Staying at the Matemwe Lodge, House or Retreat is wonderful. Everything you need is there, and if it isn't, the staff will do their very best to accommodate you.
But there were times when we felt a little uncomfortable. To get to the lodge, you turn off the surfaced road onto a rough track through a basic village. You look through tinted windows from your air-conditioned taxi, to see children in rags playing with an old tyre, women carrying water and men sitting barefoot outside simple unfinished houses. We loved it at Matemwe Lodge, but we were interested in what was behind the wall that separated us from the village and whether the hotel engaged with the village in any way.
So we were very pleased to discover that there is a daily free 'Village Tour', guided by one of the members of staff who lives in the village. Matemwe Lodge employs 100 people from gardeners to house-keeping, kitchen, security, the front of house and water sports staff. The majority of their staff are from the village. Every vacancy - including the most senior - is advertised there first and the lodge takes on the top 6 students from the school a few times a year as trainees.
The first place our guide, Omar, took us was the school, with the motto 'Knowledge is key' painted officially on the outside of the school. The government of Tanzania are investing in education, and school is now free to attend - although it is not compulsory. We went into one classroom with 72 children on the register (!), watched the lesson and spoke to the teacher. The school is much better equipped than we expected or had seen in other schools in Tanzania. Much of this is down to the donations by guests of Matemwe Lodge and the coordination efforts of the General Manager, Ross.
To date Matemwe Lodge, House and Retreat have put 9 million Tanzanian Shillings (check this!!) into local community projects. For every booking, the Lodge makes a donation and while you are in no way asked to make an additional donation, you can do so. There are also bikes to hire at $10 each, donated by a previous guest, with all hire charges also going into the pot.
Next, to the school, there is a police station under construction and a new looking medical centre - both also funded by the Lodge. As well as a house to accommodate visiting teachers or doctors has just been started. This will allow more experienced teachers or doctors to visit the village to train local people.
We asked about medical care and more specifically about Malaria. As tourists we take a daily anti-malaria tablet, coat ourselves in repellent come dusk, and sleep under nets, we were interested in how different it is for the local people. Omani told us that they too all sleep under nets, given to them by UNICEF. He told us that if you don't have a net, there is a man in the village that will get you one. Now Malaria is very rare in Matemwe, and if someone suspects malaria, the doctor can come quickly. He even took us to his house to show us his net - and his wife and 12-day old baby! It seems that when I gave £3 to UNICEF for a mosquito net many months ago, they weren't exaggerating when they said £3 would save a life.
As we wandered further into the village, we passed one of the freshwater taps (also funded by the lodge) and houses, local shops and the fish market. The lodge supports as much as possible and purchases food from the village. They are also involved in reef and turtle conservation projects, and if it's the right time, you can go and watch the baby turtles make their first journey into the sea.
The support goes two ways, as Matemwe Lodge, House and Retreat give their support to the village, the village gives their support to the lodge. So the lodge has between 14 and 7000 security guards, 14 on the payroll and 7000 villagers watching out for unfamiliar vehicles, people or behaviour. Many of the staff have worked at the lodge for 20, 25 or even 30 years and seem very happy.
The relationship between the hotel and the local community isn't unique to Matemwe Lodge, but they do seem to go the extra mile. Sustainable tourism is important to them here, and it shows. As we walked back along the beach, Omani pointed out all the other hotels and private houses, categorising the owners as either a 'good' or 'bad' man and telling us which properties the villagers would rush to in a fire. Fortunately, Matemwe Lodge is firmly in this group.
We were sorry to say goodbye to the lodge but left feeling happy that our stay had not only been a benefit to us but hopefully will have given a little back to the local community.