Zimbabwe - Giving something back

Giving something back

As Zimbabwe’s economic crisis bit ever deeper, more and more casualties were created, inevitably among those least able to help themselves: the poor, the sick and disabled, the very young and the aged. HIV/AIDS has taken a huge toll, stripping whole communities of a generation of parents and leaving thousands of orphans, many with AIDS themselves, to be looked after by their grandmothers. And then there’s the wildlife, facing new levels of poaching and hunting or simply dying through lack of water.

It often takes tragedy to bring out the best in people, and this is certainly the case in Zimbabwe. Much charitable work is undertaken by small groups operating on a shoestring, on a neighbourhood basis and without formal organisation, publicity or fanfare. It is therefore difficult for visitors to contribute to these schemes, simply because they never hear about them. One of the easiest ways to contribute is to stay at accommodations that offer genuine charity-focused activities or commit to donating a certain percentage of their revenues to charitable causes. You’ll find these much more numerous in areas in and around national parks. A check of their website will quickly show you which accommodations have genuine community involvement as opposed to simply paying lip service to the concept.

Many people find they are torn between donating to either a ‘people’ or a ‘wildlife’ charity. The great news here is that virtually all of the charities that at first sight appear to be wildlife orientated have recognised that in today’s Africa, the only way to affect positive change for game and the environment is by involving and supporting local communities. So your donation is win-win for both sides. The following is a short list of local and internationally based groups and charities that are reasonably accessible to the short-term visitor and would greatly benefit from increased patronage.

Children in the Wilderness (CITW)

Wilderness has a number of luxury lodges throughout southern Africa and recognises that if tourists are to continue to have wilderness areas to visit, rural children need to be educated to understand the importance of conservation and its relevance to their future lives.

CITW is an environmental and life skills educational programme for the next generation of decision makers, inspiring them to care for their natural heritage and to become the custodians of these areas for the future.

It’s an ambitious programme that started with the realisation that malnourished children do not do well at school, so a nutrition programme was established to ensure that children in designated schools received a nutritious meal every day. The next emphasis was also in the schools, with a concerted drive to drastically reduce the teacher:pupil ratio from an average 1:60 down to 1:30, coupled with a teacher training programme with an environmental emphasis. Outside of school hours, environmental and lifeskills clubs have been established with regular Wilderness camp visits being run for selected pupils to introduce them to the possibilities of potential employment in the tourism, environmental and hospitality industries. CITW has also introduced a series of community offshoot programmes focusing on local sustainability projects such as knitting and crochet workshops, poultry projects with layers and broilers and vegetable gardening and vermiculture.

The excellent CITW website has full details on how you can get involved, sponsor or donate, including its popular volunteer programme, which features a comprehensive and varied range of activities including school, community and wildlife involvement.

Friends of Hwange

The wildlife in Hwange National Park is dependent on artificially pumped water during the dry season. The Friends of Hwange Trust was formed in 2005 during a particularly bad drought and the resulting high wildlife mortality rates. The trust raises money from sponsorships and donations to fund a programme of converting the old diesel-powered pumps to solar varieties. The legendary and amazing Gary Cantle is their resident man on the ground and is responsible for carrying out the day-to-day work of FOH. He has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the park, its wildlife and the waterholes that he lovingly maintains. They also run an annual charity bike ride through Hwange National Park; check their website for details. Donations are welcome. 

Imire Rhino and Wildlife Conservation

Volunteers will be involved with a variety of conservation projects including working with black rhino and elephant, studying and learning about their behaviour; undertaking anti-poaching patrols to ensure the continued safety of the animals; helping to educate local schoolchildren about conservation, wildlife and the environment; and carrying out the ongoing daily activities required to run a game park. At Imire they believe that conservation must go hand in hand with community education and one of their aims is to enhance the relationships between conservancies and neighbouring communities through long-term sustainable conservation and farming practices. Imire welcomes researchers, students and postgraduates and they have a huge range of research projects for people to help out with.

Mahenye Charitable Trust (MCT)

Mahenye is a village in the far southeast of Zimbabwe, one of the poorest regions of the country. MCT is a charity which supports the village, its people and the Shangaan culture by carefully funding selected initiatives in four key areas: culture, education, community and conservation. The Trust was established in 2014 with the help of a substantial donation from the owners of Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge, which is situated 10km from Mahenye village and which counts members of the village community as the overwhelming majority of its staff. The charity does not have any employees, relying on volunteers collaborating with the community, and the assistance of Chilo Gorge Safari Lodge staff and investors. They work with the village elders and the CAMPFIRE committee to identify projects, then typically MCT funds the capital goods while the labour is provided by the community, supplemented when necessary by skilled craftsmen engaged by the Trust. An internet search of the Trust shows a variety of ways to donate.

The Mother Africa Trust

Formed in 2006, the Mother Africa Trust aims to give back to the community and to make a positive and lasting difference in Zimbabwe. The Trust’s core aim is to source and channel resources for community and wildlife development and conservation linked to enhancing sustainable tourism. The Trust aims to assist rural schools, clinics, orphanages and individuals with specific needs by linking them with donors and volunteers who can assist with those needs with the permission and co-operation of the relevant departments and authorities. Mother Africa also aims to enhance the survival of wildlife and indigenous forests for future generations by supporting conservation initiatives such as anti-poaching operations and rehabilitation of indigenous forests. The other major aim of the Trust is to create ‘purpose-driven safaris’ or ‘voluntourism’, tailor-made for people who wish to donate their time and skills to leave a lasting and tangible contribution to Zimbabwe. The Trust works mainly in the Matobo Hills and Hwange areas, supporting several schools, a children’s home, an old age home, sponsoring anti-poaching patrols, de-snaring and treating animals and awarding scholarships to deserving candidates in rural areas.

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