Scene Five: Faces of Oude Molen Eco Village

Oude Molen Eco Village is a neighbouring community of Maitland Garden Village, but is starkly different from MGV in its socioeconomic and physical structures. OMEV was once a psychiatric ward but, after its abandonment, turned into a community comprised of micro-enterprises. OMEV flourished into a sustainable village where community members provide services for one another. Oude Molen has shrunken in size since its peak in the 1990’s but remains a tourist attraction with its backpacker lodge, restaurants, and other small business attractions. Oude Molen is located on land owned by the Provincial Government, whom leases the land to tenants for both residence and commercial purposes but gaining a long-term lease for the land remains challenging. This caused many of these entrepreneurs to relocate. Oude Molen community members believe living where one works is beneficial because it decreases one’s carbon footprint. This contributes to OMEV’s socioeconomic isolation. This is a relevant community for our pathway project since Oude Molen could have potential stakeholders for the development.

Cast of Characters:
In Oude Molen, we met four wonderful people that we were able to talk to. Dixie is a woman that has been living in Oude Molen for three years and working there for twelve. She is a performer and singer, leading performance projects for the Green Light Project, and volunteer at the Valkenberg Hospital. Nathan is a young man who lived in MGV and moved to Oude Molen to work at the horse stables. He is still very involved in MGV, especially with gardening as he is involved with the Green Light Project’s gardening club. Joseph lives in Oude Molen and manages the pool there. Oude Molen resident John “Jonno” Kennedy maintains a sustainable vegetable farm and teaches workshops about different stages of farming.

Jonno Kennedy's garden

Just before leaving Ronell’s house for a visit to the crèche, our plans changed and we instead went on a tour with Sheila and Ronell through Oude Molen. We began by taking the street at the end of Ronell’s around until we reached some guards and arrive in Oude Molen. There were some people walking around, but not as many people are outside as in Maitland Garden Village. Right away the small businesses and other centers stood out. There were a couple of backpackers lodges, a café, a daycare center, a pool, horse riding, and gardens, among other attractions. As we walked though, we saw many beautiful horses in the stable area and throughout the eco village. After going by the stable we made a stop at the pool. There were many children there learning and practicing swimming, and we stopped to talk there for a while with some of the adults around. All of the children seemed to be having fun in the pool playing “Marco Polo,” competing in relay races, and jumping into the pool; there’s even one child that can do flips into the pool. Our next stop was one of the gardens where we explore the plants. We saw Jonno Kennedy cooking spinach on an outside, brick oven and got a great view of the river, particularly the infestation of water hyacinths. From here we looped through the rest of the village on our way back to the train station; our tour is planned to continue next week.
Along our tour of Oude Molen, we first meet Dixie. Dixie is passionate about the performing arts and directs her efforts to showing children this outlet instead of turning to drugs. She plays several instruments, such as the drums and piano, but she says that her best instrument is her voice. Dixie sings “You Raise Me Up” and we get to hear for ourselves how talented she is. Dixie seems very influential and as though she makes a positive impact on youth in the eco village. At our pool stop, we were able to talk with both Joseph and Nathan. Joseph was very excited that WPI students came back to follow up on last year’s project in hopes that we ultimately provide feasible plans that will not get lost in the actual execution and community follow through. His advice was helpful and appreciated, and once he was done, Nathan introduced himself. Nathan had an inspiring story about how he became caught up in drugs and later overcame them. He talked about his role in the Green Light Project and current job in the horse stables. Our final stop in Oude Molen was at the Food Garden Village where we met Jonno. Jonno said he has already started working with MGV and would be happy to lend them land to work on. Listening to him is another good way for us to connect with the community because we are hearing their thought, suggestions, and concerns. We were able to learn something from everyone we met on the tour and feel as though we received valuable input.
There were several questions we hoped to have answered through our tour of Oude Molen Eco Village:

  • What are some businesses that would be interested or eligible to invest in a pathway?
  • Who are some community members that we can connect with and discuss the pathway development?
  • What are community expectations for the pathway?
  • Do the horses us the desire lines or other pathways along the Black or Liesbeek River?
  • What is the gardening influence in Oude Molen?

Action and Observation
Dixie was the first resident of Oude Molen we had the privilege to meet. Sheila was explaining Dixie would be helping to organise the Green Light Project’s children’s song and dance numbers for Village Day, the celebration on the village’s birthday. When we were introduced to Dixie, she had many questions about what brought us there and what we were planning to do for the duration of our project. We then asked her about how she came about living in Oude Molen and she went into more detail than we had expected. Dixie said that from a young age, she found her voice through music and performing. She had said her mother was sick and her father encouraged her to pursue music. After working in the corporate work for some time, she realized she would rather focus on her artistic work. She said that she let many dreams, such as having a family and getting married, fall by the wayside. She is currently a volunteer at the Valkenberg Hospital and performs whenever she finds work at functions. Dixie sings and dances, but she also took up teaching the children in the Green Light Project because she enjoyed performing from a young age and she wants to help children find the same solace she did as a child. We then asked Dixie if she would sing for us. Without much hesitation, just contemplation about what piece she could sing to best showcase her work, she sang us a short segment of “You Raise Me Up.” She sang beautifully as we stood in a circle in the middle of the Oude Molen street with so much feeling. It would be hard to believe she was nervous at all and one could tell by the way she sang alone how passionate she was about performing.

