Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lost Garden Festival in Israel seeks to bring disabled, nondisabled people together


The Lost Garden Festival runs all next week in Jerusalem, aiming to create connections between those with special needs, and those "without".

"There is a lot to be learnt from people with disabilities. They have experienced being the other - those who haven't experienced that lack [the same] perspective."

It's not every day you hear the idea that the real disabled people in society are actually those without the disabilities, but then neither is it every day that Jerusalem sees itself playing host to an arts festival organized to celebrate the Tzamid (special needs) voice.

Israel Sykes, CEO of Turning Point network and the person behind the idea of the Lost Garden Festival running ext week himself suffers himself from what he calls "a psychiatric disability".

The festival, he says, is an opportunity for people like him to make "their authentic voice be heard. Whilst normally you would hear parents and helpers talking about what is best for… an autistic person, here you will hear autistic adults talking about their own needs."

The Lost Garden Festival is named after the book "The Secret Garden", in which a magical garden closed behind walls and a locked door becomes - when combined with positive and egalitarian relationships with other children - a place in which a "handicapped" child can grow and discover his true nature.

A smorgasbord of art, discussion, and activities, the festival aims to create connections between those with special needs, and those "without". From debating the prejudices against mental illness in work with poets, to children's games, street theater and art workshops, the idea is to allow people to connect with each other in an informal and creative environment where everyone is equal.

"We have an understanding of what it means to be different, what it means to be able to accept oneself, and the parts of oneself that society doesn't want," says Sykes. "Many people have major aspects of who they are that have to remain invisible, because there is no room for them in society. We all get what we get, and although everybody deserves to have a place, society is just not structured that way."

Inspired by the failure of the Museum of Tolerance, Sykes and his partners, who include Mashtelah MiHalev, Asi-Autistic Spectrum and the Jerusalem Municipality, sought to give space to this excluded voice.

Their plan is not only to encourage connections between disabled and non-disabled people, but also to place an emphasis on inter-disability cooperation.

“One of the biggest problems we face is the division between different disability groups,” Sykes explains. “In society, these groups are often pitted against each other. If there is going to be change, it needs to be lead by those with the disabilities.”

So the various groups and organizations came together and came up with the idea of a festival, set in no less than Jerusalem’s former leprosy hospital, Hansen Hospital. The site of so much previous discrimination and prejudice is now being reclaimed and opened up to the general public by the very group in society once contained within its thick stone walls.

A secret garden with aged pine trees, gnarled flowering cacti and a reputation that has scared local school children for generations, this is the last undiscovered gem of Jerusalem. It is an ethereal time warp, dotted with hidey-holes waiting to be discovered with children, a partner, or simply on your own.

“Just coming to see the place is an incredible opportunity,” smiles Sykes. “Come and experience it, and while you are there, you should get to know us.”

The Festival of the Vanished Garden runs from Tuesday May 25 until Thursday May 27, 2010, from 5 P.M. to 9 P.M., and on Friday May 28, from 10:00 A.M. to 3 P.M. Hansen Hospital, 17 David Marcus Street, Talbieh, Jerusalem.