Brief history and vision of the Chole Mjini Conservation & Development Company

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.

The situation when we started in 1993

When we first began the entire hotel project, i.e. before the existence of The Chole Mjini CDCo and Chole Mjini Lodge, there was only one classroom, one teacher's house and one teacher on the island; only a few people had passed primary school and no one could afford to go to secondary school. There was just one person out of 200 adults in formal employment. Most of the population depended on subsistence fishing and farming. Other commercial activities were boat building, fishing, exploitation of mangroves for poles and of corals to make lime and small scale export of coconuts, citrus fruit, mats and rope made from coconut fibre. Most Choleans could not afford to travel the 15km to the District hospital so infant mortality and maternal deaths during childbirth were high. There was one bicycle on the island, no radios and very few tin roofs (most being of local thatch/coconut fronds). Nobody had a bank account and only a tiny minority of the women engaged in business or community administration directly. We therefore rapidly came to the realization that in the short term it would also be necessary to address the needs of those who had "missed the boat" in education. We also felt that it was imperative to help broaden the economy of the island and empower women and younger members of the community so we have tried to promote skills training and economic development/diversification for both men and women, young and old.

The Situation in 2010.

Our joint initiatives are supporting more than 70 learners at secondary school (roughly equal numbers of girls and boys) and two students at universities on the mainland. School leavers are returning to tutor their peers on the island and to help the Form Fours (Secondary school/O level) pass their national exams. There are now about fifty people in formal employment and another fifty in casual employment while commercial activities have changed dramatically. Coconuts, citrus, mats and rope are still exported but commercial harvesting of corals and mangroves has almost stopped (largely due to the codes introduced by the Mafia Island Marine Park that restrict harvesting of these products locally). Today more people make a living in the tourism/service industries and Choleans own more than 200 bicycles, countless radios, two cars and a truck, many boats with outboard motors and even a few TVs and freezers powered by solar and gas and you will also see many new tin roofs and a new mosque under construction. Many men and women have their own bank accounts. Women have travelled to Dar es Salaam and further and also now stand for election to many of the leadership positions. Chole Mjini CDCo is certainly not responsible for all this change but has been one of the prime movers and facilitators.

Our role as a company has included helping to build capacity for organization at village level, provide direct income from the company and also attract donors to assist in capital and recurrent funding. One of our most influential roles is to introduce and assist NGO's and academic researchers to initiate projects that improve life for the people of Chole Island, conserve their culture or introduce new skills or opportunities.

Organization: We helped the people of Chole to organize (development of constitutions, registration of their societies, leadership training, book-keeping training and "start-up capital") three non-governmental societies under Tanzanian law, each with independent mandates and democratically elected officers to ensure that received funds could be used appropriately and audited annually.

Direct Income: Our guests at the hotel pay a voluntary levy of USD10 per person per night (that is included in the lodge tariff) and this provides predictable income that is directly controlled by the village and can be used for recurrent funding, to fill gaps and keep things going between donors for various projects. The company pays this levy quarterly to two village societies, the Chole Social Development Society and the Chole Economic Development Society, and these societies and the Chole Village Council decide how these funds should be spent and then pay them to the appropriate recipients.

Donor Funding: None of this would have been possible without the additional help and grants from many different donors. In the early years this included institutional donors who provided much needed grant funding for construction and training projects (see acknowledgements at end). As it became more and more difficult to meet the recurrent funding needs of these projects, it became necessary, with the help of former guests, to set up a charity to enable friends of Chole to commit to one-off, annual or monthly payments through a UK registered charity (thereby providing tax benefits for UK donors, attracting gift aid and, very importantly, being independently scrutinized). This has slowly built up to a substantial amount of guaranteed funding that can now be used by the community to run its various development projects and provide scholarships for secondary school students. However, meeting funding needs remains an on-going challenge, especially as more and more children qualify for higher education and need financial assistance.

The Chole Mjini Trust Fund web site is still under construction and a link will be placed here shortly.

