Gardening project at public housing flats keeps women occupied

Keeping occupied: Women from PPR Kota Damansara are busy preparing the soil for their gardening activities

Keeping occupied: Women from PPR Kota Damansara are busy preparing the soil for their gardening activities

THOSE living in PPR Kota Damansara, Jalan Pekaka 8/7 in Petaling Jaya, are generally from the lower income bracket and mostly former squatters who had to resettle in the high-rise flats and adapt to a different lifestyle.

Some of the occupants, many of whom are single parents, the disabled or elderly, live in poverty. They welcome any form of help.

Thankfully, there are some individuals who are determined to lend them a helping hand so this community can lead a better life and engage in healthy and educational activities.

One such person is Chan Li Jin, 43, who has been teaching gardening skills to the women living here.

Chan, who is a writer by profession and lives in Rawang, has been visiting the community once a week to teach them about gardening since November last year.

She used to write health-related articles but recently decided to carry out activities that help the community instead.

With several other volunteers, Chan started a gardening pilot project called Subur (Malay for fertile) at the PPR’s Block C.

“The project aims to foster better ties among the PPR community through gardening and vegetable-planting.
“We also plan to grow decorative plants later because beautiful landscaping has a positive effect on mental health,” said Chan.

She added that her project had stirred interest among the residents with more coming forward to learn and take part.

Presently, 12 women from the PPR are involved in the project. Several are single mothers, widows and divorcees.

“Gardening enables people to interact with others, especially neighbours.

“Based on my observations, curious residents are visiting the plot daily. Those who were sceptical initially, seem interested to become involved,” she said.

With proper guidance and encouragement, Chan said the residents were happy to be involved in the gardening activities.

Petaling Jaya City Council (MBPJ) had approved the use of a 20m x 3m land near the parking bays for Subur’s activities. The council had provided soil and coco-peat (processed coconut and padi husks).

Chan said the hardest part was getting started, but that after that, it was not a problem.

“The women were delighted when the first batch of crops, such as corn and spinach, were recently harvested and they shared it among themselves.

“They used to have a negative attitude towards life but are now a happier and more focused lot, too. They have a common goal now and are bonding well.”

Chan said many living there had two jobs to make ends meet and had no time for any form of recreation.

“Gardening has had a positive effect on them and this in turn will also help their families,” she said.

Another individual who works closely with this community is Jeffrey Phang.

He is the chairman of Friends of Kota Damansara — an environment non-governmental organisation. With the help of a group of volunteers, they conduct English lessons for the children here on Sundays.

Phang said when he first visited the community, he found the flats in need of repairs and gathered a group of volunteers to help out.

“Their living conditions are bad and they face problems such as uncollected rubbish and faulty lifts.”

Phang and the volunteers sought help from MBPJ to help the community.

The state recently appointed Perumahan dan Hartanah Sdn Bhd to maintain the flats.

“Most of our volunteers are working professionals and they teach English to the children aged four to 17 and help them with their homework,” said Phang.

He added that MBPJ should allocate funds to address social problems faced by the community.

Phang said the volunteers have plans to provide indoor games, screen movies with positive messages and engage the community in healthy activities.

“We want this neighbourhood to change into a more liveable, safer and harmonious place,” he said, adding that RM100,000 was raised via a Community Care Carnival in 2011 to facilitate community projects.

Phang said several non-governmental organisations such as the Rotary Club of Gombak and Tropicana Medical Centre were involved in the project.