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Famed American writer, Robert Ingersoll, once said that “we rise by lifting others”. His words has rung true for decades, and it’s easy to see why. It’s a common fact that if you help those around you, you will ultimately help yourself.

Such is the case of two special Village n Life employees who started their journey with the company five years ago, and have now successfully risen through the ranks to become a valuable part of the team at Camps Bay Retreat.

Andile Ngqoko and Thabo Sithonga are two Xhosa speaking gentlemen, originally hailing from Elliotdale in the Eastern Cape. They both grew up close to each other, and since leaving the Eastern Cape for Hout Bay in the Western Cape, their paths have continued to run adjacent to one another, when they were both employed by Village n Life in 2014.

Originally recruited by Bulelani, who works at Camps Bay Retreat, Andile and Thabo started their careers as gardeners at the Retreat. As gardeners, they were tasked to take care of the beautiful and large gardens of Camps Bay Retreat, under guidance from Bulelani and Camps Bay Retreat’s Facilities Manager, Henri Swiegers.

Throughout their years as gardeners at Camps Bay Retreat, Andile and Thabo learnt a lot about the Retreat and the property as a whole. According to some of their colleagues, the two know just about every nook and cranny of the 4 acre property, having looked after the beautiful, indigenous fauna and flora.

Andile Ngqoko and Thabo Sithonga

They have also come across many wildlife while tending to the Retreat’s gardens. Andile recalls a time when they came across a large porcupine in the ravine, while Thabo clearly remembers when they (unwittingly) came across a seriously scary Cape Cobra! Needless to say, the encounter with the Cobra is not a fond memory for the two!

Other than scary snakes and peculiar porcupines, Andile and Thabo has had to deal with their fair share of dassies, moles and a host of large birds at the Retreat. The animals they are most fond of, however, are the dogs that call Camps Bay Retreat home. It is also heartwarming to see how comfortable the dogs are with Andile and Thabo and vice versa; a true friendship between man and dog.

Andile and Thabo’s careers took a turn for the better in 2018, when Village n Life Chairman, Maree Brink, tasked the two with looking after the organic nursery and herb garden at Camps Bay Retreat.

Andile says that taking care of the organic nursery and the herb garden is one of his favourite things to do, and Thabo quickly echoes his statement. The nursery has grown since Andile and Thabo have become involved.

The nursery is currently home to a host of stunning indoor and outdoor plants and flowers, most of which are indigenous. Thabo quickly says that his favourite plant to nurture in the nursery is the Spekboom plant.

This famous South African plant has been hailed internationally for its health benefits and has in recent years become a popular ingredient in local cuisine. However, growing (and not killing) a Spekboom plant can prove to be difficult, which is why Thando takes extra care of his favourite plant.

In addition to the nursery, Andile and Thando also enjoy taking care of the herb garden next to the kitchen. These fresh herbs are used daily by the kitchen in the dishes made at the Von Kamptz Restaurant.

Thando and Andile taking care of the plants at the nursery

Andile and Thando’s latest addition to their ever expanding careers are that of custodians of The Forest Pods. The Forest Pods are converted shipping containers that have been repurposed as self-contained units for an alternative take on travel accommodation.

These Pods, tucked away behind the greenery towards the bottom of the Retreat, offers guests exciting, out-of-the-ordinary accommodation in a beautiful setting.

In order for Andile and Thando to become full custodians of the Pods, they had to be trained by Executive Housekeeper, Sheila. The charismatic and caring Sheila quickly took the two “young ones” (as she calls them) under her wing and showed them exactly what it takes to properly take care of the Pods.

Sheila taught them how to make the beds, how to clean the Pods, how to set the towels, and a whole host of other duties that would usually take a newly appointed housekeeper weeks to perfect.

However, Andile and Thando – being the hard workers and keen learners that they are – mastered the skills in just one week! Sheila says that she was flabbergasted at how quickly these two picked up the skills required, and successfully became true custodians of the Pods.

Inside one of the Forest Pods Andile & Thando look after

Because of their list of responsibilities growing at the Retreat, Andile and Thando had to become digitally available.

The two were given two smartphones by Village n Life, and were quickly taught how to use WhatsApp and communicate with their supervisors quickly and efficiently. Fast forward a few months, and Andile and Thabo are now wholly clued up on digital communication. They are part of a WhatsApp group with staff members at the Retreat, and can always be reached when needs be – save for that one time, only a week after receiving their phones, when Thando’s phone accidentally fell in the water at the Retreat! However, he was quickly back online and ready to communicate.

Andile and Thando have also received several compliments from guests staying at the Pods. They’re caring nature and welcoming smile (they welcome guests to the Pods and carry their luggage for them) has definitely left an impression.

As for their personal lives; while Andile and Thando are still on the lookout for the right person, Thando is father to a one-year old child. What’s even more interesting, is that Thabo is an identical twin, and his twin brother, Thandile, also works at Camps Bay Retreat in the maintenance department! Naturally, their colleagues at the Retreat get confused with the two quite often!

Village n LIfe truly believe in better the careers and lives of their staff, and success stories like that of Andile and Thabo makes it so worth it.

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