© Sean Fandam

The tree guardian

Here’s proof that a pure heart and a green thumb can help leave our world a better place…

What you do will always have greater impact than what you say and more often than not it is the quiet, often unsung, heroes that leave the greatest mark of all. One such determined hero, whom I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for many years, is Joachim Joseph Hhawu.

I’m a bit old school when it comes to travel writing. I take notes by hand and have stacks of weathered notebooks filled with adventures and interviews. As I sifted through some of them this morning, I came across several different interviews with Joachim over the years and what has remained constant throughout those encounters is Joachim’s gentle nature, soft voice, passionate heart, undeniable green thumb and unwavering desire to leave our world a better place.

A steady climb

Joachim’s quiet, yet steadily upwards journey with &Beyond is commendable. He joined the &Beyond family in 2002 as a casual labourer at &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge in Tanzania. He worked hard to prove himself and, even back then, displayed a keen enthusiasm for the natural world. A year later, he was offered permanent employment as a gardener and for the next nine years, he eagerly climbed the ranks from gardener to camp cleaner to stocktaker to bush banquet manager, eventually securing his current role of butler in 2012.

Today, Joachim continues to delight our guests as one of the lodge’s long-standing and well-loved butlers. He treats his guests with absolute care and kindness, always adding special touches where he can, such as rose petals on a place setting or a special drink he knows is a guest favourite. Soft-spoken and humble, Joachim quietly anticipates guests’ needs before they do and he takes great pride in ensuring they are well looked after.

Joachim is also one of the original members and proud leaders of the lodge’s uber-talented Washawasha choir and if you’ve had the pleasure of a choir performance, you will have seen Joachim energetically shaking the maracas and singing his heart out. In his spare time though, when Joachim isn’t delighting guests and practicing/performing with the choir, you’ll find him in his all-time favourite place, his tree nursery.

Planting the seed

Back in 2004, during Joachim’s early days as the lodge’s gardener, he started to notice the damage that was being inflicted on local plants and trees in the area. From destructive elephants and buffalo, to Maasai people collecting firewood, the local fauna was suffering. Motivated by a strong desire to counter this destruction, Joachim decided to build a tree nursery at &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. Fifteen years later, this thriving garden remains his ultimate happy place.

If you have ever stepped into this tranquil oasis with Joachim, you’ll agree it is his heart and soul. He visibly lights up when he sees his plants, his grin and quiet pride utterly contagious. “[It is] a place that I can come, I can talk to my plants, put the seeds in, and when they sprout, I am very happy,” he says with such a genuinely happy smile.

Paying it forward

Joachim established the nursery in an effort to grow and nurture seedlings that could eventually be donated and planted in the surrounding communities that border the lodge. “I plant trees and I visit primary schools to offer them the trees and that was the idea, [to give] conservation lessons,” he explains. By visiting nearby schools and actually planting the seedlings with the young learners and their teachers, he educates them in an interactive way on the importance of trees and the environment and he shows them how to look after the trees to ensure they grow. “We are telling them the benefit they can get from those trees,” he explains.

To date, Joachim and his colleagues have planted an impressive 60 000 trees in the local communities surrounding &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge. His knowledge and understanding of plant life has become so vast and respected that he is often consulted by the Ngorongoro Conservation Authority (also grateful recipients of his seedlings) on indigenous plants. A great believer in keeping things local, one of Joachim’s main focus areas is removing and replacing alien vegetation in the area. Many Maasai communities previously used an alien bush with spiky thorns to provide natural fencing around their homesteads, until Joachim took the initiative to introduce them to the ideal indigenous alternative, which he has grown himself from seeds.

The lush gardens at &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge have also benefited from Joachim’s skill and passion, with indigenous plants replacing many exotics and attracting an abundance of beautiful birds in their flowering season. Joachim also focuses on growing trees that have become endangered because of their medicinal or traditional uses, even going as far as examining bird droppings to procure seeds. How’s that for dedication?

A tranquil timeout

If Joachim is at the lodge when you visit, take a moment to walk to the nursery with him (it’s just behind the Safari Shop and Maasai beading/woodworking studio). He’ll proudly take you into his garden sanctuary to reveal the thriving maze of plants, shrubs and wild flowers. He’ll explain their countless household benefits and medicinal uses and will gladly brew a pot of medicinal tea. “I discover many plants, some of them I never even knew were a tea. The way you can prepare [them], it is fantastic,” he beams.

Joachim’s passion and true dedication are what make him stand out. He goes to such great lengths to care for our environment and help leave our world a better place for future generations. His heart is pure, his thumbs are evergreen and his smile, well that you’ll never forget.

See what lies beyond…

Journey to &Beyond Ngorongoro Crater Lodge to explore this magnificent natural wonder of the world that Joachim is working so hard to protect.