Gardening in Philly – a labor of love and community (by Ben Zimmerman)

As the saying goes it’s always sunny in Philadelphia, however, that doesn’t mean it’s not cold. So, here we are another frigid day, but sunny, in downtown Philadelphia. Now, you may be wondering from the photos why we are gardening in the middle of Winter. During our time here in Philadelphia we were all given service placements that we would go to twice a week. Leah, Trey, Aiden and I were assigned to be a part of the “Community Care” group. This is a group that was started by Om Aldo the pastor at the Indonesian church, Philadelphia Praise Center, in South Philadelphia. This group was started to help other churches or anyone in the community that could use help in whatever way. During our time helping with this group we would go to different places each week. We mostly helped out at different churches doing various tasks, but on this particular week we were sent over to Pak Syarif Syaifulloh’s house. He welcomed us into his home with a big smile, and sat us down bringing us traditional Indonesian treats and hot tea. He then pulled out a book he had written himself, and began to read to us the story of the garden that surrounded three quarters of his house. In the book it described the process of how he started the garden and then what the garden has become today. He showed us pictures of a beautiful, lush garden with all kinds of flowers, plants, and produce. Pak Syarif then put the book down and told us how this garden is free for anyone to come get produce, and he doesn’t make any profit off of what he grows; he uses it as a way to connect with the neighbors and community in a meaningful way. He explained to us how he does most of the gardening himself and it is a ton of work, but he is so passionate about it and loves the work because it brings him great joy and satisfaction to see the plants grow and flourish and to see the community it brings. After this, we all proceeded outside to help weed and clean up leaves. This was in preparation for spring planting. Before we went out though, he said he would prepare lunch for us before we left.

This particular service assignment and Pak Syarif really embodied to me the Indonesian culture and community that I had come to understand a little more during my time in Philadelphia. Here are a bunch of strangers he had never met before and he welcomed us in and fed us before we had even done anything. Then after not that much work in my mind, he fed us yet again. Not only that, but this garden that he puts so much time and energy into with little help has no return other than his plants and the joy of helping the community. He does all of it with so much enthusiasm, passion, and joy. I feel the attitude is very much on par with the Indonesian community in my experience so far. They are such welcoming and kind people to anyone they come in contact with, and are always willing to help anyone in any way. They have this abundance of positivity and joy that is contagious to be around, and I hope that some of these traits will rub off on me as I continue to live and learn amongst the Indonesian community.