A Childs Garden of Peace, the beginnings Pt. I, by Illène Pevec

Dec 23, 2023 | 10 comments

Twenty-five years ago, I was developing and running art and multicultural programs for children in Vancouver, BC. I had received when I did talent testing that I had the talent to promote culture. I worked at Arts Umbrella, Canada’s largest and very wonderful arts school for youth 2-19. One day I accompanied our youth theater company to a performance the young actors were giving at a poor inner-city school. I was shocked at how few resources this school had that served primarily First Nations and immigrant children. This discovery propelled me into action. I felt called to address the inequity I witnessed for the city’s most vulnerable children.

I applied to graduate school, resigned my job when I was accepted, and a few weeks before I was to start my studies, I heard a Subud sister say she was going to a conference at The Society for Values in Higher Education where our Subud brother, Reynold Feldman, was leading a workshop on wisdom. I received immediately I needed to go. I asked this international academic organization for a scholarship to the conference which they kindly gave me. I participated in a breakout group during Reynold’s workshop called “Using Wisdom to Address the Problems Impacting Children”. Anna Wasescha, the facilitator, told us of the program in horticulture and art for inner city kids she started in Minnesota. Her work rang bells in my inner: “do this” the bells sang.

As soon as school started, I returned to the school I had visited, Grandview U’uquinak’uhh Elementary, and asked if I could help them to transform their school grounds into a garden learning environment for the children. The administrators welcomed me with open arms. I wrote an email to every student in the agriculture and landscape college at my university. The one response was my perfect partner, Tracy Penner, another mom back in university to develop a new career, hers in landscape architecture. I was doing an MA in education, so we had the complementary interests and skill sets, both of us doing action research on behalf of underserved kids.

Tracy and I volunteered our time to do participatory planning (she taught me that skill) with all the teachers, students, and neighbors. From what we learned from their wishes we proposed to the school board a transformation of the large grounds to include: a vegetable garden for the children, a community garden for the neighbors, an ethnobotanic garden to honor First Nations plant knowledge, a hummingbird and butterfly garden, an outdoor classroom designed as a traditional longhouse, a dissipation pond to capture rain water before it hit the city drains and trees for a bird flyway along the border with the highway. We wrote grants to pretty much every foundation in Vancouver and got almost all of them because we were ahead of the curve of people starting school gardens (1998) and the foundations understood the poverty in the area. Tracy did the design, the school board approved it and I worked with every class and teacher in the school to prepare learning activities tied to the seasons, planting, First Nations’ culture and the environment.

Subud members, local church members, and the Environmental Youth Alliance, and the Mennonite Green Team helped the children build garden boxes for their garden and the community garden. A First Nations elder at the school designed and carved totem poles on site for the longhouse and all the children helped to paint them. We did a community mosaic project for the fence posts in front of the school. The children grew seeds in their classrooms, and we all helped them transplant them to the garden boxes outside. The favorite place to play on a rainy day was the swales leading to the dissipation pond where the kids could channel the water and build mini dams.

Our dedication ceremony of the longhouse, totem poles and The Spirit of Nature Garden (a name chosen by the students) included the three First Nations chiefs and people claiming land rights where the school was located and all students and school personnel. We celebrated with drumming and dancing throughout the grounds. 1000 sunflowers bloomed, all planted by the children to celebrate the 2000 millennial. Art, music, natural medicine, and food culture permeated all we did along with collaboration with multiple community groups. Involving many groups to work with the children was key and the garden and the many educational programs it provides continues today 25 years later!



  1. What a blessed and guided project~thanks for all you do!

  2. Great to read your story Illene! I remember that wisdom conference with Ruslan Feldman and your impressive journey to help others through developing beautiful gardens and other projects in different countries, like the one I remember visiting in Puebla. You have had an amazing full life helping others, including your own beautiful family. Thanks for sharing your story, I look forward to reading more….

  3. So interesting to read about the roots of your work. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Thank you, Illene, for having done this and for sharing your experiences with us!

  5. Wow! Illene! 25 years ago. And the program is still going strong. What a wonderful beginning! And praise God, the beat goes on in Brazil and Mexico as well as in Canada and the US. Add to that, your doctorate on the subject from the University of Colorado. You are truly an International Helper in more ways than one. Congratulations and many blessings. Love,
    Reynold Ruslan

  6. I was inspired by your story as, I am sure, by the many people involved with the project! Well done!

  7. I am stunned by the depth of your effort and the obvious trust and care you exhibit. Ondine would be really happy to have her daughter so involved and evolved. The kids may be the most obvious beneficiaries but those who will be touched by them and what you’ve imparted will be able to feel and inhale the spirit of endeavor you’ve started. My heatfelt love and appreciation of your efforts. lucas hess

    • Thank you Lucas, Rachman, Ruslan, Theo Richard, Shoshanah, Rohana, and Roseanne, so very kind of all of you to respond so kindly. Sending love your way for a healthy new year! It would be delightful if each person so moved would plant a tree this year. Our planet needs them so very much and so do we as planet members.

  8. So interesting to read this linearly. I certainly remember hearing about every phase of it, but it is really such a tremendous contribution when you look at the whole. Each part of value, but altogether, a true accomplishment. And in all the time I’ve known you, I’ve never heard a complaint, even when it was tough going.

  9. Thank you, Illene. I feel Grateful for you and your work, this is a heartwarming story. Love, Robert.


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