“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping in the same room as a mosquito”
Jessica Dreamtime is a bit of a Gypsy. The fact that the Midlands Meander Education Project has managed to keep her for many years is a miracle. In fact, she has attempted to leave a number of times, but has not succeeded. The magic draws her back.
In 2006 there was talk of ‘a girl from the Karkloof who would make the perfect Bug’. One day, she was discovered at Umgeni Valley – the bells strung from the bottom of her bag tinkling merrily as she walked. It was obvious that she would weave magic wherever she went and in no time she was an integral part of the Midlands Meander Education Project (MMEP), whose facilitators had all become known as ‘Bugs’. Nowadays, Jessica heads up the Project. “Yes, I know I have wandered off occasionally,” she says grinning, “but the MMEP culture of flexibility, spontaneity and organic growth is very special – irresistible really. Where else do you have the opportunity to make dreams come true?”
Jessica is now firmly ensconced in a charming cottage in the Karkloof hills surrounded by birds and butterflies, with her lively son Skye, hero dog Thunder and two much loved cats – King Toby and Inca. She is quite determined that she has found home and her days of wanderlust are over. “There are so many adventures to be had close by – I climb the hill or stroll through the forest every day and every time it is different and special.” She would however still like to explore a little more of Africa, preferably using public transport. “You get to meet such interesting people on buses and have incredible conversations that you wouldn’t normally have.”
During past adventures north of the border she has cycled past fresh lion prints in Zimbabwe; explored Ghana in very wonky buses visiting old slavery castles and drumming with the locals; in Zambia attended a full moon harvest festival with ten African chiefs and six presidents; sneaked across the border into Angola simply to touch Angolan soil; camped on mountain tops in Lesotho during thunderstorms; was shocked on a bus trip in Botswana that left someone behind who took too long in the loo and spent 5 hours in Namibia having her hair braided and being presented with a live chicken afterwards! “Oh, and once I climbed into a big Baobab and watched the sunset – that was fantastic.” Jessica really loves sunsets, and sunrises and moonlit skies too.
In the Midlands, she spends a lot of time building community. “This is something I really value in the MMEP. The relationships we have built are incredible – this is true nation building – small, but effective. Everyone from teachers to learners and the MMEP team are working hard at bringing out the treasure in one another. It has been an incredible privilege to observe lives and outlooks change over the years.” The team of Bugs has also evolved, each one adding new skills and a touch of their own magic to the collective melting pot. Jessica brings her philosophy of whole person education based on Rudolf Steiner’s Head, Heart, Hands approach, which acknowledges that we are emotional beings not just mental and physical ones. “The rewards are watching teachers now taking the lead, inspired to study further and confidently helping one another. I think that we have helped them realise their own potential and start to live it.” An important part of the MMEP programme is Food Gardening, something else Jessica is passionate about. There are many flourishing gardens in the Midlands now ”Schools are starting to save and share seeds, one garden has 24 types of herbs growing and many add fresh food to the school lunches every day.” She says proudly.
Nathi Majola, principal of Carshalton School confirms this “Jess has been very influential in ensuring that Carshalton community start their own vegetable gardens. She was working with our school and when I asked her if she could accommodate the community in this programme, she did not hesitate. She just agreed. She introduced permaculture methods and ways to control waste by making compost. The community bought the idea. She encouraged them to go back and use old methods used by their forefathers. It was a great learning experience. The children were able to take info about what they have learnt at school back home and encourage their parents to start their own vegetable gardens too. I have found working with Jess very encouraging, she is so dedicated, committed and always willing to go an extra mile in whatever she is doing. I was honoured to have worked with her.”
When Jessica feels stressed by the multiple demands of parenting, report writing, staff management and fundraising she heads for her own garden to do a bit of weeding. “Gardening is the most important thing in life – it is spiritual and creative, connects us to the earth and teaches us to value our food. It is astonishing how much one can produce in a small space” Other times she talks to her bees. “According to bee-legend, they are our sisters and will sort out everything you tell them”. Her attraction to bees goes beyond the delicious autumn honey and the pollination services they provide. Jessica believes bees set the best example of what community should be. She keeps four hives in the area which she visits regularly.
The Midlands is very fortunate to have been able to entice Jessica to grow strong and stable roots and nurture the entire community with love, food, fun and wisdom.