Only a piece of canvas and screen separate you and the great outdoors (which in Africa may mean wild and dangerous animals). I've had the opportunity to visit nearly a dozen such camps during my travels on on this continent, and I've seen some pretty impressive eco-initiatives associated with these properties. But nothing impressed me more than my final tented camp experience, the first to use a community development project as the basis for their tented lodge.
Rhotia Valley is a property perched atop two adjacent hills, overlooking the rural village of Rhotia, along Tanzania's famed Northern Safari Circuit. On one hill sits the Rhotia Valley Children's Home, a safe home and school for local children in need. Due to a very high rate of HIV/AIDS in the region, many children are orphans, and along with issues such as malnourishment and family breakdown, the Children's Home has become a key piece of the village's social support network.
Atop the second hill is the Rhotia Valley Tented Lodge, an eco-focused property with 15 spacious tents. Environmental initiatives abound – from solar thermal and photo-voltaic installations to an organic garden providing most of the veggies for the on-site restaurant. Most importantly though, the lodge exists primarily as a funding mechanism for the Children's Home, with a minimum of 20% of lodge revenues going towards operating costs for the home.
What impressed me the most about Rhotia Valley is that the owners set out to create a community development project, with a tourism component. Most of the time, the opposite is true. As a result, the focus on all aspects of Rhotia Valley's operation are geared toward the Children's Home and the local community. It is the community's support for the project that has made it a success. Children chosen to stay at the Home – those most in need – are determined by the community council and village elders. All staff for operations on both hills come from the surrounding communities, and all of the children boarded at the school are only from Rhotia. Village elders participate on the board of the Children's home, and the owners are actively engaged in community discussions and decisions. In their words: Our aim is to give support to the people - and especially the children - of the Rhotia area - in such a way that the entire village is committed and the villagers feel part of the project and embrace it. Two Hills, One Goal.
You can be part of the Rhotia project - guests to the lodge are encouraged to interact with the community on guided walks, as well as visit or volunteer in the Children's Home. Even a night's stay at the lodge provides direct financial benefits to the children. Learn more at www.rhotiavalley.com.
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