TELLING THE STORIES UNTOLD

Africa is #NotOneStory. As part of our mission to verbalise new and unexpected narratives on the continent, each year we invite three brands whose stories might otherwise go untold to become honorary members of the We Are Africa tribe. In 2017, our longstanding community development partner, Uthando (Love) South Africa, returned once again to share tales of their successes over the past 12 months, including news of Abalimi Bezekhaya, the township farming cooperative that the We Are Africa tribe is helping to support. They were joined by the inspiring Township Art Tours and Sangha Lodge – we caught up with both newbies ahead of the event…


JUMA MKWELA, FOUNDER OF TOWNSHIP ART TOURS

When and why did you decide to set up Township Art Tours?

Township Art Tours was founded in 2012 because I was involved in creating street art in Woodstock and Khayelitsha. I found myself the only person working with the community and the artists who contributed to street art, because I knew where all the artwork was, I knew almost everyone in the community, and I knew the story behind the artwork. I felt that the rest of the world should also have the opportunity to see these beautiful street artworks and learn all the amazing stories associated with them – and to meet locals in a way that will inspire change.

What can travellers expect to see and learn on a tour?

Travellers will see art that inspires; art that educates; art that raises awareness of different aspects; beautiful streets; organic home gardens; and they will engage with locals, by either creating an artwork or a home garden.

What makes a Township Art Tour a unique experience for travellers?

We believe travelling and engaging with locals is the best possible travel experience – our philosophy is to make guests and travellers connect and create a beautiful community. On every tour the guests will either paint or create a home garden; we also harvest our gardens in order to cook and share a meal with a family.

How do the tours benefit local people?

The locals benefit from tours by creating organic home gardens, creating street art and engaging with other locals from different cultures and races.

What’s the most surprising reaction you’ve seen from a traveller on a tour?

One German lady, Sarah, emailed me after returning home because she couldn’t stop thinking about a little girl she met on her tour – she told me, “Still I think of her and that moment of connected souls. It felt as if I was seeing someone I have known for years after a long, long period of time.” She wanted to know if there was anything the little girl or her family might need, that she could help with. That was touching.

How do Africans living in the townships you visit showcase an independent, creative, do-it-yourself attitude?

Africans and particularly those people living in the townships are so creative and humble; they’re very welcoming. Seeing other locals starting their own gardens and creating artworks has triggered a huge surge in people asking for materials to do the same; they’re so enthusiastic – when they see an opportunity they grab it with both hands.

How are Township Art Tours helping to show a different side to Africa?

Township Art Tours are helping to show the beautifully creative side of life in the townships.

How do Africans living in the townships you visit showcase an independent, creative, do-it-yourself attitude?

Africans and particularly those people living in the townships are so creative and humble; they’re very welcoming. Seeing other locals starting their own gardens and creating artworks has triggered a huge surge in people asking for materials to do the same; they’re so enthusiastic – when they see an opportunity they grab it with both hands.

How are Township Art Tours helping to show a different side to Africa?

Township Art Tours are helping to show the beautifully creative side of life in the townships.


ROD AND TAMAR CASSIDY, FOUNDERS OF SANGHA LODGE

What was your original vision for Sangha Lodge?

The usual answer: to establish a reasonable lodge that uplifted the standards in Central Africa to compare with East and Southern Africa, that could contribute to conservation and community… But, more than this, we wanted to show the world a different side to Africa than just the charismatic animals. The Congo Basin has the richest biodiversity on the continent – there’s so much more to see and do than look at our elephants and gorillas. Eventually we hope to increase tourists’ awareness of this environment with a variety of activities similar to what the lodges in the Amazon offer – such as canopy walkways, tree climbing, kayaking and so on. All of these will bring sustainable jobs to a population that currently exists on consumptive utilisation of the forests.

What challenges have you faced along the way and how have you overcome them?

Our biggest challenge has been the war that broke out following the coup de tête in 2013. All tourism died and the expats running the NGO responsible for running the park left. The local population felt abandoned and turned to the forest for their livelihood. The impact of this was huge. Elephant poaching began and at one point 26 elephants were killed in a single incident by the rebel army. At this time we were broke and stuck outside the country; but, thanks to a lot of help and donations from friends, we returned and became the eyes and ears for conservation in the area.

What can travellers expect to see and learn at Sangha Lodge?

Sangha Lodge is in the heart of the rainforest, with access to habituated lowland gorillas and the best forest elephant experience in the world: the famous Dzanga Bai. Apart from having the richest biodiversity in Africa, there is always something new to learn – even for those of us who have lived here for eight years. Hopefully travellers will learn not only about wildlife, conservation and the rich diversity, but also about some of the people who manage to live in perfect harmony with this environment, The Ba’aka people.

What makes Sangha Lodge a unique experience for travellers?

The Congo Basin speaks for itself. Between Sangha Lodge and Odzala in the Republic of the Congo, we are the only two lodges functioning in this environment. Dzang Bai is, without a doubt, the most amazing elephant experience in the world. We cater for special interests on top of this and offer expert advice on birding, butterflies, mammal-watching, night walks and more.

What’s the most surprising reaction you’ve had from a traveller at Sangha Lodge?

Most clients visiting us have low expectations and are blown away by the lodge and the wildlife. I think our biggest surprise has been the huge generosity shown by a number of our past clients when the crisis in this country happened and we had to survive with little or no income. Their genuine concern for us and the wildlife around us kept us alive for two years. Our clients arrive as guests, but leave as friends – that’s for sure.

How does the Lodge benefit local people and wildlife?

Employment: We have 16 permanent staff at Sangha Lodge and a further 14 staff working on a pangolin research and conservation. Community: We support two local schools and clothe over 20 indigent children attending those schools. We support local farmers with seeds for vegetables and also buy as much of our produce locally as possible. Conservation: We run a pangolin research and conservation programme, which began life as a small rescue-and-release programme for pangolin from the bush meat markets (there was a big increase in this trade during the war); so far we’re released a total of over 70 pangolins from the trade, but this has raised more questions about pangolins than it answered and, as such, we’re pleased to say that we should welcome our first research students in the coming year. In the meantime we have a team of Ba’aka tracking an already habituated pangolin and monitoring her every day.

 

How is Sangha Lodge helping to show a different side of Africa?

This is easy to answer: as most tourism in Africa is about savannah habitats and coastal beach tourism, we are one of but a few who show the lowland tropical rainforest in all its glory.


Learn more about Uthando (Love) South Africa, Township Art Tours and Sangha Lodge by visiting the Untold Stories stand at We Are Africa 2017 (1-4 May).

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Katie Palmer
Katie Palmer is Editorial Manager for Beyond Luxury Media

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