Kalabala Bindu Gardens: ‘Garden Path’ Trauma Healing Centres for Children in Sri Lanka

By Sam Soundy

This article was first published by Freerange Press in Freerange Vol.2: Violence and Gardening in 2010. You can download a free pdf here.

The founders of the garden are currently planning to publish their findings and are crowdsourcing funds to do that at the moment. If you are interested in supporting this please read about it here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/garden-path-out-of-the-box-curriculum

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‘Life begins on the day you start a garden’

Chinese proverb

In a country that has suffered much from disaster in recent years, both natural and man made, there can be found two extraordinary oases for children. These inspirational places are the Butterfly Peace Garden in Batticaloa on the east coast and the Kalabala Bindu Garden in Hambantota on the south east coast of the country. The Gardens are centres of peace and healing for children that have been traumatised by the horrific effects of the many years of war Sri Lanka has endured, and the tsunami that ravaged the east and south coasts of the island in 2004.

Image from the Grand Opera in 2009

The Gardens

The Butterfly Peace Garden was started in 1997. Since it opened, 13,511 children have participated in programmes there and 500 children have now been participants in the nine-month programme at the recently established Kalabala Bindu Garden. This new garden was modelled on the Butterfly Peace Garden, and serves fishing and rice farming communities on the southeastern coast. The children range in age from six to fourteen years, and older teenagers return to the Garden to participate in popular programmes developed for their changing needs. Additionally, children visit the Garden on school trips by bus for one-day visits to the Garden programmes. These Children’s Gardens have become favourite places for the public to visit as well, so that during the hours when their gates are open to the public, thousands of students, families, and groups of young people visit the imaginative spaces and structures for play that each site offers. The wider community is periodically invited into the creative spaces for performances and activities.

Children’s Programmes

Each year 250 children go through a nine month programme in each garden. The Gardens are places where children’s playfulness is encouraged. The highly trained staff (animators) are all local community members who are skilled in conflict transformation techniques and contemplative art methods. The animators receive continual training in healing trauma and dealing with psychological insecurities because often the children who enter the programmes have been deprived of play, or worse, have been severely abused or conscripted by force into armed groups. The needs of each group of children vary depending upon the children’s ages, histories, and traumatic experiences so the animators invent new, fresh interactive healing games in preparation for each new group of children. Animators cultivate socially engaged creativity by encouraging children to use their imaginations and play cooperatively together. Animators will follow the child’s lead in this learning, essentially it is the children who do the healing and the adults simply clear the space — mental and physical — for them to do that.

The Garden Path Process

The process of trauma healing known as the ‘Garden Path Process’ is one which uses contemplation/meditation and creative expression to free the child’s imagination and creativity as a way to reconnect to the self and life’s mystery. Creative expression takes various artistic forms: music, song, puppetry, ritual, story-theatre, painting, ceramics, textiles, costumes, sculpture, poetry, mask — making and creative, healing games. The gardens are spaces that enable and encourage creative presence and flow and so allow the children to be children again. Environmental awareness and sustainability are also at the heart of the Garden Path programme. The Gardens are built from locally sourced natural materials used innovatively, and incorporate grey water recycling, rainwater harvesting, solar technology and natural ventilation in their buildings. They also facilitate and encourage the creation of natural ecosystems for the local flora and fauna. These are all crucial facets of the Garden Path’s philosophy and methodology of earthwork, artwork, heartwork and healing for the children and the community.

Image from the Grand Opera in 2009

Healing the epicentre of ethnic conflict

These Gardens bridge Sri Lanka’s ethnic divides by enrolling together children from regionally polarised minority and majority ethnic groups. The children’s healing play activities are culturally sensitive and carefully designed to restore relationships across ethnic divisions where violent conflict has been prevalent. The programmes promote trauma-recovery and confidence building for each child. In the two districts, many children experience forms of child abuse, poverty, lack of access to basic health services, domestic violence, early marriage, refugee displacement, malnourishment, inadequate educational opportunity, loss of one or both parents, loss of all caregivers, trauma as child combatants, and physical disabilities that are the consequence of war.

