An island of change

The Sijwa Project

What is The Sijwa Project?

It’s the re-purposing and re-inventing of all recyclable waste from the African Monarch Lodges; Nambwa Tented Lodge and Kazile Island Lodge, on the Kwando River of the Zambezi Region of Namibia, and from the local community, into exquisite saleable craft and art.

It’s also an organic permaculture nursery to supply food for local people and lodge guests (mitigating the air and road miles lodge food usually travels). The sandy soil is enhanced by composted food-waste and super-strength worm juice, given a boost by the occasional dollop of elephant dung!

It’s a cultural village, artisanal skills training center, a free-range egg scheme and it’s an indigenous tree nursery for visitors to buy and plant a tree to offset their carbon footprint, looked after by a local ‘tree guardian’ to ensure a better chance of survival against nibbling antelope.

Dusty and Tinolla Rodgers, as part of their continued endeavour for their brand to be sustainable and give back to the community and conservation, launched The Sijwa Project in November 2018. It is here where you will be entertained and enriched with local culture and can interact with the local communities while they practise their artisan skills taught at the project.   You will be encouraged to walk through the permaculture plants, recycling workshops where waste such as plastic, glass and cans are turned into beautiful artefacts for sale.

The Sijwa Project has a broad vision of empowering the local community by creating jobs, preserving traditional knowledge, teaching skills and conserving the surrounding environment through a variety of proposed recycling and innovative activities. With the highest rate of unemployment in Namibia found in the Zambezi Region, we carefully structured a project that will address these problems through a holistic approach.  This bold project is multi-faceted and will in the end be self-sufficient. We aim to employ 60 community members (who then support up to 12 others in their village), even more if funding allows, and educate close to 182 scholars from the local high school through our Junior Ranger School and Junior Sewing School.  12% of all revenue generated at the project (entrance fees, sale of all artefacts manufactured, sale of vegetables and eggs to the lodges and surrounds and sale of garments manufactured) will be paid to the Mayuni Conservancy monthly.

A Lot Still in the pipeline!

Phew – that’s a lot going on, but there’s so much more planned.

The Sijwa Project will be home to a Junior Ranger School, an innovative Beehive Project to combat the human-elephant conflict problem which exists in our community and if all wishes come true it will be home to a kindergarten, as none exists in this region.

Method in the madness! For example, elephants hate the buzz of bees.  When the swaying hives, which will be made at the project, is strung up all around the farm are bashed by elephants’ intent on crop raiding, the bees come out to investigate and the elephants soon buzz off. It’s a win-win for sustainable vegetable growing, pollination and honey production, while the elephants go back to the river and eat grass. Chili-bombs are also used as a successful deterrent and consist of elephant dung infused with crushed chilies and set alight to smoke for hours – the elephants hate it!

These ideas didn’t just come from online research, nor were they plucked at random. Tinolla and Dusty have travelled far and wide looking at successful projects to emulate. They’ve seen aluminum soft drink cans turned into beautiful butter dishes, beer bottles turned into decorative glassware and plastic bottles stuffed with soft plastic waste and used in mud-hut walls.

Approval and enthusiasm from

Chief Mayuni

Plastic recycling is a passion of Chief Mayuni after a conversation he once had with a tourist on a flight who made a negative remark that “plastic is a flower in Namibia, because it is everywhere” The Chief was shocked and as he drove back to the North he realised the truth of the statement and decided to put his mind to change this in his sizable realm.

When Chief Mayuni learned of Tinolla and Dusty’s plans he released Sijwa – a traditional meeting place within his area in the Mayuni Conservancy of Bwabwata National Park, Zambezi, in the very heart of KAZA (Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area) – for this joint venture with the community. After listening carefully to all the presentations, he gave his personal blessing at a large gathering of dignitaries, international media and conservation role players on 17 November 2018 at Sijwa.

With a surplus of passion in everything they put their minds to, Tinolla and Dusty demonstrate a ‘go big or go home!’ kind of attitude and the Sijwa Project is no exception! The Sijwa Project opened its doors to its first guests in January 2020, at the time only showcasing the Permaculture Centre and the cultural Village.

Chief Mayuni visited the project in February 2021 and was amazed at what had been accomplished especially during the Covid pandemic period in 2020.  Members from his communities were recruited and received artisanal skills training during a time when it was least expected.

“This vision is bigger than us – we occupy a tiny space on this planet – but we know the Sijwa Project will make a real difference and demonstrate how people and wildlife can live sustainably together.”

Dusty and Tinolla Rodgers
Owners of African Monarch Lodges

Collaboration with The Collective Boutique & Myeisha Namibia to establish a Sewing Workshop at The Sijwa Project

The sewing workshop was never part of the original plan for The Sijwa Project.  Covid-19 brought about a vision for Dusty and Tinolla to include a sewing workshop.  With so much time on everyone’s hands as the Lodges came to a complete standstill when the COVID-19 Pandemic hit the world, they thought it would be time well spent sewing uniquely designed bathrobes for the lodges and kaftans that would be ready for sale once guests return. All it required was a sewing machine and some fabric, or so they thought. Sadly none of their staff could sew and this drove them  to find a way to make this new dream for a sewing workshop a reality.

