Guests at any of Wilderness Safaris luxury African safari camps marvel at the luxury in the middle of the bush like a private plunge pool, gourmet dining and intimate game drives. But some guests are simply amazed by the flush toilets.
Several times during the year, Wilderness closes a variety of its camps to paying guests to host its Children in the Wilderness program, designed to give local children a week-long respite in the lap of luxury, while teaching them environmental stewardship, leadership skills and personal health.
For these kids, many who’ve never seen a toilet, the experience is overwhelming and often life-changing.
“As I came across this beautiful land I realized that many things are different and a lot more marvelous,” said Sophie Mabukane, a participant in Botswana. “This makes me realize I can change the world around me.”
Fitglobetrotter had the chance to learn more about this innovative program from one of its founders, Wilderness Safari CEO Malcolm McCulloch.
How did your background lead you to develop Children in the Wilderness?
With a business like Wilderness it has become a calling for all of us. It’s a business where we feel we’re able to make a difference to the planet. We want to give back to the people who live adjacent to our camps. We wanted to develop a program with a leadership component to show people in these rural areas the fantastic things that could happen to them. Children are often quite taken advantage of in these rural areas and their societies are tied up in traditional thinking. This shines a different light on their world.
Have you attended a program?
I attended a camp briefly. We don’t like to have non-trained people involved because they can inadvertently interfere in a way that’s not good for the children. I was there at the beginning of a week and you have all these kids that are a bit overwhelmed seeing a world they don’t understand. They have people spoiling them, which they’ve never had. It takes them a bit to find their way and get their confidence up.
What are some of the activities that happen during the week?
There are lesson-based programs aimed at basic skills and personal health, and programs on environmental issues. Other things are built around fun and interaction. We hope it helps develop in them a set of life skills. The program is changing a bit because we want to incorporate more values and issues like the importance of honesty, integrity and timeliness.
What comments do you hear from the kids?
They love it. After the program they’re overwhelmed and joyous. There’s a sparkle in their eye and a spring in their step. I worry that when they’re back in their community that that spring disappears quite quickly when the reality of their situation comes back.
Do any children end up growing up and working for Wilderness?
We employ a few of them, including a guide in Namibia.
How has it changed your perspective?
It has provided me with greater insight and understanding of the difficulty of people who live in remote rural areas and of their understanding of tourism.
Has it changed the way you travel?
I am now more conscious of how tourism should be going the extra mile in terms of making the world a better place, my travel choices are made as a consequence.
Travelers can support Children in the Wilderness through donations, sponsorships or participating in its cycling and soccer fundraising events. To learn how you can get involved visit www.childreninthewilderness.com