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Africa Foundation - Susannah Friend

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1 January 2008 by Pete Mathers

A nominated charity of the Wexas Travel Foundation, Africa Foundation supports rural communities in areas adjacent to the safari lodges of Wexas preferred partner, cc Africa (now &Beyond). Pete Mathers talks to uk Director of Fundraising, Susannah Friend.

WHAT IS AFRICA FOUNDATION?

Africa Foundation is a uk-registered charity with sister foundations in South Africa and the United States. We work specifically with rural communities living adjacent to wildlife parks in Africa, and have a 16-year record in delivering sustainable development. Projects stretch across South Africa, Botswana, Tanzania, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Namibia.

WHAT WAS THE MOTIVATION BEHIND STARTING THE CHARITY?

It started with the creation of Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa, an eff ort to rehabilitate degraded land and restock it with wildlife. The need to help the local communities became clear from the start, but there’s a tendency among philanthropists to believe they know best when it comes to helping others. Actually, when you consult with the communities you often fi nd they have diff erent priorities. Our main concern became engaging with the local people and learning from them; working with them not for them. That became the template for everything we do.

YOUR SLOGAN IS ‘EMPOWERING COMMUNITIES THROUGH CONSERVATION’. HOW CAN CONSERVATION HELP EMPOWER COMMUNITIES?

Nelson Mandela said, “ultimately conservation is about people”. Conserving the land and wildlife can benefi t the communities that live around the parks, not least by the emergence of eco-tourism and the money that generates, money that can be used to provide schools, clinics and help develop businesses.

SO WHAT EXACTLY IS THE MONEY BEING SPENT ON?

There are three areas that communities themselves have told us they need help with: education, health care/water provision, and income generation. The latter can be anything from the creation of craft markets and the production of traditional gifts to training in basic business skills. The provision of water impacts everything we do. We build infrastructure; schools and clinics. If you don’t have water then you can’t mix cement, but other implications are far wider reaching. We’re introducing pipelines where we can to communities, meaning women don’t need to spend hours fetching water. It also means the children who’d normally go with them are now free to attend school.

We put huge water tanks in the schools that we build. The government is supposed to refi ll them, but schools can go days without water. In one school, where we’re running a vulnerable children programme, we’re dealing with families too poor to feed their children. The school meal is the only one they get; if there’s no water then they don’t get fed. As far as clinics are concerned, Western medicine is still something many Africans are wary of. It takes time to dispel their superstitions, but the last time I visited the Mduku clinic in Phinda, one of the first we built, there were queues of people waiting outside, all of whom were seen by a health care professional. And that in a community that would previously see a doctor no more than once a fortnight.

WHAT ROLE DO COMMUNITY MEMBERS PLAY IN ESTABLISHING THESE PROJECTS?

Building trust with the community is key to what we do. We have people working for us who received their education in the schools we helped develop. They return from university and want to do something to help, so we employ them as development officers, helping us build new relationships. From there we work closely with the tribal council, selecting projects that benefit the most number of people and consulting with the relevant parties. There is no use, for example, asking men about water provision, as carrying water is traditionally the work of the women.

WHAT KIND OF DIFFICULTIES DO YOU FACE MOST REGULARLY?

An enormous number of people still have hiv or Aids. We run awareness programmes in schools, clinics and community centres, and can distribute condoms and prescribe anti-retroviral drugs, but there are factors over which we have little control.

The South African government, for instance, recently increased child benefit. People can get more money than they’ve ever had before by conceiving a child – an incentive for unprotected sex. Even if women do take condoms, if their husbands say no, that’s the end of it; they’re brought up to obey their husbands, even if the husbands are practicing polygamy.

Medication has its own problems. If you take aspirin on an empty stomach you get a stomach ache. Take anti-retroviral drugs on a diet of cornmeal and you’ll likely get sick. So people stop taking them, or they share them with their family, rendering the dose ineffective. Health care and education have to go hand in hand, but it’s an uphill struggle.

WHAT DO YOU CONSIDER YOUR GREATEST ACHIEVEMENT?

Phinda I think. Over 16 years it’s grown to support multiple sustainable communities, with primary to tertiary education, the Mduku clinic and a digital eco-village – a community centre offering access to computers and training facilities. One of our teenagers even received an email from David Beckham.

WHAT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN AFRICA FOUNDATION AND &BEYOND (PREVIOUSLY CC AFRICA)?

We’ve always worked closely with &Beyond, who own the lodges adjacent to the communities we work with. Our template works because of the success of eco-tourism; it brings in money and means we’ve people on the ground building relationships with the surrounding communities. Lodge staff, from trackers and rangers through to cleaners, barmen and waiters will likely have come from the communities we support. Information on each project, including how to visit should you wish, are part of the induction on an &Beyond holiday.

THE Wexas TRAVEL FOUNDATION IS RAISING MONEY TO BUILD A CLASSROOM IN PHINDA. HOW WILL OUR MONEY MAKE A DIFFERENCE?

The majority of people you speak to say their greatest priority is the education of their children. Yet there are teachers who’ve been teaching for 20 years but are yet to see the inside of a classroom. Even in a school that’s well provided for, average class sizes are 90 to 100 pupils. Not only will your money build a much-needed classroom, it will pay for an ablution block to be built alongside it, providing vital sanitation and water. What’s more, we have an unblemished record over 16 years for getting all our donations to the projects requested. Every pound received from the Wexas Travel Foundation will go in its entirety to the building of your classroom.

The Wexas Travel Foundation raises money for Africa Foundation & Cool Earth. You can help make a difference with a voluntary donation of just £1 each time you make a booking with Wexas.

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