Interview with Eva Lang, co-founder of LYSOs Garden in Greece
Kalamata is the capital and central port in the Peloponnese, and in the midst of that city you find a garden – but not just any garden. LYSOs Garden is a non-profit organisation for Greeks with a handicap, and it is one of very few projects for handicapped young adults in the country. Children with disabilities attend special schools, but once school is over, there isn’t much life waiting for them. They get locked away in their family homes and are separated from society. Eva Lang and Waltraud Sperlich, two women from Germany, who are now living in Greece, give two dozen handicapped young people, “the kids” as they call them, not only something to do, but also a purpose and dignity.
The two friends had a small publishing company, but when the crisis struck Greece, they were not selling many books anymore. Feeling the urge to help, they got in touch with the school for handicapped children in Kalamata. “It was about to get closed, because there was no more money for it,” Eva tells us. “We started collecting money for this school and were quite successful, because we have a network in Germany, Austria, and Switzerland.” They put pictures of the children on their website, and in March 2016 got an unexpected call. “A man who has a lot of money saw these pictures and said he wanted to help. He had inherited a lot of money from his uncle, who was one of the Greek shipping magnets.” He asked if they could start something with 50 000 Euro. “This is true,” Eva laughs. “We did not really believe it, but it was no joke. I think, because his uncle came originally from the Kalamata, his nephew wanted to do something good for this area.”
Eva´s son, who is slightly disabled and lives in an Anthroposophic Community for people with and without handicaps in Germany, inspired them to start LYSOs Garden, when they saw the huge difference between Germany and Greece. “In Germany, there is a very good system in place for people with disabilities. In Greece, there is basically nothing.” After school “many of the young adults just disappear in their homes. When their parents go working, they get locked away. It is a really sad life.” Since you can garden in Greece all year round “and gardening doesn´t require dangerous machinery, and you find something to do for many different types of disabilities” they had found the project they wanted to invest in.
Eva is, together with Waltraud, responsible for the management of LYSOs Garden“, but her role is not limited to organising and taking care of the staff that contains of six people (for now). Teachers, social workers, the gardener and psychologist, all of them highly qualified. “In this, the crisis is good for us. There are so many highly qualified people who are unemployed, and we can employ some of them.” Just as Eva is having a double role, taking care of the finances and caring for the kids, LYSOs Garden serves a double purpose. The project gives not only the young adults with impairments meaning, but also a meaningful job to otherwise unemployed people. Besides, it also gives a deeper meaning to the life of Eva.
“It makes me very happy, and it changed me personally. I think I am more balanced since I started this. I love what I do, and this is 100 percent what I want and who I want to be.”
A Typical Day in LYSOs Garden
Not every day is the same, but there is a basic structure to most days. “The gardening teachers, staff, and the kids meet at 9:30am in the big property that is fenced off and was given to us by the Ministry of Agriculture.” After talking about the plans for the day and some casual meet and greet, they get divided into three or four groups and start working in the garden. In LYSOs Garden they grow organic vegetables, which they give to the kids, but also sell at the local market. “They either water the plants, take out the weeds, or prepare the soil with compost, which we make ourselves, or they put in seedlings.” Later they take a break, have breakfast together, and “carry on doing either the same thing or they change groups.” The week before our conversation they planted potatoes.
On Saturdays a group volunteers can go to the central market in Kalamata and sell the vegetables directly from the garden. “They love the contact with the people, and they love to sell the veggies. They also learn other skills, like dealing with money.”
LYSOs Garden has a clear mission, “to start something to show other people, even politicians, that you can´t just hide people with handicaps away. They should be in the centre of our community and not at the outside,” but the future is not so clear. Though the public response is very good, getting financial support is hard. The non-profit organisation needs donations to keep running and getting closer to fulfilling their dream of setting up a home for people with disabilities. “Maybe, even when we are no longer active, our project will carry on and it will grow.”
Growth and Meaning
There is something beautiful in every person out there. There just is. We might not always see it, and too often, we don´t take the time to dig deeper and find it. LYSOs Garden is a beautiful place, a place of life and growth. It grows vegetables, but also people and meaning. Everyone who ever tried to grow a seedling to the fruit or vegetable it is supposed to be knows how much patience is needed. The process is slow, a lot can go wrong, and we need to pay attention, look close enough and treat the tiny plant with tender care. It is the same with people. They need tenderness, attention, and patience to be allowed to grow into their potential. Just as the vegetables from a garden do not look as perfect as those on the supermarket shelves, people never are perfect, but it is in their flaws where we can find their beauty. “I learn,” Eva concludes, “that all the kids have one thing that is wonderful about them. They have golden hearts. They are really worth the time and energy to get to know. Don´t try to hide the disability, just accept it and show it and try to be proud of the progress that your child makes and try to grow with it.”