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Secret Garden is refuge for kids & women.

ALMOST 2,000 desperate women and children sought help from Foyle Women's Aid last year as a result of domestic violence at home.

Some women are physically abused, others mentally tortured while their children felt their pain most often in silence.

But the hidden horror of their situations is the side-effects that haunt these children, and more than 600 of them came through the doors in the last year.

They are at more risk of suicide, eating disorders and self-harm and they are likely to miss out on their education as a result of the breakdown at home.

Early Years Specialist Muire Coyle explains how Foyle Women's Aid plan to develop a secret garden where children and their mums can be free, safe and secure and where the youngsters can learn to laugh and play again.

Muire said: "We have an excellent plot of land that is overgrown and now used and we want to transform it into a space where the children and women who use our services can learn to breathe in peace again.

"These families and individuals are living on the edge when there is abuse at home, their safety and confidence are shattered and their children's education is almost always compromised leaving them vulnerable in other ways.

"The secret garden will have areas where children will be encouraged to run wild and free, laugh and play with their siblings or friends and learn simply how to be a care-free child again. We plan to reintroduce old fashioned games like skipping and hopscotch, things that have been mostly lost from our society.

"And the garden will be designed like a journey, just as their life is a journey with twists and turns, surprises and treats.

"There will be areas to stimulate the senses such as strong smelling flowers and plants, wind chimes, water features so they can learn about the simple things in life.

"These children are the most vulnerable in society and they need the most help and what we hope the garden will do, is given them a little normality that they may have never experienced in their lives.

"There will also be a market garden where we'll grow vegetables. These will be used in our kitchen so we can show our mums and children how to grow what they need to eat.

"That means that we can get them into the kitchen and teach them about cooking and more importantly what it's like to have a normal, family meal with no fear of a screaming match.

Dinner in so many homes where there's domestic violence is one of the most fraught times because the abuser could flare up at any minute, complaining about the food, its appearance, temperature, how it's arranged on the plate, how it tastes.

"Plates and cutlery are often thrown about. The verbal abuse is often horrific, with the children hearing what the father thinks of the mother.

"It's so awful that children who have suffered this sort of experience are very susceptible to falling into eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia because they associate food with terrible emotional pain.

"But the good news is that once those children are taken out of the situation of verbal or physical abuse they are immediately in recovery.

"And there is no research to say that children of people who mete out domestic violence will repeat the behaviour.

"Last year we had 235 women with children who needed to stay with us and an other 111 women who needed refuge on their own.

"We had more than 600 children who accessed our help, 82 women who dropped in for advice, 59 who telephoned and an other 1,228 who needed information and advice about their situation.

"We will always find the help they need but we have nowhere for them to relax because it's a communal living space.

"The garden would be perfect in so many ways and we just hope that we get enough money to make it possible."


OASIS OF CALM Foyle Women's Aid's Muire Coyle and Siofra Coyle at proposed site
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Nov 25, 2008
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