It is incredibly humbling when a 101-aged gentleman in a remote rural village in Zimbabwe literally does a happy dance when receiving a food parcel due to food shortages during this COVID-19 worldwide pandemic.
Tsowa Safari Island is a brand new fledgling little camp in the middle of the Zambezi River in Zimbabwe. Rooted in its pristine natural context, Tsowa Safari Island is bringing relief aid to the neighbouring communities who depend so heavily on tourism for income. During this global pandemic of COVID-19, communities surrounding rural lodges in Africa have been hard hit, as they rely on tourism conservation levies collected by lodges and the plentiful trade brought by tourists to local income generating initiatives. The funding of the conservation levies is channelled thoughtfully by the Isibindi Foundation, who carefully balances the needs of communities surrounding the lodges with the protection of the natural wildlife, thereby stopping poaching, over-grazing and encroachment into natural areas. Through its donations, the Isibindi Foundation is creating a human fence around the parks to allow wildlife to flourish in a protected environment.
From her perspective as Director of the Isibindi Foundation, Paige Gehren, who manages the community conservation fund of Tsowa Safari Island and the other Isibindi Africa lodges, was struck by how severely communities were affected by the reduction in tourism during this challenging time. It was clear that emergency food support was a priority, both to serve the community and protect the surrounding natural land.
Paige Gehren and Francie Sherren, Lodge Manager of Tsowa Safari Island, say they immediately knew which local organisation to approach when they wanted to provide assistance through the Isibindi Foundation. Greenline Africa Trust is a reputable and highly valued local organisation which is able to provide sustainable support. Together with Greenline Africa, the team from Tsowa Safari Island were greeted with open arms and jubilant singing while delivering 40 food parcels to some of the most vulnerable families who have been hard-hit by this crisis.
The 40 food parcels were delivered in the Matetsi Ward, identified as one of the many areas in need. It is the largest of the five Rural Wards in Hwange West, stretching from Masuwe near Victoria Falls to the outskirts of Hwange town. The population is approximately 7222 persons with 1134 homesteads.
Veronica Champman, Trustee of Greenline Africa Trust explained that “Through their vulnerability data collection system, some 250 homesteads (22% of total households), approximately 1250 people have been identified as being in critical need in this area. This is the current situation on the ground and food insecurity and vulnerability is expected to increase exponentially as the dry season progresses and home-grown food stocks become exhausted. The COVID-19 lockdown has placed additional pressure on the rural areas as people from towns who have lost jobs and income are moving out into the outlying areas or in some cases sending their children into rural areas for care.” The needs assessment is done in close partnership with local traditional leadership, who are aware of the most vulnerable families in their areas.
During these challenging times, the delivery of food parcels and cleaning supplies is literally a life-saver for a family living in this dry area of Zimbabwe in Southern Africa. On day one, the two staff members from Tsowa Safari Island, Nobert Chikovera and Elton Andy Moyo, were accompanied by the village headman from the Matetsi Skabelo and Woodlands area, together with Charlene Hewat, and Gary and Di Jones from Greenline Africa Trust. They are highly motivated to continue reaching out to households most in need of care. The families they identified included a single mother raising three children, (including twins!), and a grandmother who is caring for three orphaned children whose father passed away six years ago and their mother was tragically killed by a lion two years ago. This family had no food at their homestead at all.
The second day of distribution was in the Matetsi Mkuli area, and recipients included, a 93 year old gentleman who lives alone, a husband and wife, 86 and 64 years of age, both disabled. Another young woman, who lost 90% of her hearing at the age of 10 years but still managed to complete Form 4 and pass 3 O-levels, would love to have the finances to get medical attention and perhaps a hearing aid to enable her to study further and get a job. The incredible 101 year old, still fit and mobile gentleman previously mentioned, was said to have a great sense of humour. He had apparently been out most of the morning looking for food and started dancing when presented with his food hamper.
The next phase is to deliver food parcels to other Hwange rural communities. Greenline Africa works within eight Wards in the greater Hwange rural area. The levels of poverty in these areas is extremely high. From their community centre in Dibutibu, managed by Di and Gary Jones, the team has been instrumental in establishing local ladies sewing groups who have been sewing washable cotton face masks since the start of COVID-19 lockdown. To date they have distributed over 450 masks in the rural communities targeting vulnerable, elderly and those with chronic conditions. Recipients of the Isibindi Foundation and Tsowa Safari Island distribution received masks and soap packs.
During this time of COVID-19 as the Tsowa Safari Island Lodge and all other Isibindi Africa lodges have been closed, the lack of tourism conservation levies is making it extremely difficult to keep up the community support. The Isibindi Foundation urgently requires further donations to assist more of these families in need.
To find out more about the Isibindi Foundation and its work supporting rural communities in Southern Africa, visit: https://isibindifoundation.co.za/ . To learn more about their specific activities around COVID-19 and to make donations to address the food shortages which have hit these communities which rely so heavily on tourism, visit the Isibindi Foundation COVID-19 Relief Fund.