Whenever possible, I like to be a responsible traveller. I feel it’s an important part of modern tourism and a way for me to make my “gallivanting” (as my father calls it) a less selfish and superficial pursuit.
Before visiting a country, I try to read up as much as possible on local customs, politics, and – most of all – the socioeconomic issues facing that country, the work being done to battle those issues and so on. And where possible, I like to contribute in some small way to that “battle”.
As per my usual routine, before visiting Zambia I did my homework on the various organizations and projects looking to uplift and help the development of the country and whilst doing so I happened across Project Luangwa and the staggering contribution they are making to the lives of the rural poor in Luangwa Valley, with support from a handful of local safari operators.
So, on our recent visit to South Luangwa National Park I was particularly eager to meet with those running this incredible project and maybe get a small glimpse of what they do.
Now sitting back in my office in Cape Town after our recent trip through Zambia, the short half day a few of us in the Zambia Tourism team spent being shown around by the project’s tireless managers, Karen and Dave, stands out as one of the most memorable and important experiences of the entire six weeks for me.
We met Karen and Dave at their office, where she briefly outlined what the project is about and some of the success stories that it has amassed since it began back in 2011.
In their own words, Project Luangwa is focused on “supporting schools, increasing the standards of education and encouraging communities to find sustainable ways to support themselves “, and they have put an astounding amount of time and money towards that end, with the total spend on education and community projects reaching US$484,000 in 2013 alone.
Karen took us to Mfuwe Secondary School to show us where a substantial amount of that money has gone. We walked down the corridors of the new girls boarding house and then went in to the immaculate new ablutions blocks as well as the unique girls menstrual hygiene toilets.
Being the bookworm that I am, I was most impressed by the beautiful school library, which Project Luangwa both built and stocked with thousands of books as well as a PC; this library is the biggest in the entire province.
From Mfuwe Secondary School we headed out along a dirt road to Katapila Community School. This is one of two schools where students are using the new iSchool ZeduPads for their learning. Not so long ago these same pupils would have been lucky if they had one textbook between the whole class, now they share one ZeduPad between groups of two or three. Watching them use the device, I almost felt hard done by that we had never had something similar when I was at school. Project Luangwa has also installed solar power at the school to charge the tablets.
After having been encouraged to join the kids in a local dance routine (cringe), we were on our way again. As we headed back to camp I was overwhelmed by everything that Project Luangwa was trying to do for the children of the Luangwa Valley, and encouraged by the pleasure and pride that education seems to bring to those said same children.
The challenges facing these children and organizations like Project Luangwa remain substantial, from prevalent HIV to teenage marriage, sexual violence and human animal conflict – life is certainly isn’t easy for the children in Luangwa Valley. But if one thing’s for sure from our short time with Karen, it’s that no one is going to be giving up any time soon.
To find out more about Project Luangwa visit their website here.