How Anne and Jean De Villiers fell in love with Chole Island and its people
Dhow: A two-masted Arab sailing vessel.
This simple boat is what drew Anne and Jean de Villiers to Chole Island, and once they laid their eyes on this remote and unspoilt place, they instantly fell in love with what they saw.
Back in 1992, very few people had heard of Chole Island, let alone visited its shores. As such the island had a lot of untapped potential for those who could look past the severe poverty in the region. Besides the natural beauty on the island, the local people living on Chole Island are its greatest treasure. Friendly, warm and welcoming, they immediately make you feel part of their family.
After several visits to Chole to check on the progress of his dhow, Jean was offered a piece of land on the island by Tanzanian authorities, in order to build a hotel The irony of this offer was that Jean and Anne had no hotel experience between them and loathed the effect hotel development had had on other remote paradises around the world. Despite all this, Jean accepted the offer. He knew this was one way he could preserve the island’s beauty and prevent it from being exploited.
Anne and Jean during this period had also become well acquainted with the challenges faced by the locals on the island. Some of these challenges included the lack of health care, especially for women and children, the lack of educational opportunities and the dependence on natural resource exploitation.
The combination of wanting to preserve Chole’s natural beauty and to help provide a better quality of life for the local people is what led to the creation of Chole Minji Treehouse Lodge. Anne and Jean, together with the help of boat builders, a carpenter and a stone-mason, then started building the treehouses that today make up the lodge. The tree houses were built slowly using local skills, labour and resources. Remarkably, no power tools were used in this process!
The couple continued to invest in the local people through the Chole Mjini Conservation and Development Company Ltd. The island now has a functioning clinic and primary school, furthermore, thirty-two children on the island have been afforded the opportunity to attend university through the couple’s work! In addition to these children, the couple also sponsors the education of over 150 children annually.
Chole Mjini truly is a place in touch with nature. Anne and Jean have stayed true to themselves throughout their lives, and in doing so helped preserve this natural beauty for the past 30 years. In recognition of their work, Chole Mjini Treehouses has received several awards associated with responsible tourism.
Join Anne and Jean in their worthy effort by visiting Chole Mjini Treehouses for yourself!