News / Africa

Ecotourism with a Twist in Sierra Leone

Tribe members and locals dance together at the launch of TribeWanted, an ecotourism venture set up on John Obey beach, 80km south of the capital, Freetown
Tribe members and locals dance together at the launch of TribeWanted, an ecotourism venture set up on John Obey beach, 80km south of the capital, Freetown
Fid Thompson

An idyllic beach south of Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, is now home to members of TribeWanted, an ecotourism venture that hopes to build an ecologically sustainable resort through the financial support and manpower of its tribe members all over the world, connected through the Internet.

A new community has arrived on the shores of a pristine beach 80 kilometers south of Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown. Tents dot the landscape under a cluster of trees neighboring the small fishing village of John Obey.

This is "TribeWanted" Sierra Leone - an experiment in ecotourism and sustainable development brought here by British social entrepreneur Ben Keene.

A villager at John Obey, Sierra Leone, the site of a Tribewanted eco-resort
A villager at John Obey, Sierra Leone, the site of a Tribewanted eco-resort

Eleven "tribe members" from England and America arrived here two weeks ago, eager to mix a beach holiday with cross-cultural exchange and also help build an eco-resort using the latest sustainable technologies.

Keene, who set up a similar venture in Fiji in 2006, is hoping his new tribe will take off like the last one.

"We've got a year to make it work and if we can get the visitors here and the tribe members here in, you know, at least double figures on average throughout this year, so 10 at a time, spending a few hundred dollars a week, then this thing can sustain itself," Keene says. "The biggest challenge is not here on the beach or in the village trying to coordinate the building of this community. It's persuading people who've only got this one perception, understandably, of Sierra Leone that actually that's not the case anymore."

Though politically stable since the end of civil war in 2002, Sierra Leone still struggles to counter external negative perceptions. Unlike Fiji, the tourism industry is relatively undeveloped and the country still identified more with the conflict than with its beaches.

TribeWanted uses the internet to create a virtual tribe. Those interested in joining sign up on the website - a platform where tribe members all over the world can follow the progress in John Obey and contribute to the project.

Those who decided to make the trip, pay $450 for a week's stay at John Obey. This covers food and accommodation and also goes towards funding the venture. But members have to fork out themselves for a return flight - anywhere from $750 to $1,500 - visa, insurance and transport from the airport to the beach.

The resort will house its visitors in round huts made with a technology called earth-bagging that uses a small amount of concrete mixed with dirt and quarry powder. The toilet facilities are compost, bucket showers on the beach, food waste is composted and permaculture gardening will provide fresh vegetables for tribe members and, eventually, ecotourists.

The first group of tribe members have constructed a solar tower, bringing electric light to the tribal village and powering a small fridge and blogging essentials such as laptop, mobile phone and camera chargers.

For retired British tribe member Mike Hughes, the TribeWanted experience has so far been positive.

"We arrived in the dark, pitched tents at midnight, and jaw dropping when I came out of my tent at 6:30 on the first morning. The sun was about to come out and it was exactly like the pictures that I'd seen on the website, so that was very positive," he said. "The people are really nice and friendly."

The beach at John Obey village in Sierra Leone - site of a Tribewanted eco-resort
The beach at John Obey village in Sierra Leone - site of a Tribewanted eco-resort

In John Obey village, young people make their living either farming or fishing. TribeWanted is providing another avenue of work, hiring 30 local youths to train and assist in building the eco-resort. The venture also donates $500 every month to the village.

Abu Bayoh is a Secondary School student from John Obey. Although he is not one of the hired crew, he comes every day to learn from TribeWanted's expert in earthbag construction. For Bayoh, the opportunity to learn new skills is exciting.

Bayoh says they are all getting training in how to construct the earth-bag buildings. TribeWanted is benefitting young people at John Obey, Bayoh says, because they are learning a professional trade.

Susan Braun is a tribe member and documentary photographer from Washington, D.C. She says the experience is not for everyone.

"If you're one who likes a fancy hotel and the security of that, I think this might not be your thing," she said. "But if you like adventure and you are, ah, into nature, this is a great place. And if you - especially if you want to work, I think it is a unique opportunity to work side by side and get involved in real lives, real people, in a beautiful country."

The TribeWanted experience is not all about work.

Tribe members relax at the end of the workday swimming, playing football on the beach and swigging the local Star beer as the sun sets on John Obey.

You May Like

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs