A small glance at Nieu Bethesda
Making a difference - The Phoenix Garden Project
ienaarsig, Nieu Bethesa, is as small a township as you can get. The population of 600 that makes up Pienaarsig far outnumbers that of Nieu Bethesda which funnily enough never includes the people of the township when one asks how many people live in Nieu Bethesda.
Nieu Bethesda has become infamous thanks to Helen Martin’s fantasy creation the Owl House, drawing visitors from around the globe to this tiny Karroo town that is nestled within the protective valley of the Sneeuberge.
Even though Nieu Bethesda is rather tiny and can be thoroughly explored within the space of one day Pienaarsig is often neglected. So I took to the streets to meet the people of a very close knit community and talk to the people that keep Bethesda up and running.
Coming into Piennarsig you can’t help but notice a soccer field-sized garden – fenced and unoccupied, or so it seemed. Upon a closer look at the gate that boasts an impressive lock I got spotted by a man in his mid-thirties. His name is Nicky Nekelo. He’s in fact 37 and lives on the property with his wife Molly Nekelo. They make due with living in a small corrugated iron roof shack that barely fits two beds and a shafted kitchen corner. They sleep here to deter potential thieves from stealing chickens out of the elongated chicken house that makes up a sixth of the property.
Within minutes of talking to them I become the recipient of the story of their life. Listening to everything Molly says I begin filming and photographing. There’s a story here I think to myself and indeed there is.
Molly and Nicky took over the garden after the previous owners virtually drove the project into the ground. It is only them and a few helping hands that come and go that oversee this garden. The garden is the lifeblood of the community providing many with fresh vegetables and eggs at undervalued prices. “We do it for the children,” says Molly “the community needs us”. They grow as much as they can, varying on the time of year and rainfall. It’s all dug up, sown and grown with their bare hands, impressive when you take into account that Molly has a crooked forearm and is in fact 58 years old.
Financially they get very little support and barely manage to make profit through the sale of vegetables, eggs and chickens to not just Piennarsig but to the greater community of Nieu Bethesda, including bed and breakfasts and local restaurants. Everything the community relies on is grown at the Phoenix Garden Project. Yet still they have to pay impossible sums for electricity that keeps the lights for the chicken coop running without reimbursement.
They previously received support from a Dutch charity group “Stichting Nomzano Fre School”. Up to R80 000 annually ran into a dead end. The middle man, according to the Nekelos, is the problem; the pathway of communication has broken down and with that the flow of money. Money isn’t necessarily the biggest problem they say. “We don’t do it for the money” states Molly but she does point out that not both of them can work on a project that makes no money. In addition, a helping hand is hard to come by in Piennarsig if there is no financial reward at the end of the day.
The township unfortunately suffers from a large number of alcoholics that drown their worries of unemployment. The Nekelos are different. They have brought up their children to be god respecting people not allowing alcohol in the house and teaching them hard work ethic.
What they really need is support from the community, without that fundamental link it is very difficult to see the project continuing with undersupplied manpower. The support however can only come with reward whether that is clothes or money an incentive is needed which is something the Nekelos cannot additionally provide.
What they do provide however are food packages that are distributed to the sick and elderly, folk that can no longer look after themselves and rely on the help and generosity of Molly and Nicky. School children sometimes receive an egg on the way to class, often making up their lunch time meal.
It is clear to see Nicky and Molly are selfless people that care about the community. They work long and hard hours for little money, day in day out in the same clothing because they cannot afford to buy something new. Pienaarsig is home to many selfless people like these and one just needs to give people a chance and listen to their story to find their humanity is rightfully intact. Nicky and Molly Nekelo are a prime example of this.
So next time you visit the Owl House go wander out of your comfort zone and embrace the people of Piennarsig. Bring some old clothes along, maybe a small donation and help project Phoenix from disappearing into the ashes.
If you wish to support the project directly:
Phoenix Garden Project
Branch: 21 0 216
Account number: 62 33 738 46 80