Social and Environmental Development
Unlike many conventional development projects, which concentrate on shorter term priorities, the Chole Project is open ended focuses more widely on the needs of the community as a whole, and facilitating the development of its long term self sufficiency.
Many of these actions require commitment and imagination, rather than funding, and can over a sustained period have a profound impact on the lives of people living on Chole.
Empowerment of Women
From the beginning the empowerment of women has been a recurrent theme, and is achieved by ensuring that women are involved as equal partners in all aspects of Chole’s development. For example the Chole Society for Women’s Development has specific operational responsibility for the Kindergarten, with funding allocated by the Harambee Committee, on which it has ex officio representation. The Kindergarten empowers mothers to develop their own lives, whilst their small children are cared for in a secure, happy environment, including extending their economic activities.
A measure of the success of this policy is that International Women's Day was enthusiastically celebrated on Chole (above), and the highest paid member of staff in the Chole Mjini Tourist Lodge is the chef – a woman, who has authority to set menus and run the kitchen.
There is a Women's Market on Chole where local goods, often traditionally weaved, are sold. During the summer of 2011 Nicole Mitchell, the daughter of one of our Trustees, spent several weeks on Chole before going to college helping local women to develop new designs for sale, such as the clutch bag shown on the right.
It is worth observing that the population of Chole is entirely Moslem, and the involvement of women in the affairs of the village perhaps contradicts some western prejudices.
Recovery and Conservation of the Local Culture
Although now very poor Chole has a long history. The Rufiji delta played a major part in the Swahili Coast trade routes that long pre-dated European influence; on the neighbouring island of Juani are some of the best preserved and impressive 11th and 12th century Shirazi ruins. Because of its holistic nature the Chole Project is concerned with the recovery and preservation of the local history and culture, and seeks to be sensitive to the cultural norms of those living on the island.
Examples of this approach are:
An acceptance of all religious and cultural traditions and beliefs on Chole, and of the authority of the Village Council;
A project to stabilise and preserve important archaeological monuments dating from the 19th century that represent an important part of Chole’s history;
The collection of oral histories and traditions which it is planned will be deposited as a digital archive on the island.
Although seemingly straightforward this sensitivity to the local culture in fact poses considerable challenges when working in partnership with a very conservative community, many of whom may never have had regular contact with the outside world.
Change had to come slowly, taking into account customs and local power structures that were decades old, resulting in entrenched attitudes and vested interests. Decision making on Chole, as in most rural African communities, is in fact very democratic, though profoundly patriarchal, and decisions often take years to make because matters are discussed countless times until consensus if reached. If a decision is made before the entire community accepts the consensus then it can be considered autocratic, and its legitimacy can be questioned, even if the elected representatives make it.
It is a measure of the success of the Chole Project that major decisions on such critical, life changing issues as awarding school bursaries are made by the Choleans themselves, within their own power structures.
Care for the Environment
In parallel with the development efforts Chole’s environment has been cared for in a number of ways. Eighty three varieties of bird and twenty four varieties of butterfly have been recorded on Chole, and it is also home to perhaps 50% of the world’s population of ‘Flying Fox’ Comoros Lesser Fruit Bats; one may ask what a Comoros fruit bat is doing off the coast of East Africa, but that's another story! As a result of the Chole Society of Women buying the roosting trees, Chole now has East Africa’s first and only bat sanctuary.
Turtles nest on the neighbouring island of Juani, and as another example of preserving the environment, the Chole Mjini Lodge organises escorted walks to these sites, and uses the fees to pay guardians to protect the sites from disturbance.
Of course not everything works so well - an attempt to combat the endemic litter that plagues Chole as it does many African villages by organising a competition for the best and tidiest garden had to be scrapped as the theft of prize plants got out of hand!