Major Projects

To date the range of village projects initiated and sustained by the Chole Mjini CDCo. (initially with our own funds then with continuing recurrent funding from the bed-night levy and with extensive donor funding) includes the following:

Health centre with a small lab, in-patient facility and maternity ward,

Kindergarten for kids aged 3 to 6 (where they are fed and taught), a primary school (with 5 classrooms as well as 5 school teacher's houses)

Market and community centre for general trading (where the villagers can pay to watch solar powered television providing income to the CSWD/Chole Society for Women's Development),

Women's centre Society office and sewing rooms

Learning centre for both adult education and tuition for primary and secondary school children with a focus on English language and computer literacy.

There were other very important intangible projects, such as loans and saving schemes and scholarships for secondary and tertiary education. These projects were initiated and are run under the umbrella of one of three Chole societies that the adults on Chole belong to and whose officers are elected by the people of Chole (except for 1 of 10 seats on the executive that are permanently reserved for directors of the company). The primary school and health centre have subsequently been passed to the District Authorities to run (although they still receive assistance from The Chole Mjini Trust Fund), while the kindergarten, market, learning centre and women's centre are run by the Chole Society for Women's Development, and the Chole Social Development Society/Harambee sub-committee.

Challenges and lessons learned

Tanzania, the Mafia Island Marine Park and most especially Chole Island are undergoing phenomenal change. Progress doesn't always suit or please everyone and change is often very daunting, even to people who are comfortable and privileged enough to have some control over the changes affecting their lives. Managing change and negotiating "progress" is a profound challenge in a materially-poor, politically-isolated, conservative community.

Changes in power structures: Change on Chole has led to radical realignments of the "power structures" of the island. Some of the "previously advantaged" may perceive their own advantage and power to be eroding as women and the young children of the poorer members of the community gain access to health-care, education and financial assistance and as the formerly poorer members of the community, with little or no formal education, learn new skills and prosper from a decade of stable employment and demand for skilled labour. As one of the village elders once said "we have to go through this pain (conflict within the community) to change and to grow, there is no other path".

Prioritization and management of expectations: When the project started up there were many dreams. Clear documentation at its start stated the agreement between the parties. These agreements were carried forward by word of mouth to successive committees that took over from their predecessors and expectations changed as time went by. It is important therefore to keep agreements live and current and that there should be regular discussion and referral to agreed priorities and commitments. We had to acknowledge this point after about ten years of operation when a series of round table / under the mango tree discussions were needed to bring our agreements back into focus. At that point a formal contract was drawn up to help future generations better understand exactly what had been agreed upon (2007).

Consequently, nowadays the relationship between the Chole Mjini CDCo and Chole village is guided by this ground-breaking written contract that faithfully reflects the agreements reached in 1993 but also clearly defines the rights and responsibilities of the parties to the agreement as well as the mechanisms for conflict resolution. This had become essential as the relationship evolved and became much more complex, and as the village elders and leaders that were privy to the original agreements passed the reins of leadership over to the next generation.

Funding: The company cannot raise enough income to fuel directly the development aspirations and needs of the community. The international donor community is unable to commit to the long term recurrent funding needs of many of the village projects. The District and National Government cannot afford to fund all the education and health-care needs at village level. Additional funding raised by our former guests paid through The Chole Mjini Trust Fund to the community are a lifeline at the moment until the goals of education, growth and diversification in the economy are met.

The future

Our experiences on Chole have helped us to develop and implement a model for rural development that we call "THE THREE-LEGGED STOOL". We believe that this model provides a "stable" platform for development because of the three legs that are brought together, each independent of one another yet working together - the community, the company and our donors. We hope this model can be sustained and even replicated to assist remote communities like Chole 'reach' the rest of the world for their own benefit.

