Chole Mjini – Tanzania

“Part of the Mafia archipelago that lies south of Zanzibar, Chole is a tiny tropical island located in the largest marine park in East Africa, a few clicks off the Tanzanian coast.

Set sail for its mangrove-lined shores, and as the first treehouses hove into view, the last vestiges of the 21st century recede: no roads, no cars, no electricity… Just a star-spangled sky, flickering candles, superb food, great company, and the timeless luxuries of space, immersion in nature, privacy, and utter peace.”

“Almost twenty years ago the then leaders of the Mafia District Council offered us land on Chole Island to build a hotel and the first thing we did was to consult with the Chole village elders and then with a broad cross-section of the entire population in order to establish their priorities for development and to discuss the impact of our proposed hotel and other interventions. These consultations became the basis for agreements between the Chole Mjini Conservation and Development Co. (Chole Mjini CDCo) and Chole village that were documented in the minutes of village council meetings and assembly meetings of the entire village in 1993 and 1994.

Our motivation in building the lodge was to find out if one could use a profit-making tourism business as a mechanism to provide recurrent funding, continuity, administrative and other support (the “glue”) to help self-run village development projects meet their long-term goals. Our vision was to help two generations of Chole children through formal education to go as far as they could and in this way empower the people of Chole to better engage with the national economy so that the future prospects of all the people of the island would irreversibly change and their need for assistance would then be radically decreased. We believed that giving kids a real shot at an education in an environment where anemic babies are born to anemic mothers would also require an approach that simultaneously addressed primary health-care issues.

Happily, the priorities of the majority of the people of Chole and our own vision turned out to coincide and the goals of our joint development venture were thus easy to define as being to improve health-care and education for all the people of Chole.”

“Each tree house took from six months to a year to complete because they were built completely by hand, using traditional tools and utilizing materials sourced only from traders living on Chole. Time slipped away, to bureaucracy, to malaria and hepatitis and the universal building plague. Like builders the world over, the Chole fundis constantly had other (usually boat building) jobs to be dealt with on the side and there were the many arguments about money and whose fault it was when the building materials weren’t at hand when needed. We only bought poles and wood that were accompanied by a valid license from the appropriate authority, which slowly excluded many suppliers, and in the end most of the poles and wood came from the nearby Rufiji River delta and one man who has become a very dear friend. Abdullah Mzee is a human dynamo, a mover and shaker who has saved our butts on more than one occasion over the years. Each tree for poles and planks was cut by hand, sawn into planks by hand in a saw pit and transported to Chole by dhow, cured by us for at least twelve months and then ripped and planed by hand. I’m happy that his efforts on our behalf paid for him to go on the Hajj, the greatest wish of this remarkable man, and the only man on Chole to have done so.” Chole Mjini

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