GLO with the flow – this is the Cape Town farm where children can ‘just be kids’
A caring couple are providing after-school and holiday programmes for children at a Cape Town community centre – and partly funding the project through an entrepreneurial circular economy.
On a small farm in Redhill, between Scarborough and Simon’s Town in Cape Town’s deep south, a husband-and-wife duo are working to create a safe space in which local children can learn and grow. Darron and Lindsey Nicholson are the founders and co-directors of The GLO House, a nonprofit community outreach centre with a focus on child development.
The centre runs after-school and holiday programmes for underprivileged children from surrounding areas, such as the nearby Redhill informal settlement. The couple’s aim is to create an environment in which children can “just be kids”.
“Not too many children, or even young adults like myself, get the opportunity to share their journey with others and use it as a light to empower people around them and give them hope,” says Darron.
“Because, at the end of the day, when nothing has worked out, the only thing that you have is hope. When you find the platform to be able to share that and to empower people, you give them a second chance.”
When Daily Maverick visited the farm during October, more than 70 children from Redhill were enjoying a holiday programme. The air was filled with laughter and shrieks as they played football and hide-and-seek. Colourful books and games lined the shelves in the community centre.
During the school term, the centre hosts between 20 and 30 children a day for after-school activities. These include dance and performing arts programmes, life skills development sessions, agricultural skills training and educational support.
“We’re quite a small team,” says Lindsey. “I handle all the admin. We recently hired a programme director and he’s in charge of after-school and holiday programmes.
“We do get the occasional international volunteer, as well as a few local volunteers, but we like that it’s so personal and we’re able to connect with kids on a deeper level. We’re able to provide that space for them where they feel safe and comfortable, and we’re not too overwhelming.”
Building The GLO House
Before coming together and founding the centre, both Darron and Lindsey were already working with children in need. For Darron, who was born in an Ocean View shack settlement, the outreach efforts were motivated by his own difficult childhood experiences.
“I was born into a very vicious cycle – one that I wasn’t even able to explain, not even knowing that I was trapped in it.
“Everybody I was surrounded by was suffering from the same thing, so there was no hope, there was no way forward. Each day, you’re just doing what you do to survive,” he says.
Everyone basically told me, ‘He’s too far gone. Don’t worry about it, he’s just gonna end up on the streets. You’re wasting your time.’ I didn’t take that as an option.
“I spent most of my time walking to the beach because of how bad things were at home. My dad was really abusive. He actually ended up [being] sentenced to 24 years in prison for attempted murder… and after feeling a lot of pain and loss, nowhere that I felt that I belonged, I found myself walking to the beach.”
When an older man offered Darron the opportunity to surf, he found that being surrounded by nature eased his pain. The experience led to his working at a nonprofit in Muizenberg teaching children to surf.
In 2016, Lindsey came to South Africa from her home in the US to do voluntary work at a crèche and school in Capricorn, a settlement bordering Muizenberg.
When she visited again in 2017, she noticed some of the children she had grown close to were stuck in bad situations. Her efforts to involve local social workers and law clinics in a solution were in vain.
“Everyone basically told me, ‘He’s too far gone. Don’t worry about it, he’s just gonna end up on the streets. You’re wasting your time.’ I didn’t take that as an option,” she says. “I spoke with my grandmother, who had fostered kids her whole life, and my mom was one of them.
“I always had that idea of what community should really be like, and that involves opening your doors to everybody. So, in May 2018, I founded The GLO House.”
The GLO House started as a temporary shelter for a small group of children. The organisation worked closely with parents, who often needed help with their kids while searching for jobs or checking into rehabilitation centres.
Darron and Lindsey met through a child who was taking part in both their outreach programmes. They realised they shared a common vision.
“I shared my story with Lindsey and I shared [that] my dream is not to prolong the pain, but to give kids the environment to be able to just be kids,” says Darron.
“I needed to become an adult at a very young age, being responsible for my younger siblings, and all of these kids were having to do the same thing.
“If I could get the opportunity to give a child a chance to just be a kid again, not have all the responsibilities, I would do that.”
The pair decided to work together on creating a long-term solution to problems they had identified in the local community – and later married.
Read more in Daily Maverick: United we dance — Gugulethu after-school projects draw youth safely away from crime and violence
In January 2021, The GLO House moved to the farm in Redhill after a benefactor in the US bought the property in their name, giving them several years to pay off the loan.
“We have quite a small budget and we make what we can out of what we have, which is challenging at times,” says Lindsey.
“We do have a sustainable farm project, so our idea is to be a semi-self-sustainable organisation. We are now 11% sustainably funded, which is through Darron’s project in Simon’s Town with the wet waste initiative.”
The wet waste project
Almost every day, Darron works with other local farmers to collect more than a tonne of wet waste from about 25 restaurants in the Simon’s Town area. The food scraps, which are carefully separated from other waste by partner groups, feed the farmers’ pigs and – in Darron’s case – make compost that can be sold back to community members.
“With Darron coming onboard, and then once the wet waste was over a tonnage a day, it wasn’t just our community benefiting, it was his own community,” says Luana Pasanisi, founder of Green Group Simon’s Town, the environmental organisation that partners with the local farmers.
The waste would otherwise have been collected only once a week and attracted unwanted, scavenging baboons, she explains.
“The best part is it’s consumed within the day. And so many poor people benefit. The ripple effect it’s had in terms of kindness and a circular economy has been unreal. I could never have foreseen it being so successful and I attribute it to having Darron,” she says.
You need champions to drive something. There needs to be purpose involved. It was more than making money. Purpose fuelled all of this.
The wet waste project has significantly reduced costs at Redhill, agrees Darron. Before, he’d drive to Paarl to buy feed for the pigs. By bringing more small-scale pig farmers in the surrounding community on board he has ensured they can cut costs and put more food on the table.
“We were unaware of the big change that was happening here and the impact we were having. To us, it was just that we were serving our community; we were serving ourselves; [and] we were keeping baboons out of town,” observes Darron.
“After really looking at the project and seeing what was happening, it was said to us that this is actually a circular economy. How it ties into our project is that we want to serve our community.”
The project forms part of Lindsey and Darron’s broader vision of making the farm self-sustainable.
According to Lindsey, Darron has been teaching other farmers in the area about ethical, low-cost farming methods, such as using certain types of seaweed as a natural dewormer for animals.
Says Darron: “You need champions to drive something. There needs to be purpose involved. It was more than making money. Purpose fuelled all of this.” DM
This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper, which is available countrywide for R29.