The first leg of the stool is the community (in this case Chole Island) that wants assistance and can prioritize their needs. The second leg is the company (in this case Chole Mjini CDCo), that understands the benefits of a corporate social responsibility program. Such companies can (and do) play invaluable roles in rural development in remote areas that are often forgotten/ not reached by regional and district development programmes. As a company we are highly motivated to help our local community prosper because it makes good business sense to have a stable and prospering community as a neighbour. To this end we have provided invaluable assistance by joining with the village to initiate and sustain projects, by providing (free of charge) organizational expertise, assistance with administration and communications, recurrent funding and even emergency donations/loans and other funds at times to make sure that projects get off the ground and are sustained. We tend to be very involved in the early phase of projects, putting the pieces together, becoming very much more "hands off" in the latter stages. We also employ most of our staff from the local village and procure as much as possible locally in an effort to stimulate the local economy.

The third leg of the stool is funding for the projects. The funding mechanisms of our various projects vary enormously and can be quite complex but there are underlying constants. One is a source of direct income (the direct levy from our guests) and this provides predictable, independent funding to the community that they have control over. Other funds are raised from lodge guests who wish to help more (either as one-off donations or in annual installments (for instance the current funding for the running of the kindergarten) or in the form of monthly standing orders (mainly for educational scholarships).

In the future we need to expand this support base through fund-raising events and directly through the internet. Institutional donors have also been important especially in contributions required for bigger "capital" projects. All of these funds go either directly to a project bank account, under the umbrella of one of the Chole societies, or they pass first through a registered UK charity, The Chole Mjini Trust Fund that is overseen and run by independent trustees (principally the donors), and from there to the appropriate village society's bank account. We at the company help to ensure that all donor funds end up in the correct project under the control of the appropriate committee of elected Choleans and that they are spent for what they were raised and that accounts get audited but we do not directly handle or administer these donor funds ourselves. The handling and administration of donor funds incurs unavoidable expenses such as transfer fees, bank charges, accounting and auditing charges but otherwise administration is largely done free of charge on a volunteer basis such that most of the money donated (90%) is spent where it should be, on getting the job done at village level.

Conclusion

The impact of this "holistic" approach to education/health-care has been amazing for the young children of Chole. With kids starting kindergarten early, being fed at "kindie" and taken to free monthly clinics to be vaccinated, have their hemoglobin levels tested, given iron and vitamin B supplements and being monitored and treated for parasites and infections, they now enjoy good health and remain largely free of parasites and anemia. This has had a huge impact on their early development and ability to learn. In past years most Chole children failed at school but nowadays the majority of learners pass primary school and are eligible to study further. This has created new "problems", like how to make secondary and tertiary education attainable for them. What a fabulous "problem" to have. We are building on foundations that were laid almost twenty years ago, on the vision, wisdom and hard work of some truly remarkable Chole elders (especially Mzee Selemani Bacha), who are no longer alive to see the fruits of their labours on behalf of their children and grandchildren. Amazingly our dream of funding two generations of Chole children through higher education appears to be almost half completed and is now starting to look like it may actually become a reality. Realization of this shared dream will be our reward. I should explain that "our" and "we" means any/all of the many outstanding people of Chole, the former guests, private and institutional donors, friends and volunteers, who have participated in this dream and given so generously of their time and/or money. Thank you all.

Acknowledgements

We would specifically like to credit the following donors for their direct assistance: The British High Commission, The British Council, The Royal Danish Embassy, The American Embassy, all in Dar es Salaam. The Australian Embassy in Kenya, The Women's Front of Norway /FOKUS, Irish Aid, Kahama Mining, SAB/Millar, BESO (British Executive Services Overseas), Australian Volunteers and Solar-Aid, Tanzania.

There are also many private individuals who have made significant donations (or have volunteered their time) that have helped us sustain the recurrent funding needs of the various projects. These include Ken and Cathy Bauso, Henry Peter, Rob and Jackie Barbour, Chris Walley and Dudley Isles, Karen Oakes, Barry Paul, Robin and Patrizia Cooke-Hurle, Sabine Stevenson . We also thank those of you who continue to make monthly donations to the Trust Fund, our longest standing contributors have been with us since April 2006 and this reliability and regularity has helped support many of the projects that are on-going. We would also like to thank Guy and Amanda Marks for helping us formalise our fund-raising efforts, initially channeled through The Tribes Foundation, UK and then guiding us to setting up The Chole Mjini Trust Fund.