Training for People with Disabilities through Horticulture

by Divya Wodon, Naina Wodon, and Quentin Wodon

In 1963-65 Earl Copus from the Upper Marlboro Rotary Club served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Brazil. He has not forgotten this experience! Today, he co-leads Working with Green, a Rotary global grant and multi-tiered program similar to the Melwood model which through horticulture provides training for people with disabilities in Goiania, Brazil. The project is located in a 10-acre nursery facility and the funding provides therapy for those with the most severe disabilities, skills training for those with milder disabilities, and vocational instruction for those with employment prospects. The project’s partners include Rotary clubs in Brazil, Japan, and the US, as well as the State of Goiania Agricultural Department and other agencies.

April Issue - Brazil-Melwood

Apart from helping its direct beneficiaries, the project also helps the environment by saving Brazilian endangered trees and it contributes to improving the health of families through better diets and the availability of medicinal plants while advising residents on their proper use. Brazilian project members recently visited Japan to study their rehabilitation programs, and a team of Japanese rehabilitation professionals is scheduled to visit the Brazilian project site. The construction of a work pavilion with accessible restroom accommodations is also under way.

Working with Green has been a successful project, but this required planning. According to Earl “the project’s greatest strength relates to having committed partners. I would encourage other Rotarians having, or considering having, international projects to build project partnerships consisting of local, national and international supports”. Throughout the preparation of the grant, there have been challenges. One of the biggest was to understand and appreciate a different culture. As Earl puts it – and this is his advice for fellow Rotarians: “This brings into focus the challenge of capacity building for the project’s staff and the need to be able financially to employ a capable social/business person as the project’s full time director. This is especially important for a project that is combining a social mission (helping those in need) within an entrepreneurial framework (creating project income and jobs) as our project does”.

Note: This story is reproduced with minor changes from a book published by the authors entitled Membership in Service Clubs: Rotary’s Experience (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).