Project LIFE - Community Tourism
Where women run the show
But unlike most luxury accommodations in Africa, Damaraland Camp is managed by the local community. It is run by the first black woman manager in Namibia and employs the only black woman guide in the country. Both are members of a community-run land conservancy that WWF helped organize in the country.
Pascoleno Florry, manager - Dam Camp
Pascoleno Florry presides over the camp's dinner table as a welcoming hostess when guests assemble for meals. Staff members announce the evening's entrees in both English and the local click language. And dinner options include venison - anything from kudu to Oryx - from sustainably managed wildlife populations on the conservancy.
Pascoleno, or Lena, is a member of the Torra Conservancy, a group of 530 local residents who have formally organized to manage 870,000 acres of land around their villages. (In Namibia, all land is owned by the government but can be managed by either public or private registered conservancies.)
Goat herder to ace manager
"I've been doing this for eight years," she says. "Before that, I was a goat herder in a village 30 kilometers from here. There were no job opportunities, nothing to do" before the Torra Conservancy and Wilderness Safaris opened their joint venture lodge.
The Torra Conservancy has a 15-year deal with the for-profit company Wilderness Safaris to run Damaraland Camp. The arrangement gives ownership of the lodge to Wilderness Safaris in the early years of the deal and gradually gives the conservancy an increasing percentage of ownership in the final years of the deal. By year 15, Torra is the sole owner of the camp and conservancy members will have learned how to operate it by working there.
"...we are all very positive.."
"The thing about the conservancy is that we are all very positive and I think we can go very far in the future and we plan to open other camps," Lena explains.
Much of the on-the-ground support to conservancies is carried out by WWF partners, such as the Nambia-based NGO Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation (IRDNC), which works closely with the Torra Conservancy.
At the job for over 2 years now
"I am the first lady guide with Wilderness Safaris, Namibia. I am the only one approaching the dangerous game. I started as a housekeeper in the camp but as I had my license, I did a lot of pickups and drop-offs. The guests asked me questions," she explains. "I have been a professional guide for two and half years."
By tradition, individuals' salaries are shared with their extended family in the Torra Conservancy, so Damaraland employs one person from each of the 20 families in the nearby village so that everyone benefits from the lodge.
The White Lady Lodge
South of Torra, in the Namib Desert, is the Tsiseb (pronounced See-seb) Conservancy, which also partnered with a private business to open the White Lady Lodge. The lodge is named after Namibia's most famous rock painting, the White Lady, which graces the side of a hill in the Brandberg Mountains. The lodge, built in 2003, offers guests stone chalets or tent sites. The lodge's swimming pool, offering respite from the stifling desert heat, is tucked behind the main building under one of the area's stunning rock copjes.
Largest revenue source for the Tsiseb Conservancy
The lodge is privately owned and its agreement with Tsiseb Conservancy requires the owners to pay 20,000 Namibian dollars a month to the community as rent. It's the largest revenue stream the conservancy has, but the lodge is still struggling to attract guests and make its rent payments.
The Tsiseb area is blessed with mountains and rich mineral soil that can yield gems like amethyst and rock crystal. For many community members, digging out gems and selling them by the side of the road - standing for hours in the blazing sun hoping a tourist would come along - was one of the few job opportunities. But now, many members of the conservancy are employed in the tourism industry.
The Brandberg Mountains
Guests at the White Lady Lodge can visit the White Lady rock painting and other ancient Bushmen works of art in the Brandberg Mountains through the Brandberg Mountain Guide Service, a conservancy business.
After a local mine closed in the early 1990s, a group of unemployed men in the community got together and organized the service after unescorted tourists were found to be defacing and stealing the rock paintings. The Brandberg National Monument now requires tourists to hire one of the guides when venturing into the mountains.
In 2004, the Tsiseb Conservancy opened a visitors' center that offers a coffee shop, Internet café, tourist booking office and a crafts shop. So far, the visitors' center has been pulling in tourists in the area and the impressive stone building is a source of pride for the community, having replaced a ramshackle old visitors' bureau next door.
"There are things to be proud of, but it is still a struggle," says Eric Xaweb, the manager of the Tsiseb Conservancy. "We still have a long journey. There are still a lot of things that need to be done."