Thirty-year-old Amy Hitchman, from Fielding, New Zealand, has found redemption. According to Stuff.co.nz, Amy said, "I was 22 when I gave up drugs completely."
Amy struggled with drug addiction and schizophrenia since her early teens. She was arrested, ending up in psychiatric care. Now, she is settling into her first year of nursing school, completely clean. Like many others, she found solace in the native bush of Fielding's Kitchener Park, under the guidance of the park's curator, Gavin Scott.
Amy said, "I'm not saying just fresh air has helped get me off drugs- on my bad days I could just storm off in a tantrum and just work by myself." The project she became a part of began in 1991, when the freezing works laid off 600 workers. Gavin was a chaplain there, and he put them to work cleaning up the park. Since then, this 13-hectare plot has been tended by an unlikely crew made up of former addicts, beneficiaries, and men on periodic detention. Amy said, "I've learned quite a few native plant type and names. I show townspeople, I pick up a leaf and hold it up to the light and ask them, 'would you like to know how to tell it's a Ngaio?'"
Gavin Scott, who started the program, said, "When I was a teenager 40 years ago, Kitchener Park was a neglected, overgrown area, the hangout of hoons and druggies- a place to fool around and get into trouble. A lot of people would have had no idea what treasures it held."
When Amy began "her eco-therapy," she was having trouble getting out of bed in the mornings. She did not like putting her hands in the freezing soil, and battling spiders on her mission. At this point, she was still using. She said, "I can't remember eating properly when I was on P. I was smoking it before I went to work. i remember throwing up and feeling nauseous and then I'd go home and smoke a bit more." Today, she rattles off the plant's names, although she claims the drug use addled her memory.
Amy considers this program to be her "miracle." Gavin sees it more modestly, as he said, "It's not a total success. We have had failures, I think, but people can see what they do here- planting the forest, it's close to their heart and people get self-esteem out of it."
Image courtesy of Rob Kitchin/Fairfax NZ