The Kalabala Bindu Garden and the Butterfly Peace Garden focus on healing the epicentre of Sri Lanka’s polarised ethnic conflict; the divisive community relationships caused by cultural and linguistic differences. The gardens attend to healing the consequences of social trauma by bringing together the youngest generation of children across ethnic divides. The Butterfly Peace Garden serves children of minority Tamil and minority Muslim communities, whereas the Kalabala Bindu Garden in the southeastern Hambantota District, serves children of the majority Sinhalese and minority Muslim communities. All the main ethnic and religious groups in the country, including Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Buddhist, participate in these programmes. The children’s programmes aim to provide new reconciliatory avenues, help communities heal ethnic schisms, and strengthen multi-ethnic cooperation in districts where cultural, linguistic, and religious differences are enmeshed in a history of violent conflict. One way of doing this is to include the parents and caregivers of enrolled children in one-on-one consultations as well as also including larger community audiences.

New Developments

Up until the beginning of last year the Garden Path centres have been located on borrowed land. They have grown organically and have done the best they can with the available space and resources. For the first time in their history work has begun to construct both Gardens on permanent sites, progress now depending on securing the required funding. The design process for both the Kalabala Bindu Children’s Garden and the Butterfly Peace Garden is bringing together all the elements in each garden to form a cohesive whole. From specific administrative building requirements to landscape play structures and accompaniment areas, everything works together in function and form. The experience and expertise of the animators and staff of both the Butterfly Peace Garden and the Kalabala Bindu Garden, the needs of children and animators in these already established Garden Path centres, combined with locally inspired natural architecture and landscape, has helped to create overall plans emphasising simplicity and playfulness.

The elements which together make the gardens are:

The Appa Cabana/Stage: The central structure for the children in the garden, used as a meeting, eating, ritual and performance space

Activity Cabanas: Areas for smaller group creative work

Gardens within the Garden:

Secret Gardens — for seclusion and one to one accompaniment

Teaching Garden – Medicinal plant and vegetable and fruit garden where good environmental practise is taught

Nature/wildlife gardens — For the Garden’s birds, animals and wildlife.

Mud Mountain– The centre of the story world of the Garden, mud and clay sculpture and story incubation.

Play Areas/Structures/ Sculpture Gardens– Devoted to the whimsy and the fun, inviting sensory exploration and the opening of a child’s imagination.

Accompaniment Area (Cuckoos’ World): A specific area is set aside for 1:1 or small group accompaniment activities designed to inculcate awareness in children about specific issues such as domestic violence, abuse, racism, militarism

Studio: Where the animators prepare activities to do with children

Garden Path Atelier and Factory (BPG only): A space for research and development of pedagogical tools for the Garden Path

Office: The administrative centres of the gardens

Guest Housing: For visiting teachers and guests of the Garden Path. Theatre Wardrobe and Props, Filing, Storage room, Site Workshop/Storage, Eating Area and Kitchen, Restrooms and Laundry, Medical Room.

Image from the Grand Opera in 2009

Global Healing

The Garden Path model and philosophy of trauma-healing gardens is one that can be implemented and practiced throughout the world. Its grassroots practices empower communities by using worldly techniques and natural local knowledge and wisdom and their design approaches are ones that can cross all boundaries.

The Gardens are in essence a physical symbol for an inward practice, a space for inner exploration and understanding. The underlying principle is that of an internal garden that is specific to each individual. The interior garden is tended to, its elements are in natural balance, its earth is cared for and cultivated, the flora and fauna are respected, seeds are sown, plants, trees and vegetation are located, trained and pruned, allowing spontaneity and natural progression. All are in accord with nature’s will, way and mystery and are revered and nurtured. By unifying both the internal and external gardens people gain the strength to weather whatever life throws their way. Life’s magic and its mayhem, its triumphs and its tribulations, the negative and the positive can all be celebrated, accepted and overcome.

Garden Path is a world-wide fellowship of socially engaged artists who work in Sri Lanka at The Butterfly Peace Garden, Monkeys Tail Centre for Contemplative Arts and Narration, Kokku Veedu Village Garden and Silendi Veedu Childrens Garden (Batticaloa), Kalabala Bindu Garden (Hambantota), Crippled Crow Centre for Contemplative Art and Narration (Negombo), in Cambodia at the Mango Tree Garden and Palais des Rats. In Canada at the Stupid School in Toronto and the Hospital for Wounded Angels on Gabriola Island, British Columbia.

‘The Garden begins and ends, like everything else, in mystery.’

Paul Hogan

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There is more information at http://butterflypeacegarden.org/