Along the western edge of the world-famous Kruger National Park lies the upmarket Timbavati Reserve, a Big-Five private game reserve that shares unfenced borders with the Kruger Park in Mpumalanga. It is an incredibly wild and alluring part of the world.
Ngala Safari Lodge, an AndBeyond property, is in a prime position, overlooking the Kruger. But for the lodge and its travel company owner, it is not only about the animals. Both have a long-standing commitment to give back to the communities where the properties are situated. AndBeyond owns luxury lodges and resorts across Africa. The hotel and lodge group believes that its contributions, leadership and volunteer efforts help to create strong, energetic pockets of society, where its businesses can flourish and its employees can live and work well.
As with the parent company, giving back to the community is a large component of Ngala Safari Lodge. Aside from the wildlife, where leopards walk across the patio, attentive staff and luxury accommodation, a drawcard for visitors is the lodge’s incredible community focus. Ngala strives to create meaningful and lasting benefits for the natural environment and the communities that surround its operations. Its social and conservation principles are deeply entrenched and it prides itself on creating a positive culture within the community. Ngala has a three-pronged approach in working with the locals: a focus on education, health care and income generation.
Sustainability And Conservation
Welverdiend is one such community – a rural village just a few kilometres outside the Orpen Gate of Kruger National Park. Meaning ‘well-deserved’, there is a quiet calmness about the village. The homes are spaced out and the area is littered with patches of green. The Welverdiend blog states that the community is ‘working hard towards sustainable livelihoods and protection of our natural resources.’ It offers group tours where visitors are able to learn about the traditional way of life and the challenges villagers face in a changing environment.
Elvert, a driver at Ngala who brings tourists to the village, is passionate about this community of about 12 000 people, guided by one chieftain. There is a craft centre supplied by 24 women and one man, where tourists can purchase local fare, from colourful bracelets, intricate beaded belts to wooden bowls.
Ngala believes in creating employment for sustainability, which it puts into practice in its work with Welverdiend. On average, one local in the community supports eight people; therefore, employment at any level makes a crucial difference to the standard of living in the small community, which benefits from the lodge, not just from its visitors. Elvert agree that tourism is a sustainable industry and says, “We must look after the animals as they bring the tourists, who help support the communities.”
There are three primary schools that cater for 2 400 children and one secondary school that serve Welverdiend. The language spoken is mostly Northern Sotho and Tsonga. A nursery school, called Hlalala, has three teachers for the 76 children, aged from a few months to about four. Tourists donated the preschool and Ngala works with the Africa Foundation to keep it afloat.
The teachers are all volunteers and play a significant parental role in the lives of the children, who are fed breakfast and lunch at school. As you pass through the school, jubilant children, smiling and waving for the cameras, greet you. They enjoy singing English songs to tourists, who bring items such as coloured pencils for drawing. Inside the preschool, there are spaces for various activities – a cutting corner, a space for fantasy play with stuffed animals, and blocks for colour and counting.
It is said that ‘Deeds of giving are the very foundations of the world’ and this has given credence to the work that supporters have done in Welverdiend. The preschool, classrooms and craft centre, were all donated by tourists. It is believed that employing and buying locally and setting up business relationships with local people will help to create employment, stimulate entrepreneurial activity, increase investment in infrastructure, and boost the overall standard of living in the region. Supporting local economic growth is therefore the key to long-term success.
Ngala Safari Lodge manager, Stephen Smith, explains that Ngala has regular interaction with the local Welverdiend community, where they have “worked with, not for” the community to foster health care, education, employment and skills development. The lodge supports conservation lessons for the pupils, and locals have received bursaries in travel, tourism management and business training.
French champagne group, Moët & Chandon, sponsored one villager’s hotel management course and training in restaurants in France and the USA. Through Ngala’s education initiatives, more than 10 classrooms have been built, along with kitchens for two schools and sanitation blocks. Classroom overcrowding has been reduced, hygiene improved and school nutrition programmes supported.
The vast majority of the community has never been in a national park and does not understand the concept of conservation. Therefore, hundreds of children have been taken on conservation lessons and the children are given opportunities to explore their natural heritage and learn the value of conservation.
Other initiatives are more practical. Water supply is sporadic and many hours are spent carrying heavy water buckets. Just under 1 000 Hippo Water Rollers have been distributed. This innovative product allows water to be collected far more quickly and easily, freeing up more time for income generating activities or education.
In addition, a food garden was planted at Mahlekisana Primary School and training in permaculture food gardening was provided. The school garden now feeds 4 000 schoolchildren and community members a month. It functions as a resource centre, where people are taught organic farming and the nursery provides seeds for community initiatives.
Respect for local culture and support for social development are integral to responsible tourism practice, considering the effect tourism can have on local communities. AndBeyond also recognises that its most valuable asset is its staff. Spearheaded by positive health trainers, David Patient and Neil Orr, they created a dynamic training course in 2003, built around natural vitamins and minerals, affordable foodstuffs and the power of positive thinking. It is geared at preventive health care and at improving the health of people living with chronic disease.
Patient is the longest documented HIV-positive survivor in the world, at more than 31 years and counting, 22 of which were without antiretroviral therapy. He was diagnosed with Grids on 13 March 1983, while living in Las Vegas in the USA. Grids was later to be more commonly and universally known as Aids. Orr has a Masters degree in research psychology in the area of psychoneuroimmunology, which is concerned with the role that attitude plays in maintaining health.
They motivate and empower people through Positive Health training, and encourage them to take positive action in dealing with all current health challenges, not just HIV/Aids. Working with AndBeyond, the Positive Health programme has reached over 30 000 individuals among staff and rural communities. The programme was voted one of three finalists in the 2005 Tourism for Tomorrow Awards in the Investor in People category.
Goal Is Life
To increase motivation to stay healthy and start a culture of developing life goals, AndBeyond created its The Goal is Life programme, linking the universal game of soccer and the great game of life. It involves working with World Wide Sports and listening to soccer stars spread the message that to achieve your goals, you need to maintain a healthy body and a healthy mind. Soccer stars have held workshops in surrounding communities to inspire and uplift the staff and neighbours, and to help spread the message of safe sex and healthy living.
There is also a Sing for Life programme, which celebrates the ancient African arts of drumming, singing and dancing. Across Africa, AndBeyond’s properties hold staff performances of song, dance and drumming. It also held an international competition with staff from its properties. Competing against each other with virtuoso performances of modern and traditional song and dance, they gathered on a single stage and celebrated life, heritage and their magical continent.
AndBeyond’s community development partner is the Africa Foundation. The latter facilitates the socio-economic development of rural communities living in or close to the continent’s conservation areas. The former provides direct employment for nearly 2 000 people, and in some cases has boosted the employment level on the land by 1 000 percent.
Visit their website at www.andbeyond.com