Safari, Culture & Philanthropy – May 2014 – Southern Africa

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PHILANTHROPY & ADVENTURE!

This GSGC group had the unique opportunity to combine an African wildlife safari with “going deeper” through our philanthropic arm, the GS Giving Circle, which actively supports girls’ education and empowerment in Southern Africa. Not only did we see the beauty and wildlife of this region, but we had a great time while gaining insight into the varied local cultures and issues.

OUR TRIP LOCATIONS AT A GLANCE

  • southern_africa_map-004Hwange National Park: Hwange National Park is Zimbabwe’s largest national park. A haven for over 100 mammal and 400 bird species, the park protects populations of all of Zimbabwe’s endangered species. Elephants number in excess of 20,000 and the park is home to what is thought to be one of the largest populations of African wild dog left in the world.
  • Victoria Falls: The town of Victoria Falls lies on the southern bank of the Zambezi river, in northwestern Zimbabwe. Oftentimes shrouded in mist, Victoria Falls is a world heritage site and one of the most spectacular wonders of the world.
  • Ichobezi Safari Boat: Located along Chobe River, at the convergence of Zambia, Botswana and Namibia. Game viewing is done from the main boat and from tender boats with local guides. Excellent birding opportunities. Guided walks on the Caprivi floodplain, superb fishing all year round especially for those wanting to fish for the feisty Tiger fish.
  • Cape Town: Cape Town is located on the slopes of Table Mountain on the southwestern tip of Africa. A meeting point of many cultures and landscapes, Cape Town has become for many the center of adventure, style and hospitality in southern Africa.

 

OUR GSGC PARTNERS VISITED AT A GLANCE

  • Rose of Charity (RoC): GSGC and Rose of Charity empower and educate girls through providing workshops, girls clubs and assisting with school fees as well as working with the local community to raise awareness of gender inequality  (Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe)
  • Livingstone Anglican Children’s project (LACP): LACP and GSGC help orphaned and vulnerable children with school fees, provide mentoring for girls and skills training for young adults (Livingstone, Zambia)
  • Tusa Munyandi (TM): TM and GSGC provide early childhood education to orphaned and vulnerable children (Livingstone, Zambia)
  • Uthando: Uthando, which means “love” in Zulu/Xhosa, is a Fair Trade certified non-profit organization that focuses on supporting community based projects in some of the most destitute and marginalized communities in Cape Town.
  • Jikeleza: Jikeleza uses dance to help girls stay away from distractions such as drug and alcohol abuse and teen pregnancy, which is so prevalent in poverty stricken areas. With the GSGC, Jikeleza provides life and leadership skills, mentoring and educational support for girls to help them emerge from poverty and expand their opportunities. (Townships surrounding Cape Town)

 

TRAVELERS’ COMMENTS

DSC_1786-001_Heidi & Kartr(Tour Leaders) What a fabulous group of people to travel with in one of the most amazing places on earth!  From safari to visiting the GSGC Partners to exploring the great city of Cape Town, this trip had a little of something for everyone. On safari, what are the chances we’d see lion – twice?!  In seven trips, I’ve only seen lions three times.  May is such a wonderful time with all the baby animals – even the baby crocodile were cute! It’s incredibly rewarding to see first hand the positive impact we’re make through the GS Giving Circle.  Spending time with the children of Tusa Munyandi and visiting the homes of some of the girls benefiting from the Believe in Girls workshops through Rose of Charity helped us understand the daily life and challenges the girls face to getting an education and believing in themselves.  It’s encouraging to know we’re changing lives and seeing progress made. Whether it was in Cape Town or on the Ichobezi boat, the food was always phenomenal and served with such hospitality.  I’m still trying to lose the extra five pounds I brought home!  It’s stories from our evenings around the fire at the Hide that still give me a chuckle. If ever you travel with Marian, ask her to tell you a joke in her fabulous Irish accent! As always, Priscilla and her team have designed a wonderful trip with every detail covered.  Thank you!  Let’s do it again soon!

