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Nkwichi Lodge -- giving back in luxe style

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Just a mile from the sugary sand beach at Manda Nkwichi Lodge on Lake Malawi, workers teach villagers new techniques for growing better squash, greens and sweet potatoes.
Health workers use a dugout canoe to bring aspirin and bandages to a rudimentary clinic near the retreat on the Mozambique shore of the lake.
Down the wild coast from the spot where guests take romantic torchlit walks, stacks of straw lie next to a mud-walled church where donations will one day help provide a roof.
It’s all part of Nkwichi’s plan to build a new and rare kind of African tourism — one that wraps guests in unparalleled luxury but goes the extra mile to uplift the community as well.
Nkwichi — ‘squeaky sands’ in the local Nyanja language — would undeniably be an once-in-a-lifetime spot even if it never helped a single villager build a better life.
Seven sprawling open-air chalets are dotted among wild mango and miombo trees overlooking the inland sea that is better known to foreigners as Lake Malawi.
Days are spend lounging on the Robinson Crusoe-style deserted beach or paddling up and down the coast untouched by development.
Like characters in a romantic French movie, guests dig into curried whole fish and fresh-baked flatbreads as waves crash on rocks below.
But as idyllic as it is, Nkwichi is much more than a picture postcard African tourist heaven.
The lodge, which was founded in 1996, is a key economic engine for several villages in the Lago district, a dirt-poor region with no tarred roads or power.
Along with most of the rest of northern Mozambique, it was ravaged by the 30-year civil war between the government and RENAMO rebels.
Even now that peace has come, the region is so isolated that people mostly use money from neighboring Malawi.
Fifty people work at the lodge, and they each support at least 15 family members each — meaning each guests puts food in the mouths of 750 people.
The lodge also works closely with the Manda Wilderness Community Trust, which helps manage a 247,000 acre reserve along the lakeshore.
With help from foreign aid groups, the trust sinks wells and helps build schools, even though many are stuck with a single teacher for dozens of kids.
A single community health worker travels up and down the coastline another armed with little more than bandages and a few pills.
Perhaps most important of all to the average man is the sprawling farm that sits about a mile down the “main road” — actually a well-trampled path — from the lodge.
Teams of workers tend neat rows of beans, squash and lettuce greens.
In classes and seminars, outreach workers show villagers key concepts like crop rotation — a difficult concept for people whose main concern is growing enough of the staple crop cassava to survive till the next harvest.
Further down the coast, the four mud walls of a church are rising near the village of Mbecua, thanks in part to a guest who raised money from friends and neighbors after visiting.
Parishioners, whose soaring choir literally sings to the sky, are saving to buy enough thatch to build a roof and what they have so far is lined up next to the structure.
They haven’t reached the promised land yet. But they’re trying.

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