Munay Forest Garden is our inspiration and our own little contribution to minimise our carbon footprint. In the fight against climate change, everyone can make little adjustments, which at the end might lead to big results.
We – my husband Sven (German) and myself Ellen (Belgian) and our two lovely daughters (6 and 14 years old) – have been living abroad for a long time (from 1998 until 2017, with long-term stays (more than 3 years) in Bolivia, Peru, Kenya and Senegal. Our experiences in these different countries have coloured our lives and have inspired us.
I – Ellen – am an activist in many aspects, mostly through what I have witnessed with my own eyes. I owe a lot of my drive and motivation to the refugees and the Belgian homeless people whom I assisted as a 21-year-old social worker. They opened my eyes to what living in poverty meant in my own country, and anywhere else in Fortress Europe. That experience also helped me realise that, as a social worker, I could only comfort those who were suffering, but to understand the deeper power relations at stake in development work and policy, I did a PhD Cultural Anthropology and Sven in Political Science. Together, we did voluntarily work abroad.
From 1998-99, I worked for a Human Right’s organisation, defending the rights of the cocafarmers, in the Tropics of Cochabamba, Bolivia. For our Master’s studies, we returned to Bolivia and the Unions of the cocafarmers allowed us to live for another year among them. We studied their rural livelihoods, and witnessed the military trying to violently eradicate the coca leaf. We saw from first hand how this lead to a lot of suffering: malnourished children were just the most visible sign.
Our experience in Bolivia has shaped our lives and so did our time in Kenya (from 2005 to 2008). In Kenya, we lived in a remote Luo village, close to Lake Victoria. No tapwater, no electricity, no gas… back to basics! A big amount of our time was used for cleaning the water that was carried in buckets on donkeys from Lake Victoria, cooking with fire wood, and lightening the house with a candle or a petroleum lamp. We lived in a traditional cob hut which remained at least somewhat cold inside during the heat of the day. “Romantic”, an ecologist would say. For most village people however, it was daily reality and not romantic at all, it was a hard life, especially with malaria and HIV/AIDS killing people on scales still much larger than Covid19.
Our work in Bolivia and Kenya made me realise that the development world is very complex and ambiguous. In development projects, there are always different power relations at stake, the question is not so much about whether development works but rather how does it work and who at the end, receives the benefits? There are many actors involved, and while many make the same mistakes, little is learnt from each other because we only want to write about the success stories, sadly enough. And if a certain project is called ‘a success story’, it depends on how ‘you’ as a (natural or social) scientist interpret certain situations. I hope that one day I take the courage to write a novel about “Aspirations and Sex: Coming of age in Western Kenya in a Context of HIV”.
After our time spent in Kenya and Bolivia, we lived in Lima (Peru) and Dakar (Senegal). Sven worked for an international organisation and apart from doing the household cores and taking care of the oldest one, I now and then could do some consultancy work as an anthropologist. And, everywhere were we settled for a couple of years, I used to set up a vegetable garden. I am raised in a Belgian village, and growing my own vegetables was part of my childhood and has inspired me for the rest of my life. Wherever we lived, I participated in transition network groups and I was connected in networks of organic farming, and was indulged in projects of preserving organic cotton and (sheep and alpaca) wool. The importance of being connected with nature, made it fairly obvious that we choose the Waldorf Education for our children whenever it was possible.
For our eldest daughter, we decided to move back to Europe before she turned 10. We knew how important it is for teenagers to get rooted in a certain place for some longer time, and that is how we stranded in Bonn. It could have been any other place in Europe. City-life, however, is not why I am here for, so we took our time to find a place in the countryside, not too far from Bonn/Köln. And that is how we arrived in Drinhausen!
In March 2018, we found this “Waldhof”, our “dream house” in the countryside of Oberberg. The house – built between 1650 and 1700 – carries a lot of history and has been recognised by the city as one of the most beautiful listed ancient properties in Oberberg. Interestingly, the family who built it emigrated to Latin America in the late 19th century and so did the owner who sold it to us – a family with a strong connection to Latin America.
Are you getting curious? Come and visit us soon!
Our terrain has 4 hectares (which is big for this neighbourhood) and consists mainly of forest with mainly Oak and Beech trees, some of which are 300 years old! We also have a fenced field for our animals and plenty of garden space. Finally, we are preparing our vegetable garden (permaculture design) and want to expand a little part of our natural forest and garden to a FOOD FOREST. There are also four small ponds on our land, which after some work could again become homes for trout and a great place for us to have a swim.
Something quite special are that our garden is home to hundreds of snowdrop (Galanthus nivalis) flowers that are actually becoming quite rare in Germany.
At the moment, we have one dog, three cats, two goats, four chicken and one roaster, five alpacas, and our daughters are dreaming of having their own horses. However, our land is not suited for horses so hopefully we find some lad to rent…
With such a large area, and so many varied outdoor tasks, dedicated and enthusiastic volunteers are essential for our project here. We love to be surrounded by people who love nature and have a big interest in permaculture and food forests; who want to be part of our little community and who see themselves as open minded, colourful, spiritual, creative, easy going, rainbow people.
Some of our outdoor projects include: clearing maple/beech seedlings from the areas where we want to expand our food forest, building a cob pizza oven and making a compost toilet. In addition, volunteers help us with the animals and with the garden. People who have already experience in permaculture/food forest are welcome to share their ideas with us!
Along with the work in the garden/forest, we are organizing Forest Language Camps for local children. As there are a general lack of opportunities for local children to practice foreign languages and share different cultural customs, we created a place where they can learn and practice speaking these other languages, while playing in the forest and taking care of the animals, there. Native language-speaking volunteers are especially needed to help with these language camps.