Path to Regenerative Transformation: The Datai Langkawi and Kanshalife’s Collaborative Journey with Skaii De Vega

Words Emi Vilas Bôas
Date

The Datai Langkawi and The Kanshalife Project are a testament to the power of conscious choices and purpose-driven actions, where individuals and communities unite to cultivate sustainable paradigms. Set against the backdrop of Langkawi’s beauty and ecological diversity, these initiatives showcase how the fusion of nature, artistry, and mindful enterprise can create a transformative force that not only rejuvenates landscapes but also nurtures the spirits of those who engage with it.

Over twenty-five years ago, The Datai Langkawi welcomed its inaugural guests, marking a significant milestone. The resort’s genesis is attributed to the visionary architect Kerry Hill, who was entranced by the breathtaking beauty of Datai Bay during his initial visit. Collaborating with fellow designer Didier Lefort, Hill embarked on a mission to create a sanctuary that not only respected but embraced its natural environment.

Rather than relying on cumbersome machinery, trees were meticulously chosen for logging, and the harvested wood was conscientiously repurposed in an eco-friendly manner during the construction process. In areas necessitating clearance, newly planted trees promptly replaced those removed. The selection of construction materials was guided by Hill’s architectural vision, which sought to honor the cultural legacies of Malay, Chinese, and Indian heritage while fundamentally embedding the resort within the natural jungle environment. This forward-thinking strategy predated the widespread embrace of green initiatives and sustainability as integral concepts in global consciousness.

Top left photo courtesy of @JulietKinsman | Photo courtesy of The Datai Langkawi

The Datai Pledge was conceived to ensure environmental preservation and community well-being amidst the growth of tourism. The pledge’s vision aligns harmoniously with the resort’s emphasis on the relationship between people and nature. It adopts a holistic approach, considering the needs of stakeholders, the environment, and evolution. Over the years, the pledge has laid the groundwork for carbon neutrality, introduced initiatives for wildlife and climate mitigation, and set ambitious goals for 2023.

The commitment embodied by The Datai led to a collaboration with the Kanshalife Project, which empowered them to advance their zero-waste endeavors by involving community support and participation. Alongside offering financial support for Kanshalife’s core recycling and upcycling initiatives, they also contribute the hotel’s commercial waste to support their efforts. This contribution has yielded a diverse array of positive outcomes. Through a combination of innovation, education, community engagement, and awareness-building, the project aspires to create a world where waste is minimized, and individuals actively contribute to the planet’s well-being, particularly within the Langkawi community, led by one of their own.

Photo courtesy of Tomás Delft

Skaii De Vega, the founder of The Kanshalife Project, emerges as a woman of multifaceted talents, embodying the spirit of patriotism within Malaysia’s vibrant landscape. A custodian of nature, her deep connection with the environment and its protection shapes her identity, fueling a lifelong passion for conservation that spans generations. This venture transcends traditional enterprises, encapsulating the essence of the blue economy, channeling its benefits towards both the community and the environment. As we bear witness to their efforts, we are reminded of the collective power we possess to heal our planet, one conscious choice at a time.

The Malaysian surreal artist has spent her life immersed in art, significantly shaping her perspective. Her time in Europe, especially on permaculture farms and sustainability initiatives, ignited her passion for sustainability. Upon returning to Malaysia, she stumbled upon an abandoned traditional house on Langkawi, recognizing its potential for cultivating nourishing foods and herbs. This contrast with the modern disconnect from nature inspired her to create Kangsha, a project rooted in revitalizing the house and its ecosystem.

Photo courtesy of Tomás Delft

Commencing just before the COVID-19 pandemic, Skaii’s project encountered challenges as international volunteers were unable to join. She and her husband undertook the demanding task of transforming the old house, while local Langkawians became invaluable contributors. A tightly-knit community formed, focusing on herbalism, permaculture, and coconut farming – the heart of Kansha. Their efforts began to resonate, leading to accelerated growth of the project.

The project experienced a significant growth spurt during this period. Their endeavors resonated with like-minded individuals who shared their vision. Introductions to the Datai pledge, which revolved around candle recycling, were made by friends. Innovative practices such as using beeswax were introduced, and the community actively engaged, even including training for single mothers to create recycled products. The Datai achieved an impressive 90% recycling rate, effectively diverting materials from landfills. These materials found new life in various ways – from being sold as upcycled or recycled items, to serving as biofuel or cooking oil. Despite challenges, Skaii’s journey embodies the transformation of forgotten spaces and materials into a sustainable, artistic, and community-driven endeavor.