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IMG_3798What a great introduction to Southern Africa!  May is the beginning of winter there, and a slower tourist season, which was great for us.  On safari in Zimbabwe and Botswana/Namibia, the days were warm (80-ish), clear and sunny, with minimal bugs.  We saw abundant wildlife: giraffe, hippo, lions, zebra, impala, wildebeest, baboons, crocodiles, fantastic birds and more.  Though we joked about getting bored with seeing yet another elephant, I don’t think any of us ever tired of spotting a young “ellie” walking alongside its mother.  Victoria Falls thundered with water since it was just after the end of the rainy season.  It was a special pleasure to see it for the first time with a few girls from Rose of Charity.  Cape Town is one of the most beautifully situated cities I have visited.  Even though we were there for four nights, I feel like I barely made a dent.  We met wonderful people who shared their life and experiences with us.  The logistics were great.  When I tell people about the journey, a typical comment is “That sounds like the trip of a lifetime”, which is true…..but, I also think there might be a return visit!

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IMG_3606-002_ErinIt started with a conference on empowering girls and ended with a sheep’s head in a pot of boiling water. In between were experiences that tugged at the heart strings and dazzled the eyes. I feel so privileged to have been on this trip with such an amazing group of people. And how lucky we were to see the things we did – lions and a hippo vying for the rights over the elephant carcass and those amazing elephants in silhouette against the sunset – simply spectacular! From dancing and drumming at Jikeleza to sundowners on a motorboat thank you all for making it an unforgettable experience!

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DSC_0050Jane, my friend and faithful travel companion, had been trying to sell me on a trip to Africa for a number of years.  I had never seriously considered Africa as a destination –the thought of all of those vaccinations for someone who has never even had a flu shot was just one of my concerns.  The trip to the travel clinic did little to relieve my initial angst – their list of precautions was extensive (and more than a little exaggerated). The daily parade of wildlife viewed from the outdoor bathtub at the Hide, the shared experience at Victoria Falls with girls from the nearby villages who were also there for the first time, the warm welcomes we received from our hosts, the children of Africa, all of this and more left me wondering, “What took you so long”?

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DSC_1503People and nature, stretching my mind and my senses, in a sine wave sequence that allows if all to sink in at a soul-deep level. Starting out in safari camp, immediately thrust into the Africa I imagined before arriving–lions, elephants, the natural setting. Yet, while it is all of that, it’s nothing like that. This is land where people have lived for millennia, and now they welcome me, an outsider, sharing it with me, explaining the ebbs and flows of the seasons, births and deaths, the importance of water and termites. While the environment is fragile, it recharges me immensely to be in a place where humans are the visitors and the animals dictate the terms of engagement. Then, the tour takes us to some of the programs that the Giving Circle supports–and we get a glimpse, maybe even a sustained gaze, into the challenges facing the folks who live here. So, Africa is not simply a big national park. In the background subconscious, that nature exposure continues to sink in, while the conscious mind now focuses on the ways that these caring and innovative program people who are showing us around use art, sewing instruction or soccer games as the gateway to opening a promising future for dozens of girls. While no one thinks we are becoming instant experts, we are seeing enough, and from an “inside vantage point” that we know we are not just voyeurs.  But the genius of this tour is that before we overload on “program stuff”, it’s back to nature, on a magical houseboat on the Chobe River. now it’s “reverse osmosis”. The program work we have been exposed to for the past several days is now sinking further in via the subconscious, while the natural part, front and center, sears my soul. Spending the final night on the boat on the top deck in the open, with the most amazing star show I have ever seen, lions calling out, hippos snuffling about, has changed me forever.  Now we ride the sine wave again, back to civilization, more program exposure. Planned or not, this ebb and flow is genius–allowing each aspect of the tour to sink in before it hits an overload point. When it is all done, there is just one thing to say: yes!

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DSC_1969Our last two participants (mother and daughter) have each been off traveling again already! DSC_1955