On Namibia’s central coast is the town of Swakopmund, a town of Germanic architecture, varied history and rich pastries. Swakopmund is a popular travellers’ destination that today bills itself as the adventure capital of Namibia. Usually – self-drive tour itineraries would recommend a two night stay and suggest activities such as sand-boarding, day trips to Cape Cross and Walvis Bay, scenic flights up the Skeleton Coast or a day drive out to the desert moonscape to see the ancient welwistchia plants. But there is more to Swakopmund than meets the eye; or that the tourist brochures tend to tell.
Outside of Swakopmund is the township of Mondesa, the Germanic is left behind and Mondesa shows the true nature of Namibia – it is Africa. Charlotte Shigwedha, grew up in Mondesa and her family still live there. In 2002 at 25 years of age, Charlotte founded the Mondesa Township Tours as a tourism venture, the first person from Mondesa to start a tourism based business.
Charlotte was working as a nanny and through the encouragement of her employers she entered the 2002 Namibia Young Entrepreneurs Competition with her concept of starting Township Tours. With assistance of her employer Charlotte wrote up a business plan for the township tour concept and Charlottes’ entry was chosen from over 300 as one of three finalists in the competition. Since then Charlotte or her guides have hosted/guided 1300 guests to experience her unique township tour.
Mondesa Township Tours (MTT) is all about people. Charlotte opens doors for people who are keen to experience a new culture and she believes that communication and experience is the basis for understanding and learning. MTT brings people of different backgrounds together and this assists individuals to build international understanding on a local level.
Meme Angelika - Herero lady visited by Charlotte's tour
Mondesa Township was established in the early 1950's to provide housing for Owambo, Damara and Herero people working in Swakopmund. Charlotte designed the tour to impart a real sense of the life in township, moving through the different areas inhabited by Owambo, Damara and Herero. MTT presents a thorough history of Namibia and the daily life, culture and customs of the women and men who live in Mondesa. The basic idea of the tour is to involve the people of the township and local community to provide opportunities, especially for women, to grow and to become more independent.
Charlotte with family
With a great deal of heart, huge enthusiasm and her charming nature, Charlotte makes a difference to people’s lives. Guests who joined the township tours as well as locals profit from her exceptional work, 60% of the income generated by Charlotte’s tours goes into the community,whether as wages for the guides, to the people who participate by opening their homes and sharing their culture, to the drivers who take the guests out to the township and to local community initiatives such as the local kindergartens Mercy Kindergarten, Lucky Kindergarten, Top Kids Kindergarten and Ekwathathano Kindergarten, Tears Of Hope Orphan’s Home, soup kitchens and “The Positive But Confident Mondesa Women” a local support group of women living with HIV/AIDS.
Lucky's kindergarten has 25 children from the poorest area in the shanty towns. Most of the children at this kindergarten come to school hungry as their parents don't work. The kindergarten doesn't receive any funding from the Government. The parents that can afford to, pay about N$20 (US$3 or EU$2) per month. This kindergarten benefits from guests direct donations and Mondesa Township Tours allowance when the tour visits there. There are 5 kindergartens in the Shanty Towns and MTT visits 3 of them regularly as part of the tour, but randomly so that each kindergarten can benefit from this generosity.
In a township where poverty, unemployment and low income families live (domestic workers earn between N$50 (US$7 – EU$5 ) to 300N$ (US$42 - EU$32 ) per month and some people are working at the main rubbish dump for as little as N$1 (US$0.14c – EU$0.10) per day. Charlottes work, passion for her community and involvement in raising self-esteem, employment opportunities and international relationships between the Mondesa Township community and travellers provides opportunities for growth, friendship, support and understanding between our cultures.
In addition to involving people who live in Mondesa as part of the tour Charlotte is contributing to the education and qualification of the guides who work with MTT with the assistance of The Namibia Community Based Tourism Association (Nacotba), of which MTT is a member. All guides are encouraged and supported by Charlotte to qualify in guiding from Namibian Academy for Tourism and Hospitality (NATH). One of MTT’s guides, Samme recently qualified Level 2 Guiding. To date, Charlotte has contributed to the training of 7 young people, 2 of whom are working permanently for MTT and 2 others are freelancing with other tourism companies in Namibia. A number of the MTT guides are multi-lingual, speaking either German, French or English as well as several local languages.
Charlotte's vision is also to create the SHIGWEDHA YOUTH FUND to support projects like the kindergartens, youth activities and in the future to build a community centre for young people. At the moment though, the outlays made and included for the running of the tours do not make this possible. But from little things, big things grow – and Charlotte has the energy, vision and determination with the help of international friends to make this a reality in the future.
Charlotte can be contacted by email here:
Mondesa Township Tours website is here:
Charlotte in Germany at a recent trade travel expo, dressed in traditional women's Herero clothing
Update 30 July 2007
Charlotte's News - Receiving the 2007 Jet Award is here:
To visit Charlotte's Mondesa Township Tours website click here:
Article written by Jude Price, photos supplied by Charlotte Shigwheda