Whilst the emphasis is on a unique holiday experience at Mandina and Makasutu, the ethos of the wider project has always been about having as little impact on the environment as possible, and creating a sustainable model of tourism that both benefits the visitors and the people that inhabit the region.
This ethos pervades every aspect of the project Lawrence and James set up within the Makasutu region. It’s in the desire to keep the number of dwellings to a minimum, their style and design, and the way they are powered and maintained, and in the way the waste is dealt with. It’s in the way the dwellings integrate with the landscape and dominate the surroundings. It’s in the fact that all the staff are from within the immediate area. It’s in the way you are greeted and welcomed, whether as a staying customer or a visitor – and in the way education and a certain kind of cultural and environmental consideration is lightly conveyed to all patrons. It’s also in the various projects that were initiated and maintained: the ties with the Eden Project and Gardens For Life, the Ballabu Conservation Scheme and latterly the Wide Open Walls art project which has taken various local villages and turned them into living art installations.
Makasutu & The Eden Project
There is a strong bond between Makasutu and the Eden Project in Cornwall, England, with a section of one of the tropical biomes given over to Gambian specimens collected in and around the Makasutu area. The story of how this alliance came about is like many that concern Lawrence and James – full of verve and happy coincidences. Here is Lawrence’s take on how it all happened.
We (James and I) were asked by the United Nations World Tourism Authority (UNWTO) to present Makasutu as a case study to Governments around Africa as part of their S.T.E.P program (Sustainable Tourism to Eliminate Poverty) and spent most of that year travelling to seminars. Makasutu is a private business, but we have always tried to involve the local communities as much as possible. The idea for the Ballabu Conservation Project came out of the seminars we presented at, and a desire to create a protected area that surrounded Makasutu but was 100% community owned. We decided on an 85 sq. kilometre area, incorporating 14 villages with roughly 100,000 people. We went about getting the support of the Chiefs of all the villages, and eventually signed a MOU with the blessing of all 14 villages. Once it was all set up, the project stalled because we did not know which way to push it.
A friend of mine was tour manager for the band Muse, and introduced us to them. In our off time, James and I would travel all over the world following Muse, going to festivals with them and generally having an experience that was the total opposite of our lives in Africa. In 2006 we approached Land Rover who lent us a brand new top of the line Range Rover Sport to take to Europe to drive between the festivals that the band were playing. The second to last festival was a show at the Eden Project. For many years people had been suggesting that we introduce Makasutu to Eden and see their response. I must admit, if it was not for the fact that Muse were playing there, we would probably of never made the effort to visit Eden. Why go all the way to Cornwall to visit a forest in captivity when i live in one already? On the day of the show, arriving at the Eden Project we were both blown away by the place. If you have not been, you are missing out on something very special, and quite possibly one of the man-made wonders of the world!
We spent the entire time that Muse were on stage talking to management, security guards, beer sellers and we got the same response from all of them. They all loved their jobs and were so excited to be part of the Eden team. It was such a great atmosphere there that we just lost ourselves in the biome instead of watching the band. One of the management team gave us a number to call the next day, and by 5 o’clock the next afternoon we already had a commitment from Eden that they would send someone down to see our project. We hear a lot of talk from people, saying they will get involved and pledging their support, but nothing comes out of it. 6 weeks later we were at Banjul International Airport picking up the Curator of the Tropical Biome Mr Don Murrey and his fiancée Beki.
That was the beginning of a very special relationship between Makasutu Wildlife Trust, Ballabu Conservation Project and the Eden Project. Don and his team have visited The Gambia on quite a few occasions now, as well as organising a trip here with a group of Friends Of Eden, which Don was the main guide. But the real compliment was when Don offered us a permanent exhibit for the Ballabu in the Tropical Biome. We thought he was joking at first, but true to his word the exhibit is now in place and viewed by roughly 1.5 million people a year! We are also working with 5 schools within the Ballabu on a project that Eden initiated called Gardens For Life. Gambia Experience have been working with us and Eden on the project since it’s creation, and have been very generous in their support with flight tickets, publicity etc, and also they shipped all of the artefacts for the display at Eden, that were sourced within the Ballabu area.
Eden Project and Gardens For Life
The Eden Project will assist with the Ballabu Conservation Project through its Gardens For Life charity.
The Gambia is the latest country to join Gardens for Life, the Eden initiative, which links 20,000 pupils in schools across the UK, Africa, India and the USA, encouraging them to create gardens, grow food and share stories with others across the world.
UK Gardens for Life school participants, led by expert Gardens for Life coordinators, will be twinned with Gambian schools, offering them invaluable guidance on conservation, reforestation and social enterprise.
Monies donated to Gardens for Life fund a whole host of resources, such as good quality seeds, tools, and vital equipment, such as hoses to connect school gardens to water pumps.
You can read more about the Garden For Life scheme on the Eden Project website.