As part of our ongoing partnership, the President and Co-founder of EleFence International, Mr. Dick Houston, visited Zimbabwe to see the progress of the projects which they have generously helped support in the Hwange area.
The first stop during the visit was Hwange Main Camp Primary School where Mr. Houston was welcomed by the School Head Ms. Murohoke and taken through a tour of the school, witnessing some of the projects that ABCF is supporting which include the new library and computer room and vegetable garden. The group then travelled across to the second community that African Bush Camps Foundation supports, Mambanje, which is a very remote village situated just 2km away from the Hwange National Park boundary.
Mr. Houston arrived right in time for the school lunch which EleFence International is supporting. Mambanje Primary School has a total of 130 children and all receive lunch every day of the week. The community members present were excited to see the representative of the organization behind a program that has been very necessary and effective for their children. The community members present explained directly to Mr. Houston the significance of the program given the fact that Mambanje is currently undergoing a very serious drought. At the moment, there are however only funds available for the program to last until the end of June. The school is therefore currently effecting some cost cutting measures and reducing rations so that the funds available can last longer. They will cut the costs of feeding to $600 per month of which ABCF is currently fundraising for.
The community has come together in the preparation of the food. Mambanje is made up of 5 different village groups led by 5 different village heads that each send representatives from their group to help with the food preparation each day. Most of these are actually parents or relatives of the school children. Besides feeding their children, the community has learned to work together in providing for their children. As a result of the program, Mambanje has seen a marked increase in student enrolment, retention, and a decrease in absenteeism. Amongst other projects, the feeding program has been an integral part of improving these statistics.
Mr. Houston was taken through to see the solar system that EleFence helped fund. The funding which included sinking a new borehole provided the community with its first electricity power and running water. Amongst other benefits has been the provision of lighting, a charging system for phones and computers, and the solar power for the pump that that is providing water to the garden. Before this solar system, there was no power at all available at the school and the above reflects all the positive impacts the community has had from this friendly source of energy.
The Mambanje school and community vegetable garden which was visited next is a true reflection of the useful solar power usage at the school. The garden is very important for the school as it is one of the ways to ensure that the school and community have their own source of food to complement and eventually fully replace what EleFence International is currently providing for the feeding program as well as produce extra crops to sell and generate income for the school. The garden is currently being taken care of by both the students and the community through the School Development Committee. The students are utilizing it for their Agriculture classes where each of the classes are spending some time each week in the garden maintaining it.
At the time of the visit, there was a healthy bean crop which was planted late in the season. The school is looking forward to growing other vegetables for sale to Safari Camps around the area including our own, Somalisa Camp which is already purchasing chickens from the school’s poultry project. It is important that the group that is in charge of the garden learn more about farming and increase their knowledge so as to plant appropriate crops and deal with issues of pests. It was explained that sending the group to a learning program would greatly benefit the community and that ABCF is currently fundraising for this to happen.
Mr. Houston and the group then visited our latest big project, being the Lion Guardian and Mobile Cattle Boma, which are both funded by EleFence International. This was an integral part of the visit for Dick to get on the ground feedback about the work of the Lion Guardian and the boma. The first meeting was conducted on the site of the first ever boma to be erected where Dick met the villagers involved in the boma program and Polite Chipembere the Lion Guardian. The Lion Guardian oversees the use of the 2 lion bomas that have been erected in the community and this is currently keeping him very busy as he has to coordinate a register of approximately 207 cattle that have registered for the boma representing 36 households in the village.
The numbers could grow as more households are registering to be part of the initiative. The boma is helping to scale up conservation efforts and helping to lessen conflict between the community and wildlife by protecting their cattle from attacks from lions. The boma is empowering the community to be in control of improving their entire ecosystem as the mobile boma is improving the quality of grazing through planned grazing and fertilizing the soils in the fields as the boma is rotated from one villagers field to the next every 2 weeks, leaving each field fully fertilized for 3 years.
The final meeting was a visit to meet with a family that was struck with the tragedy of losing a 7 year old child to a lion attack. The family was happy to see a visit from Elefence International who have committed to supporting programs to help mitigate human-wildlife conflict in the Hwange area and especially in areas bordering the Hwange National Park which includes Mambanje village.
Africa Bush Camps Foundation was very happy to welcome Mr. Houston whose organization has been a very important and strategic long term partner. His presence on the ground was also welcomed by the community who were able to interact directly with him and share their own stories and personally thank him for all the support his organization is providing.