“Our primary resource is the versatile coconut, and we ingeniously harness every facet of it. The coconut husk finds new purpose as mulch, nurturing the earth while fostering growth. Meanwhile, the shell takes on a dual role – a cradle for orchids to flourish and a wellspring for biofuel creation. Every aspect is harnessed to its fullest potential,” Skaii explains. “From indulging in its succulent core to sipping its nectar, we embrace its entirety. Our endeavors encompass a multitude of tasks, as each participant in the venture gains a profound understanding of the diverse traits that define humanity’s essence.”

Photo courtesy of Tomás Delft

She envisions their project as a social enterprise that successfully manufactures an array of durable and sustainable products. This initiative effectively addresses the urgent concern of overflowing landfills in Langkawi. Concurrently, her goal is to initiate a profound transformation within the local community, with a specific focus on the younger generation. She actively involves various groups, including a dynamic group of 20 children aged 7 to 16. These youngsters gather weekly to participate in clean-up activities, guided by a local sustainability advocate who has gained iconic status on the island.

The guiding motto of the project is, “I am an artist, and I aspire to create beautiful things.” This ethos forms the core of their endeavors. She forges connections and maximizes all available resources, whether it involves offering assistance, providing mentorship, imparting valuable skills, or securing essential funding. The ultimate objective is to empower these communities, enabling them to foster self-sustaining growth.

Photo courtesy of Tomás Delft

Volunteers play a significant role in their waste transformation efforts. One of the tasks involves unraveling and repurposing countless flip-flops to create bath mats.

“This process isn’t just practical; it’s also a meditative practice. They approach each task as a form of meditation, infusing it with mindfulness and presence. When volunteers take part in these activities, they consciously share this state of being,” Skaii explains. “Recycling isn’t always simple; for example, the repetitive process of transforming thousands of slippers requires patience, being part of the experience and the space they create while working. However, this repetition becomes a spiritual practice that offers a unique perspective and fosters personal growth. It’s an opportunity to cleanse both the waste materials and one’s own mind.”

Skaii’s decision to relocate from Europe back to Malaysia was underpinned by an ardent aspiration to instigate change. There was a yearning to witness a shift in people’s perspectives and affections, nurturing a sense of custodianship for the surroundings. This serves as a reminder that everyone holds the potential to embody the change they aspire to see. This sentiment drew the individual back to Malaysia, to the very core of their upbringing, a place where children inherently possess that ember of concern until it’s inadvertently subdued.

Photo courtesy of Tomás Delft

“Living in this place is truly magical because it stands as one of the oldest land formations on our planet. The energy that envelops this region is incredibly captivating, and I find it to be a unique gem within our country. Unlike other islands in Malaysia, where the richness of flora and fauna has dwindled due to development, this place remains a sanctuary of preservation, a living testament to its ancient origins,” she says. “However, with beauty comes the undeniable truth of pollution. Plastic waste mars the once-pristine landscapes, echoing a deficiency in education and awareness within our country. The scale of tourism exacerbates the issue – large groups of around 60 people boarding boats to snorkel over shallow coral beds. Such activities inadvertently contribute to the deterioration of the environment. Moreover, the island grapples with rampant development, an issue I can’t personally control.”

In the intricate dance between humanity and the environment, The Datai Langkawi and The Kanshalife Project emerge as beacons of conscious choices and purposeful actions. Their commitment to preserving the planet and nurturing communities serves as an inspiring testament to what collaboration, innovation, and a deep connection with nature can achieve. Through their endeavors, we witness the transformation of mere spaces and materials into sanctuaries of sustainability, artistic expression, and community empowerment. As we reflect on their journeys, we are reminded that every decision, every effort, and every individual has the potential to shape a more harmonious world – one where nature and humanity coexist in a delicate equilibrium of care and stewardship.

Become a Traveler member to receive $99 travel credit towards a 3-night minimum stay, 15% discount on Food and beverages, 15% discount on spa treatments and early check in and/or late at The Datai Langkawi.

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