Anyone can make a difference…

Filed in Awareness, Community, Making a difference by on July 21, 2013
Classroom under the trees (pic - Happy Readers)

Classroom under the trees (© Happy Readers)

Responsible travelling has become more and more widespread as a holiday choice – perhaps as a society, we are starting to realise that everything we do can have an impact – and we can choose how to fashion that effect in a manner that works for our beliefs.  But how can you leave a lasting impact after a few weeks on holiday in Africa? One way is through a reputable and responsible tourism company.

Happy Readers is a literacy initiative based in Zimbabwe, but working throughout various regions in Africa.  Quite simply their original and innovative books teach African children how to read in English – when English is a foreign language to them.  And their books also teach conservation themes, wildlife awareness and community development! Happy Readers use animal characters in familiar bush and urban settings so that African children can relate to the stories. “We’ve used these characters to demonstrate real-life scenarios – we have Ronnie Rhino, who is an orphan as, yes, sadly his parents were poached, in another book Whynot the Wild Dog calls her pack to help catch poachers – Wild Dog packs often have an alpha female which is a great role model for young girls” says Emma O’Beirne of Happy Readers.

“As a global nation we are all realising we can make a difference, and one of the best ways to do this is to make a difference in some one else’s life!” Poaching, snaring and diseases carried from human livestock to game areas are causing decimation of wildlife in many areas.

Many wildlife & safari operators have programmes to support and work with the local communities.  The collaboration and commitment of the local communities to the preservation of wildlife is vital to protect the animals. However, many of the communities are very poor and often see little value in the wildlife, other than as a food source!  So the safari companies want the community to help protect the wildlife but the community also want to share in the benefits of wildlife tourism.

But how to get everyone working together?

Enter Happy Readers. “Our work takes us all over Zimbabwe and Zambia, often to far flung areas where donors have funded a Happy Readers project in the rural schools”. By providing the community with books that will help their children to learn to read so that they can benefit from education and future opportunities in life, a safari company gains a huge amount of goodwill from the community.

Responsible travellers can also play their part in this through helping children to read the books.  Children need one-on-one time to learn to read properly and a busy teacher in a large class just can’t do this effectively and few parents are able to help with this either.

One of our strongest supporters who immediately understood the link between literacy and education and tourism was Children in the Wilderness in Zimbabwe.  CITW is an outreach program developed by Wilderness Safaris, who work at many levels to educate both communities and their clients. CITW is their environmental program for children in the community. Safari organisations by their very nature are out in the bush and can access far flung communities that others find hard to reach – they also bring a constant stimulus in the form of visitors who can interact with a village, and by doing so, can bring positive change. Wilderness Safaris are keen to bring their clients a complete experience of Africa and that means if you want to see lion or elephant or pangolins, that’s fine – but you can also go behind the scenes.  Previously tourists came to Africa and it was a one dimensional experience – look and see!  Now it can be – look, touch and change!

Happy Hwange school kids (pic - Olwyn Evans Photography)

Happy Hwange school kids (© Olwyn Evans Photography)

Sue Goatley of CITW Zimbabwe was well aware of the desperate situation here in schools – few teachers, fewer resources and too many pupils.  Many children are leaving school in Zimbabwe unable to read.  How can you share information without the ability to read?  If a child cannot learn to read, they cannot read to learn.  CITW realised that the only way forward was to go backwards and start at the very beginning!

“All of our later stories contain relevant messages for the children, and these messages then get back into the community.  We made sure that anyone who could read, could use Happy Readers to teach from – not every teacher is qualified, and not every child goes to school” says Emma.

As an enthusiastic teacher explains “The kids love taking the books home for the weekend and, as these books read like novels, sitting next to their parents while they both read! It’s great to finally have material that is African, something the kids could relate to, stories with African characters doing things they understand.”

Emma says that in working with CITW they have been able to see how responsible tourism makes a difference, and squares the circle between tourism, community and wildlife. One such success story is in Victoria Falls. CITW started to rebuild a school called Jabulani.  Interested guests were taken to see the classroom – a tree in dry, dusty surrounds.  Malnourished children were walking four hours to get to a school where the teachers had nothing to teach with.

How do you fix all that and where to start?   Well, CITW started rebuilding the classroom with many of the materials being made by the villagers, they then established a nutritional garden so the kids could help grow food for themselves (which also doubled as a project in agricultural awareness), then once they had a space to learn, the ability to concentrate through improved nourishment, CITW came to us to provide a reading scheme.  Jabulani is now a joyful, happy school, and the community around the school is equally uplifted.  Now CITW can also get on with teaching the children about conservation and their environment.

All of this came about through CITW being on the ground and seeing the need.  Overseas teachers who came on safari to see wildlife also came and saw village life – some of them returned as volunteers to help train the teachers, other guests came to sit with the children and read, others helped dig new beds for vegetables.

Wilderness Safaris offer access to Africa at many, many levels.  By funding Children in the Wilderness, their guests are encouraged to share skills with the local communities.  Sometimes guests will ask to volunteer in a program on their next trip, or donate funds for a cause that has touched them.  CITW programs are run by local Wilderness staff at their camps, and are designed to educate the children at all levels.  Sometimes it might be conservation awareness, teaching the community through their children why they must preserve their wildlife.

Look behind that elephant and you will see a community!  An African safari doesn’t have to be a one dimensional look and see trip!   One person reading with a bunch of kids in a village school can have the same impact that one teacher struggling to teach 40 children will have in a week.  One person who can knit, spending a couple of hours teaching the basics to the mothers, can enable a village to keep themselves warm and potentially produce goods to sell elsewhere creating a moneymaking venture.

One person who cares and makes the time to care, can make a difference.

Tourists enrich a community – by bringing their money, sure, but also by using responsible companies who then re-invest in the community.

Kids having heaps of fun at a CITW Camp (pic - Olwyn Evans Photography)

Kids having heaps of fun at a CITW Camp (© Olwyn Evans Photography)

Information: Emma O’Beirne  / pics: Happy Readers & CITW

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