This article is part of a series; you will find the other episodes here:
Your Virtual Safari – Day 1 – Travelling to Africa
Your Virtual Safari – Day 2 – Arriving in Africa and onward travel
Your Virtual Safari – Day 3 – On the lookout for wildlife
Day 4 – Going to school and visiting the local village
Today you take a break from spotting wildlife and game drives to see the real difference the money you spend on a safari makes to the local communities. This time we’re using Zimbabwe as an example. Our preferred partners – Imvelo Safari Lodges – provide essential help to the villages bordering Hwange National Park which used to see elephants and other animals as a threat. As they caused damage to crops and endangered lives, in the past it seemed like the only solution was to hunt and kill them.
Nowadays villagers see the value in wildlife – as tourists come to Zimbabwe and stay at the lodges on the other side of the border to the park, they generate income which is distributed by Imvelo and used for building and maintaining schools and health clinics and running social empowerment schemes.
One of the highlights of staying at Imvelo’s properties – and often the memory that lasts the longest – is the opportunity to visit the villages benefitting from responsible tourism. And that’s what you’re doing today.
You wake up early and grab a bite to eat before setting off in the open 4WD to do the school run. Children in the area walk miles – often literally – get to Ngamo village and the school of the same name. You can help as many as can fit into the vehicle by giving them a lift – and it’s a LOT of fun!
Your guide drives to a spot on the route to school, spots some children and then blasts on the horn to bring them running.
With the first bunch on board, you drive a bit further, parping the horn the whole way.
Children appear from out of nowhere, running to jump on the rapidly-filling car.
You are surprised to learn just how many children can fit in a Land Rover – but gave up counting a while back.
When there are no more children to pick up, we set off for the remaining part of the journey, with the kids providing entertainment in song form.
You can’t really explain it in words and photos, but this video does the experience more justice:
After a short while you arrive.
Ngamo Primary School
As you disembark, some of your fellow passengers grab your hand and lead you into the school grounds where a mass of pupils and teachers gather for the daily flag-raising ceremony and to sing the Zimbabwean national anthem.
School is now in session, so after a Q&A session with the headmaster and some of the teachers, it’s time to visit a classroom.
Now YOU are in the spotlight! Each person in your group delivers a short introduction with their name, where they come from and what they do for a living.
It’s rare that these kids don’t know where your home country is on the map, too.
Then you get to spend time and field questions from a smaller number of children as your group is split up. It’s a lot of fun and you learn as much about them as they do about you.
Next on the agenda is a look at the school library, which consists of books donated by previous visitors and donors. I am reliably informed that a package of books is smuggled in on a regular basis from abroad to avoid problems with customs – but I won’t tell you how…
The contrast between the library in 2018 and when I visited first in 2014 (below) is striking, to say the least.
Next you are shown around the grounds by one of the teachers, and get to see the school vegetable garden, staff accommodation and the new toilet block.
Imvelo also pays for children to have breakfast at the school, which is unique in this area and a real help to poor families.
Let me hand over to my old friend and superb Imvelo guide, Vusa:
Visiting the village headman
The next part of your tour takes you to the headman’s compound. Johnson Ncube manages the affairs of the village and rules in disputes – and is in fact Vusa’s father…
He’s also an extremely knowledgable, friendly and open man – and quick to tell you that no topics of conversation are off the table. Talk inevitably turns to the political situation in Zimbabwe, but also covers women’s rights, land issues and Imvelo’s role.
You are shown the kitchen area and discover how such buildings are constructed.
Following this fascinating encounter, you get the chance to pick up some souvenirs at the village craft market.
Over to Vusa again:
Back to the lodge – Bomani Tented Camp
With that, it is time to return to your lodge for brunch and a siesta before the afternoon game drive. Today you are at one of my favourite lodges in Africa – Bomani. This was also the first safari lodge I stayed at on my first ever African safari, so I had a very lucky start. You’ll find more on this magical place in my trip report from 2018: Hwange National Park and the Zambezi River, Zimbabwe but here are a few photos anyway.
The main lounge, bar and dining area is THE place to chill with a cold beer.
If you are lucky, you might get to stay in the honeymoon tent.
You won’t have trouble sleeping on this huge bed…
And this one even has a fully tiled bathroom!
A morning coffee on the terrace overlooking the plains makes an unbeatable start to the day.
So that’s it for now – what a day it’s been! It just goes to show there is more to a safari than wildlife – and you’ve plenty more to come later on your virtual tour.
See you on Day 5!