Eveybody Counts: African enterprise

When chartered accountant Nick Parker became a governor at his son’s grammar school he could hardly have thought that the role would take him to a former Arab slave-traders’ haunt on the southern coast of Tanzania.

The school is Bishop Wordsworth’s in Salisbury. It has a unique connection with the little African town of Mikindani, in the south of Tanzania close to the Mozambique border.

Today, Mikindani bears only faded evidence of its vibrant past, as a regional government centre for 19th Century German colonists and earlier still as a port from which African slaves were shipped to Arabia. Wooden dhows still ply the coast as they have done for centuries and for many people home is a one-roomed mud hut.

It is here that a project established by Salisbury businessman Brian Currie and imaginatively supported by his old school, Bishop Wordsworth’s, is coming to fruition. Currie, an intrepid traveller, fetched up in Mikindani several years ago and found himself drawn to a majestic but derelict German government building on a hillside overlooking the bay.

During the past five years the building, known as a boma, has been renovated as a hotel by Trade Aid, the Fordingbridge-based charity established by Brian Currie. Pupils from Bishop Wordsworth School have the opportunity after A-levels to spend time in Mikindani working on the conversion of the boma and teaching in the local school.

‘The boys live with local families in mud huts,’ said Nick Parker, a partner in the Hampshire accountancy firm BKL Weeks Green. Nick, who is the chairman of governors, has just been to Mikindani with Brian Currie and headmaster Clive Barnett to see the project in action.

‘The people in Mikindani have absolutely nothing, but they are so welcoming and generous. There is no starvation but life expectancy is low and the #15 a year it costs for a child to go to school is a small fortune. Trade Aid aims not just to give money but to give people the means to better themselves and regenerate their community.’

All of the ornately-carved furniture in the boma hotel, which is now taking its first guests, is locally made. Produce for the kitchens comes from local farmers. The staff are recruited locally, and the impact of their salaries can already be seen in the new corrugated iron roofs on some houses and the new bicycles they can now afford to buy. The Mikindani artist whose paintings hang in the hotel has opened a small studio nearby.

The profits from the hotel are administered by a local trust set up by Trade Aid and ploughed back into the local community. More projects are being planned.

But for the moment one of the main priorities is to encourage travellers to come to the hotel. Visits by dignitaries including the president are keenly awaited, and the staff have been practising opening champagne bottles.

‘The hotel is fabulous,’ says headmaster Clive Barnett, who is chairman of Trade Aid’s UK trust. ‘The outside is white lime wash with green window frames and shutters. Inside there is a cool central courtyard with steps leading to bedrooms with verandahs overlooking the gardens and pool.’

During their stay, he and Nick were involved in formalities to get the charity’s Tanzanian trust off the ground and they researched attractions likely to appeal to adventurous holiday makers. Guests will be able to fish, sail and windsurf and there is scope for safaris and coastal voyages by dhow, says Nick.

‘Mikindani Old Town is a mixture of once prosperous Arab and Portuguese buildings and the red wattle and daub huts that are typical of Southern Tanzania. Environmentalists are keen to designate it a special conservation area as it contains all of the most historic buildings including the Governor’s House and the Old Fort. All are now decayed, but the idea is that money generated by the boma, together with other funds from Trade Aid, will help in the renovation of these buildings.

‘I left Mikindani with the feeling that I wanted to do as much as I could to get people to go there,’ said Nick. ‘The opening of the boma is not the end, but just the beginning.’

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