The mission

Establish a Teaching Garden and facilities in the surrounds of the Abruzzi school building to stimulate learning, provide a solution to augmenting the quality of education, and inspire successive generations of teachers and students to become innovative stewards of their environment leading their people towards a sustainable future.

How the garden project came about

To mark the 50th anniversary of the first ascent of K2, by Italian climbers Lino Lacedelli and Achille Compagnoni, a 24 member team of Italians attended a ceremony at K2 base camp in June 2004. When they asked the mostly Balti audience what they could do to show gratitude to the Balti people, the community requested for a coeducation school in Shigar valley. Not just another building, but to expand on their existing resources on education, and creating an exemplary institution. The mountaineers sought help from the Italian government to build this first coeducation school named after Luigi Amedeo, Duke of Abruzzi who first attempted to climb K2 in 1909.

The school was built on land donated by people from Shigar valley, in the hamlet of Siankhor which sits on the road to Askole, the starting point to treks in Pakistans Karakorum mountain range. Of particular note, is 8,611m (28,251 ft) K2, amongst several other 8000m peaks.

Completed by the architects of Aga Khan Cultural Services Pakistan (AKCSP) in March 2010, the Abruzzi school’s mostly stone building has for a rooftop, a scaled version of K2’s perfect peak. An appropriate metaphor for the stature of the school and the community’s lofty aspirations for its students.

In Fall of 2009, I accepted a short consultancy with AKCSP to help design a garden on the premises of the Abruzzi school. Having trekked in the area over the years and being a gardener, I was happy to be assigned this task, and to teach five local women interns (with Gilgit based Women’s Social Enterprise – WSE) the basics of garden design. What makes the project an important and unique endeavor for this remote mountain community, is the concept of a Teaching School Garden its design derived from the local topography and traditional methods of farming and gardening in Baltistan, and planned by an all female team of local women whom I had the chance to mentor.

While I have been fortunate to help transform these shy and underexposed girls to step out and engage, and to challenge them to contribute in the design process, my ongoing work lies in making a lasting change in the way this first school garden will help the students to think creatively, learn through hands on experience and develop a strong sense of self. The assignment was restricted to two months, at the end of which I submitted a preliminary plan for the garden design formulated by the interns and some ideas for developing and educating the girls further. My aim also lies in introducing fresh and creative vocational opportunities for the young girls I mentored and those that will follow their lead.

Would you be able to give up everything, to start life all over again… To choose one thing, just one thing, and be faithful to it… To make it the thing that gives meaning to your life… Something that contains everything else… That becomes everything else just because of your boundless faith in it – Federico Fellini

The story of the Abruzzi school garden and its design is that of five young Shigri women eager to learn, my time spent with them as a mentor, and that of the quiet yet over powering beauty of the place and its people. It attests to their ‘boundless faith’ in this one garden becoming all that they aspire for in life. For these young women, the burning to learn, to exercise self expression, to choose and make decisions, to overcome the increasing limitations imposed on them by society, to generate an income in exciting ways, and to freely express their ideas, designing this garden then became ‘something that contains everything else’ . For myself as their mentor it became the ‘one thing that I had to be faithful to’, and my boundless faith in their abilities to absorb and to express themselves makes it the work that connects all I do as a gardener a trekker and a quilter. I remind myself that:

“A garden, in which one may enter in… And forget the whole world, cannot be made in one week,
 nor a month, nor a year;
 it must be planned for, waited for
, and loved into being