View behind Oude Molen

As we walked along the Oude Molen street, we passed a pool that was gated off and had a woman in a yellow caution jacket standing at the gate. A sign designated this as the Lighthouse Edge Farm Pool. A Coca-Cola sign hung near the gate though it was unclear if refreshments were actually sold. In the pool, there were plenty of children swimming for lessons, learning how to perform different strokes and dive effectively. Sheila and Ronell led us through the gate and immediately introduced us Joseph. He first spoke about Margaret, the woman standing at the gate, who received first aid training from the Green Light Project and said she would volunteer at the pool. As the pool manager, Joseph was impressed with her dedication to self-improvement and decided to employ her immediately. He said that she had really grown into someone he trusts with the business since money is the only form of payment at the pool. From this, Joseph described his wish for the Maitland Garden Village community to really strive to better themselves. For instance, for children to be admitted to the pool, they would have to pick up some trash to show they were willing to work for this privilege. Joseph had a wealth of information to share with us about community expectations from our project. He said he would really like us to accomplish something concrete that is separate from last year’s projects to show a tangible progression. During our conversation with Joseph, Nathan Hardenberg, someone our group had expressed an interest in meeting, had walked into the pool area.

Nathan seemed a little shy at first. However, once Andrea asked for him to tell a little about himself he was completely willing to tell a part of his story. He moved from MGV and got into gangs and drug use until he decided to move back to MGV and worked on gardening and cleaning the elderly’s backyards. He began to manage the horse business in Oude Molen as a continuation of his brother’s work after he had spent much time volunteering there. Nathan is also a leader in the Gardening Club. For our pathway project, we asked him a couple of questions about the Oude Molen horses. The horses walk along the desire lines along the Black River and along the Oude Molen section of the river but only venture to MGV with experienced riders. The horses also used to travel through the nearby hospital but now have permission to use the private footbridge in Oude Molen.

We also met Jonno Kennedy, who is a sweet older gentleman who runs the Food Garden Village in Eco Village. After Sheila talked with Jonno, Shahbaz quickly introduced himself, as having been part of a youth gardening program in Massachusetts. He was excited to meet Jonno who had run youth programs here at the Food Garden Village in the past. Jonno told us how he runs garden training programs at the Food Garden Village, teaching people everything from planting to maintenance to composting. The program includes a gardening manual as well, so his trainees have a guide to reference after their training. While he spoke, he checked on his spinach that he was cooking over an outdoor brick grill. Shahbaz discussed with Jonno the ownership of the land, and Jonno told him that the land was leased by the Provincial Government for agricultural use by the Department of Public Works, as the department understands and appreciates the value of the social entrepreneurship and development that the Food Garden Village and Jonno’s programs promote.

Reflection and Learning:
On our tour of Oude Molen we met several important people whose knowledge will be of great value to our project and their involvement could be helpful as well. As we started our tour, we ran into Dixie who is involved with performing arts in the Green Light Project. Her passion for getting young people out of situations of drugs and violence by using the arts is inspiring, and learning from her how she attracts youth to her programs will be useful. From Joseph, the pool manager in Oude Molen, we learned about his fear of the project being a repeat of the project from the previous year. This was very helpful, as he gave us feedback on how important it is for us to bring something new to the table, and use the project from last year to find what can be expanded upon and implemented. From Nathan, we learned about his story that took him from gangs and drugs to gardening and horseback riding instructing. It is clear that he can be an important contact for us, as he was once the leader of the Gardening Club. Referencing his knowledge as to how he got others involved and how he developed his and other’s gardening skills will be helpful. We feel that Jonno could be an invaluable asset to our project as he runs gardening skills training programs. The land on which he gardens and teaches people was granted by the Department of Public Works and is sponsored by Pick n Pay supermarket, so it will be helpful to hear from him about how he was able to secure the land and acquire sponsorship from Pick n Pay, as funding and land security is surely an important aspect to consider for the success of agricultural along the pathway.

Plans for future scenes:

  • Meet with Joseph to understand more information about what the communities would like to see along the river.
  • Meet with Nathan Hardenberg to understand the role that the horses could play in the pathway as well as gardening from the Green Light Project.
  • Meet with Jonno Kennedy to find more information about the garden he runs and how gardening training is planned.
  • Finish the tour of Oude Molen and visit more businesses to see what other possible parties could be involved in our pathway.
  • Walk along the desire lines that run behind Oude Molen.
  • Attend Garden Village Day!