We find that the biggest pleasure and often surprise for travellers to Africa is their encounters with the local people. From region to region and country to country the one consistency amongst changing languages, landscapes and livelihoods are the warmth and friendliness of the people. Seeing the lives they lead and the way they do it, often in the face of overwhelming odds, can really touch the heartstrings of those who bear witness.
With so many of these visits and encounters under our belts after almost 50 years of Africa travel Bench proudly launched the Safari for Change, a new way of combining community work with travel agent educationals.
Familiarisation trips or “Famils” are a common part of the travel industry and are designed to give travel agents a chance to better understand the regions their clients are looking to travel to. We at Bench have been running them for years all over Africa to enable agents to better assist their clients with their travel plans. One of the constant pieces of feedback we received was how wonderful it was to interact with the locals and more information about the work Bench does to give back to charity.
Seeing an opportunity to make a difference the Safari for Change mirrored a normal familiarisation trip and was designed to give the agents a week throughout Zimbabwe on safari. Different to most was the application process where agents were chosen based on applications they filled out consisting over 20 questions. Even more unique was the opportunity for them to take along a special travel partner, be it a parent, partner or friend. Most uniquely was the requirement for this trip. Along with the payment made every participant (including myself) had to raise a minimum of $1000 for charity. This money was collected by Bench and in partnership with Imvelo Safaris in Zimbabwe donated to community projects through the Hwange area in Zimbabwe.
The first trip has just returned with incredible feedback from both the agents involved and the local community. With close to $10,000 USD raised the money was able to buy much-needed parts for a water pump, enough supplies to repaint and stock a double classroom and also feed the 400 students for close to two weeks. The water pump, in particular, was greeted with much happiness, the pump bringing water to the Mdlevu community who had struggled without it for close to 5 years.
After an initial introduction to Zimbabwe via a classic African safari the agents rolled up their sleeves and put the purchased supplies to good use, painting the classrooms themselves and assisting as best they could with the food preparation for the students. Given that most of these children had never seen white faces before they were greeted with huge enthusiasm and curiosity, burning a memory that will never be forgotten. To see a whole community come together; mothers, grandmothers, fathers, and children using these donations for such a good purpose really was an incredible sight.
There is a second departure in October, which will end the first chapter of the Safari for Change.
Ignoring for a minute the amazing game drives the agents had through the area, encountering lions, wild dogs and elephants (including up close on foot!) their greatest memories will be in the full bellies and smiles of the people whose lives they were able to touch.
Bench Africa wants to thank Imvelo Safaris for their assistance, all the agents involved and all of those who gave kindly to such a great cause.
And here's a little bit of feedback I received...
"Thanks for a great trip Cam! I think working in the school was one of the best parts of any famil I have been on and I think it should be put in to all famils but well done for being the first I have been on to do it. I loved every second of the trip and cannot wait to go back."
"I just wanted to say thank you, I had such an amazing time and it's something I'll never forget. It's blown my perspective especially around the idea of community and lifestyles."
Bench Africa is pleased to report the success of its first Safari for Change educational trip to Zimbabwe. In addition to the luxury safari itinerary all hand picked agents also participated in 2 days of community work in an underprivileged area of Zimbabwe. Funded by a minimum $1,000 donation from each agent their efforts resulted in installing a pump, delivering water to a community for the first time in 5 years. Additionally, funds were dedicated to freshly painting a double school block and 2 weeks worth of food for close to 400 school children.
Bench GM Martin Edwards: "We always try to do things a little differently and by working closely with Imvelo on the ground it enabled us to show our passion for Africa to these agents but make a real difference at the same time."