‘The Garden – Place of Reflection and Healing’

Sara van Tonder explaining the meaning of the images in their garden, ‘Place of Reflection and Healing’.

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On 10 October 2014, Mental Health Day, we celebrated the opening of the symbolic garden ‘Place of Reflection and Healing’ which was cultivated by the Good Hope Psychiatric Support Group for psychiatric clients in Paarl under the competent guidance of our clinical pastoral counsellor, Sara van Tonder. This creative garden at the TC Newman District Community Health Clinic, depicts the trauma of rape and the therapeutic healing process.

This psychiatric support group is a subsection of GHPS.  It has 70 members and meets once a month.  Eighteen group members work three Saturdays a month in this garden of hope.  The group meets in a building on the grounds at TC Newman called the Emporium.  This building is no longer used by the Department of Health, and the support group uses it as their “home”.  

The Support Group and their carers focus on reaching out to others, raising funds and implementing various projects. TC Newman clinic has given the group part of the garden to develop as a therapeutic garden with rape and the consequences of rape as the theme.   The group started a vegetable garden and also helps propagating plants for the therapeutic garden.

The garden is not only used in a therapeutic context but is also used to train 5th year medical students about rape.  Dr Deborah Bedford-Strohm from Germany used the garden in February 2019 when she presented a course in trauma using sand play therapy.  A group from Europe, The Executive MBA Health Care Management students, annually visits the garden.

In 2016 the garden, together with two other psychiatric projects, was entered in a competition run by the Department of Health and TC Newman won the James Claassen integrated Service Award for a holistic and integrated approach to mental health.

A copy of  a piece written in our annual report of 2017 about the psychiatric support group:

Only one of the 54 group members were hospitalized this year. This was an important milestone for the group.  The goal of a psycho-social education group such as this one is to foster greater insight into their illness through training.  Also, the social cohesion between the group members causes them to look out for one another and notice any behaviour changes. They can then keep each other accountable regarding aspects like the taking of medication. Training comprises half of the group meetings.  Subjects covered this year included depression, schizophrenia and bipolar mood disorder.  Other themes we explored were self-image and personal growth.

A highlight on the group’s social calendar was a visit to the TB Hospital on Mandela Day to distribute food and toiletries, as well as an outing to the beach.  It was with great sadness that we had to say good bye to Heather Manual and Marileze Syferts, who both passed away this year. Although they are dearly missed, it encouraged the group members to hear from both Heather and Marileze’s families how much the support of the group meant to them.

The psychiatric support group’s garden still serves as a place of healing and reflection.  The garden receives many local visitors, and in this year also had 14 visitors from America, 4 from Germany and one each from Belgium and Sweden.  Although the drought had a huge impact on the garden, the group members decided that they will collect grey water.     Before December 3500l  of water were collected.  ”                                  

Sara van Tonder explains, “This unique garden reflects the trauma that rape victims experience, but it also takes the person to a place of healing and prayer.”

Prof. du Toit who was the speaker during the opening of The Garden sais amongst other things, “Since our sexuality is our source of life energy, sexual violence constitutes a shortcut to humiliation, domination and exploitation. This garden shows how sexual violence can undermine our human dignity, silence our voices, hollow us out from the inside, drain our self-respect and torture us with ongoing trauma. But sex is inherently good. That is why the garden also celebrates sex. It reminds us that healing is possible, that we can take back our sexual self. With loving care, plants will one day again lift their heads to the sun and bear flowers and fruit that are ‘beautiful to behold and good to eat.’ (Gen. 1). This happens when our sexual self is protected, supported and nourished. The Garden invites you to consider the current state of needs of your garden, whether you have been the target of sexual hatred or not. You are invited to tend to your garden in order for it to flower in abundance as a blessing to your world.”