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This is the thirteenth post of my South Africa Series. Follow along to read my reviews on several different aspects of my trip. Other posts in this series include: Come Along With Me To South Africa!; Flight Review: South African Airways Business Class JFK-JNB; Hotel Review: Westin Cape Town; Trip Report: Watching African Penguins at Boulders Beach and the Cape of Good Hope; Cape Town Dining; Hotel Review: Hilton Cape Town; 10 Things I Love About South Africa; Hotel Review: 12 Apostles Hotel and Spa Luxury Room; Trekking Up Table Mountain In Cape Town; Hotel Review: Hyatt Regency Johannesburg, Trip Report: South Africa Safari at Savanna Lodge in Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve and Trip Report: Safari Highlights at Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa.
I was having an amazing time on safari at Savanna Lodge in the Sabi Sands Private Game Reserve just west of Kruger National Park in South Africa thanks to some thrilling animal encounters and the experience of “glamping” in gorgeous luxury suites. However, I always tried to keep the perspective that I was in Africa and that just outside the gates of the private game reserve (and outside the walls of our hotels in Cape Town and Johannesburg, for that matter) there are serious ongoing economic and social issues. Just driving to the lodge from Nelspruit, we passed through several poverty-stricken villages where the main road was basically a ribbon of mud punctuated by pot holes.
Like many luxury lodges, Savanna actually supports a charity orphanage project in its neighboring village that it pays for with some of the funds it receives from tourism, and the staff invites Savanna guests to visit and see the project for themselves. So one afternoon between game drives, we hopped into one of the lodge’s Land Rovers and took the bumpy road out of the reserve and back into town to visit the Tiyimiseleni orphanage.
Tiyimiseleni isn’t an orphanage in the sense that we define the word. Rather, it’s like a community center where the village children can come after school for organized activities, playtime and a meal – sometimes their only meal of they day. The orphanage keeps track of the kids with the help of dozens of village ladies who go around visiting the various families in town, take stock of their situations and monitor the well-being of the children.
We met a few of these ladies, who were gathered under a tree waiting for the children to get out of school when we visited, as well as the three ladies that run the orphanage, and were given a tour of the tiny building that constitutes the orphanage itself, a sweltering makeshift outdoor kitchen where they prepare the children’s food, a little plot of land where they are growing squash, peanuts and lettuce, as well as the tiny playground and the spot where they are hoping to drill a well to maintain a steady supply of water (right now they depend on rainwater) for the orphanage and the garden.
I talked to the Savanna staffer who oversees the lodge’s community service projects, Rinske, and she filled me in on what goes on at the orphanage and how Savanna helps in conjunction with an organization called Pack for a Purpose.
When the children arrived, they all started playing on the single playground set, or had impromptu games of tag while Eric helped others catch crickets that had come up from the ground in the rains. Then it was time for a prayer of thanksgiving before meals were doled out by the kitchen staff. The meal was basically a starchy maize paste with milk – not the most nutritive but at least it fills the kids up for a while.
After that our quick visit came to an end and it was back to the lodge, but I was still glad I was able to spend some time at the orphanage and that some of the money I paid for our luxury safari experience was going toward a good cause.
In fact, Tiyimiseleni is just one of several community projects Savanna is involved in. It also manages charity donations to two schools in the Gazankulu area as beneficiaries, the the Chivakani Preschool and the Ian Mackenzie High School. Lodge guests can plan a visit to the village where the schools are and meet the chief and a traditional healer, watch the children perform and taste some locally prepared dishes. Proceeds from these visits go to maintenance costs for the two schools.
I think it’s great that Savanna Lodge is so involved with its community, and I would encourage anyone else planning to go on safari to investigate their lodge’s outreach and charity activities as well before booking since many of them do operate similar projects and it’s good to know that some of the premium price tags many of these lodges charge is going toward giving back. Especially when it affects the lives of young people like the ones we met during our visit.