Tinolla engaged in discussions with Nikita Rix, owner of The Collective Boutique in Windhoek and Swakopmund as well as Sandra Baumeister, owner of Myeisha Namibia, home to handmade leather handbags, and together a beautiful collaboration was initiated. Dusty sprung into action and with a small team from the community (creating further employment during COVID) built the first workshop for this collaboration out of empty plastic mineral water bottles filled with plastic waste and sand.

Sandra from Myeisha donated 3 sewing machines, an over locker, sewing kits, an expert trainer to train the ladies as well as a purchase contract for ‘shopper’ bags designed specially for Myeisha’s handcrafted leather handbags and their Inami Safaris. Nikita from The Collective Boutique donated fabric, sewing kits as well as a purchase contract to buy 40 designer ‘shopper’ bags per month from the Sijwa Project’s sewing workshop for both her boutiques. Nikita Rix has also secured two of South Africa’s top designers, Isabel De Villiers and Michelle Ludek to travel to the Zambezi in 2021 to design patterns for bathrobes and kaftans for the lodges and to personally train the ladies on how to sew these designer garments. The completed garments will grace the rooms and curio shops of Nambwa and Kazile as well as the Collective boutiques and the fashion houses of both designers back in South Africa.

The sewing workshop is thus a collaboration between three powerful brands with a vision to have the project successful and sustainable from its inception on the 5th of November 2020.
Nikita Rix, Collective Boutique (left), Tinolla Rodgers, African Monarch Lodges (middle), Sandra Beaumeister, Myeisha (right)

The Sijwa Project’s sewing workshop employed 4 ladies so far, Esther, Vivian, Merrina and Annie (an orphan since birth). They are from the villages in the Mayuni Conservancy.  These four ladies have never worked before, never been taught a skill to create an income from. Today, their hearts are filled with gratitude for the opportunity created by a tiny dream, which became a reality in such a short period of time. It is our wish to have this workshop grow so that Sijwa is in a position to employ a further 4-8 ladies or more for the sewing workshop.

“We could not be prouder of this incredible synergy, a collaboration, which have empowered 4 women in one of the most remote locations in Namibia and in the heart of the World’s Largest Conservation Area.”

Launch of the Glass Recycling Workshop at The Sijwa Project on 9 November 2020

Inspired by the excitement and hope instilled into the new seamstresses at The Sijwa Project, Tinolla and Dusty decided to use the time COVID-19 has created further by setting up the Glass Recycling Workshop.  They brought in an expert in glass recycling and bead making, to build the oven to melt the glass and to train a new team from the community who will remain permanently at The Sijwa Project and work in the Glass Recycling Workshop. Within 3 days of training the energy at The Sijwa Project was electrifying.  Everyone stood amazed as the most beautiful turquoise glass beads emerged from the flames. The newly appointed Glass Recycling Artisans believe they are not being taught a skill, but that they are being taught to perform magic. Bottles that normally end up in rubbish pits or find their way littering the escarpments are now being turned into beautiful jewelry pieces at their hands.

“Our vision is to employ a great number of community members, to give them the necessary training so they can earn an income and be part of the creative team at The Sijwa Project.  By the time our guests return, The Sijwa Project will be a hive of activity for interactive engagement with the locals.” 

The Sijwa Necklace – the first necklace made at the Glass Recycling Workshop at The Sijwa Project.

Launch of the Junior Sewing School at The Sijwa Project on 20 February 2021

“I’ve always believed that when giving something, it should last a lifetime.  It doesn’t have to change the world, but it should change somebody’s world.  Having a physical life skill, like sewing, can change the lives of many-and I am honoured to be part of The Sijwa Project”

Chanique Rabe
Miss Supranational Namibia 2020

In line with its vision to uplift and empower even the young from the surrounding communities, the reigning Miss Supranational Namibia 2020 together with African Monarch lodges launched their Junior Sewing School at The Sijwa Project.   The Honorable Chief Mayuni along with Chanique, Dusty and Tinolla unveiled the Junior Sewing School on the 20th of February 2021.

On Friday the 19th, Chanique and Willem Fourie, the owner of Miss Supranational Namibia along with Dusty and Tinolla met with the Grade 10 pupils and teachers of the local Mayuni High School to discuss the enrolment plans for the Junior Sewing School which will take place in April 2021.  Chanique will also be training a few adult facilitators to ensure sustainability of this school.

Could you be a

Sponsor?

Lodge guests will be offered a visit to The Sijwa Project to experience the local culture, interact with the community members as they go about creating beautiful recycled objects, buy gifts, plant a tree and show support for this community-driven initiative. Sponsors are sought from corporates, tour operators and individuals to help nurture this Project into a shining example of Best Practice for Sustainability in a Wildlife Area. This fits perfectly with the KAZA objectives of sustainable eco-tourism and communities living in harmony with wildlife.

You can expect to hear good news about the progress of The Sijwa Project.  Make sure you are signed up to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook and Instagram.

Being able to engage guests who are passionate about sustainable tourism is only part of the experience when visiting our African Monarch Lodges.