“Your rubbish is your gift“

  • Says Suleiman Ali Mohammed, Founder of Chako, a Zanzibar-based company

Suleiman Ali Mohammed (right) founder of Chako pictured here with ANA Travel editor, Niels Bartels at the Ambiente Trade fair in Frankfurt-am-Main/Photo: ANA

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Frankfurt-am-Main, 29 January, 2024

A very striking statement indeed.

The company Chako focuses on reducing waste and promoting sustainability by creating products from waste materials. For that, they collect waste materials such as glass bottles and brochures and turn them into beautiful and functional products such as jars, lamps, vases and candle holders.

AfricaNewsAnalysis’ Travel editor, Niels Bartels wanted to find out more about their interesting business idea and met up with their founder Suleiman during the trade fair Ambiente in Frankfurt for an interview.

AfricaNewsAnalysis/Niels: What inspired you to start Chako?

Suleiman: It was 2008 and I was living in the Netherlands with my wife. She is also the co-founder of Chako. In 2008, we went back home because I really wanted to be back home. At the same time we really like to help my people. So I started a business in Zanzibar, a small hotel. Underneath there is a boutique and that’s where Chako started. I felt it is very important to empower women because I was raised by my mom. After my father passed away I was very young and my mum raised us. She was an uneducated woman so it was quite tough to raise us. I felt it is very good to start something to help our people in Zanzibar and especially women and of course youth. We started with four women. We thought it is better to recycle waste from the tourism industry.

In 2010 we grew up and we had 10 artisans. We thought that our place is very small so we better move somewhere else. We did move somewhere else and we saw the waste of the tourism industry. We went to the beach when we went around the island and we saw the waste on the side of the road and we thought we should continue to do something else (not only the paper) . We thought for us it is easier to do the glass waste and that’s how we started with the glass waste. We started slowly. Right now we have 40 artisans. 65 % of them are women and the youth 35%. We are still training them how to recycle the waste till they become artisans. They don’t work for us but they are artisans.

ANA Travel editor in front of the Chako stand at the Ambiente Trade Fair in Frankfurt-am-Main/Photo: ANA

AfricaNewsAnalysis/Niels: It can be very tough to start a business. Which challenges did you have to overcome at the beginning?

Suleiman: Yes, the first challenge is finance. And the second thing is the knowledge of what you going to do because you have to know what you are doing. And another challenge is that you should have a place where you can do your work. Besides that you need some help from the government side which is not easy in Tanzania, so you have to do it on your own. That’s why at Chako we started slowly, one step at a time. That’s why right now we move on and we have a big work space for the artisans and we are still training another 20 artisans. We are planning to grow and maybe at the end to become around 100 artisans but we are still moving on slowly.

AfricaNewsAnalysis/Niels: You already mentioned that you empower women. Can you give us more details? What precisely do you do in order to empower women?

Suleiman: My partner (the co-founder of Chako) is also a teacher at a university in the Netherlands. We asked Amsterdam university and we took a girl who was 18 years old. She is one of the students of that university. She came to Zanzibar. She can carve the wood. The goal was to encourage women. Any work men can do also the women can do and they can do it better because to be honest the work they do, the carving, they learn it at their workshop and they become an artisan later on. The finishing touch of the work they do is a beautiful work.

AfricaNewsAnalysis/Niels: What feedback did you get from the visitors of Ambiente so far ?

Suleiman: First of all when they come to us they see that we recycle the waste of the tourism industry. That is important not only for the Island (Zanzibar) but for the whole world, to protect our environment. They like most of our products, especially the candle holders and the jars. Zanzibar is well known as a Spice Island. We grow spices there like cinnamon and cardamom. And when they (the visitors of Ambiente) see the lights, they like it because they see you can turn waste into beautiful products. Your waste is your gift. Your waste is your product you can use in the kitchen. You can also make the interior of your waste. What we do is like a recycling economy. Normally we collect from the tourism industry from the hotels. You make the waste and we give it back to you.

AfricaNewsAnalysis/Niels: What are your plans for the future?

Suleiman: The plan is not only to grow in Zanzibar but also in other island destinations but not only to recycle the glass but also to recycle the plastic. We already started. Two weeks ago before we came to Ambiente we finished our first product of plastic recycling. We made a beautiful lamp we call “Bahari“. It means sea or ocean. It is a combination of plastic and the wooden part, the carving which Zanzibar is well known for. We also have tables which are made of the waste left over from the glasses.

AfricaNewsAnalysis/Niels: Thank you for this interview