Amid the COVID-19 chaos and uncertainty, the tourism industry has undoubtedly taken one of the largest blows. The collapse of tourism is not only catastrophic for business; ecosystems, habitats and people around the world depend on tourists bringing funds, supplies, and attention to these areas. At Imvelo Safari Lodges, which operates in and around Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park, profit is an after-thought, while social and environmental impact are at the top of the agenda.
Imvelo provides staff, time, energy and resources to bring community and conservation projects to life through the generous donations of its guests and friends. With the help of our guests, last year alone, Imvelo fed school lunches to almost 500,000 school children in the rural and impoverished villages bordering Hwange National Park, donated nearly 30,000 textbooks to isolated schools, and provided dental and eye care for over 6,000 people at the mobile clinics organised by its annual Smile and See Safari.
Over the last decade, Imvelo has worked tirelessly to ensure that its communities and wildlife have sustained access to water and food, especially in these areas where rainfall is erratic, natural surface water sources are limited, and drought is common. It has installed and pumps over 80 boreholes, thereby supplying water to over 1500 school children and 2280 households and 15 solar/generator hybrid waterholes for wildlife within the park, providing water for almost 25% of Hwange’s enormous elephant population. Imvelo has built 11 double classroom blocks, 13 teacher cottages and two clinics; it has also supported over 95 children through school bursaries and delivered environmental education and teacher training workshops. More recently, Imvelo has employed 19 Community Wildlife Protection scouts to patrol the area, prevent illegal poaching activities and help address human-wildlife conflicts.
This could not be done without gracious guests coming, seeing the wildlife and communities that Imvelo works with and wanting to be part of the effort, by donating their luggage space, time and/or money. Guests coming from abroad, through the Pack for a Purpose initiative, generously bring with them supplies, especially for rural schools and local communities, including notebooks, pens and clothing. Having guests who are encouraged to bring with them important resources is incredibly important, especially given the remote and isolated locations of our camps and local communities.
They also bring with them enthusiasm, generosity and interest, and their funds and donations underpin the charitable work that Imvelo is able to carry out. Guests return home, share their stories, and encourage others to visit and contribute as well. The lack of guests means a greatly reduced number of donations being allocated to progress these much needed community and conservation projects. Not only are local jobs at stake, with villagers working in the camps becoming unemployed because of a lack of tourists, but so are socio-economic development opportunities for the people who live with and near wildlife. Desperate times call for desperate actions and there is a very justified fear that this will be to the detriment of wildlife and conservation, with subsistence poaching likely to increase. This will set conservation efforts back years.
Given the region’s extreme drought over the last two years, food is already a massive issue. With COVID-19 forcing the closing of borders, Zimbabwe’s already unreliable food supply lines will be further disrupted and the medical institutions, which are far from prepared, will take on an additional toll. At a time when people most urgently need help, especially those impoverished and living isolated from social services, there is only real hope in reaching out to those that can and want to help. Unfortunately, without tourists coming to the camps, this reach is restricted a thousandfold.
While pressure on tourism will continue, we have hope once travel is safe again, travelers will choose to Pack for a Purpose to contribute to projects. The current global situation is threatening secure access to food and water. Once it is safe to travel, then more than ever, Packing for a Purpose will be important to maintain and sustain water pumping efforts for our wildlife and villages and to feed our frontline communities.