“It makes me very happy”
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.”
Ilias has an intellectual disability. He likes loneliness and doesn´t participate in team activities. When he started in the garden, he could hardly work on uneven ground, because he was so big and he was not used to doing anything.When you told him to do something and you explained it, he looked at you and had no clue what he had to do. Obviously, he was used for many years that he was not getting anything right at all and had sort of given up. He has changed a lot. He still gets things wrong on occasion, but he tries much harder. He has learned to listen and he has learned to move around on uneven ground. He can go downhill and uphill without noticing, something he could not do because he was so unbalanced. It might seem like a small step forward, but for us it is a big change to his whole character. It makes him so very happy.
Stavroula has a slight intellectual disability, but she is very mature. Her mother passed away recently. She loved her very much. Now she lives with her father who is a violent person with alcoholic issues. She wants to escape that reality. She participates in the garden activities with pleasure. Stavroula has a passion and talent for singing. We were told recently that we should try to get her into a class for singing. The first time Sandy saw her, she sat beside Sandy, the psychologist, and said, “I think we´ll have a really good time.”
Panagiotis has Down syndrome. He is a very unique child who likes to go on walks. He grew up in a family that loves and accepts him, but he is very nervous because of his fear that someday he will be alone. Once we have asked the children to begin a phrase with “I want to” and end it with “I don´t want to,” and then continue with their wishes, dreams, and fears. He said, “I want to get married and have children, and I don´t want to grow old alone.” It was a very emotional moment for all of us.
Thodoris loves to make jokes with you and loves physical contact. However, he is quite insecure and does not always know how to show his love. He has an intellectual disability, and he lives with his mother and his siblings. His father abandoned them many years ago, and the family is facing financial problems and difficulty in communication. As a result, Thodoris is often angry, but he tries to deal with it. He wants to be unique, but without being bossy or self-centred. He is very sensitive, and he usually needs time to gain confidence around you. But if you succeed, he will love and trust you. One day, he tried to frighten Sandy and she got upset. He was staring at her with doubt, when she finally laughed, he started giggling for hours.
Georgia has a slight intellectual disability. Although she has fears, she tries to confront them. One day, we tried an experiment. Every child turned and we stuck a note on their back. On the note, all the children write a good and a bad characteristic. She felt very emotional about the good one, but very disappointed about the negative one. During the lesson, it was obvious that she does not accept any feedback about her behaviour due to the fact that she has been rejected so many times in the past.
Lorraina has Down syndrome. She comes only during spring, early summer and autumn, and stays with her mother during winter. The days she is not with us, she gets locked away in the house for many hours while her parents go to work. She has a basic idea about gardening because of her family’s background. They are olive farmers. She likes physical work. Although she is so tiny, she loves to push the wheel barrow when it´s full of weeds or crates with harvested veggies.
Polichronis is the oldest one out of the group. He is considered autistic with Asperger Syndrome. He is sensitive, over-protective, and well-intentioned. If he trusts someone and someone is close to him, he gives all his unconditional tenderness. He is also an astonishing character. If you want to know what day of the week it was when you were born and you give him your date of birth, he can tell you. Of course you can look it up, and he is correct.
Nikos has an intellectual disability. He is one of the most sensitive people you will meet, and he really cares about everyone. He grew up with is mother and his siblings who love and take care of him. His father abandoned them when he was young. Rejection is his biggest issue. He is very stressed and has no self-confidence. Sandy remembers once he wanted to discuss his panic attacks and sleeping difficulties with her. He told her about previous events of his life and admitted that he thinks of himself as unable to do anything. In fact, he is very able and cooperative. They made a deal. Every Friday he tells her what he did best and his achievement during the week, and every time he comes to her with a big smile and fully satisfied.
The profiles of the kids were written mainly by Sandy, the psychologist of LYSO´s Garden, but also taken from the interview with Eva.
For the next three months you will find regular picture updates about the project on our Instagram. We like you to help us support LYSOs Garden, either by sharing the story, or by giving money to:
ΛΥΣΟ ΕΚΠΑΙΔΕΥΤΙΚΗ ΔΙΑΧΕΙΡΙΣΤΙΚΗ ΑΜΚΕ – LYSOs Garden
IBAN: GR07 0110 2200 0000 2200 0583 603