In last month’s blog we spoke about the hole that has been left in our beautiful valley through the absence of tourism. A hole not only from the lack of energy and enthusiasm that guests bring to Mfuwe, but from the devastating economic chasm that has opened up beneath the feet of some of the most vulnerable in our society.
Whilst the journey to filling that hole will be a long and challenging one, as an organisation we have been working hard to bring our shovels to bear. Despite losing around 70% of our funding overnight, we recognise the need to not just battle for survival for survival’s sake, but to continue to carry out our projects at a time when they are needed more than ever.
The valley has a unique way of capturing the heart. I know this from experience, from the first time I saw a giraffe step across my path, all graceful inelegance, or the first time I stepped off the plane onto tarmac and felt the scents of the bush run through me. The first time I saw the unique way that the sun drops like a stone below the horizon at sunset, or felt the deep reverberating roar of a lion claiming its territory. It’s not something that can be adequately imagined, yet once experienced it is never forgotten.
But it’s not just the wildlife or the scenery, it’s the people too. I have never felt more welcomed into a community. One of my first experiences of Zambia was a cold Mosi in my hand before my suitcase had barely left my grip. I will also never forget telling tales around a campfire in Kafue national park, the stars like a strip of white diamonds overhead, or that first taste of nshima (don’t forget the salt), or the battalion of helpful hands who appeared from nowhere to fix a flat tyre. It’s a place that lodges in the soul.
For that reason perhaps I should not have been surprised at the outpouring of support from the international community. From guests who have been to the valley and met its people, who can relate indelibly to these experiences, or to those who have heard about our plight and wanted to do something about it.
It has been humbling.
On our fundraising page the words of support and encouragement are truly uplifting.
“My heart goes out to all you in the Luangwa communities.”
“Your work is more important than ever.”
“Stay Strong. You are not alone.”
Many of these visitors have also stayed in our partner lodges, who have been unbelievable in garnering international support. Despite Kafunta, Flatdogs, Shenton Safaris and Croc Valley all experiencing incredibly difficult circumstances themselves, it has not stopped them from shouting about our cause from the rooftops.
It seems unfair to highlight two specific cases of support during this time, as every heartfelt donation empowers us to do more. However, two examples of outstanding generosity have left us speechless.
Firstly our long standing supporters at Livingstone Partners have characteristically stepped forward to offer even more than they already do. If we are using the shovels, they have always been the ones in the background sharpening the edge. From the first time I met Ree and Neil, their heartfelt generosity shone through. It has not just been about the donations, of which there have been many, but the incredible commitment to throw a light on the issues our communities face, and to spread this message across continents.
Then back in April I had an email from Anke at Kafunta, letting us know that Stefan from Meerbusch Rotary Club in Germany was interested in offering us some support. After a long email discussion about the areas and projects where we could use the most assistance, Stefan rallied a contingent of incredible people, bringing a coalition of ex-valley guests, and supporters from the Rotary Club, to donate a staggering amount to help our organisation and the communities we serve. Their help will not only let us provide hygienic pads and education to over 500 young women, but also help to support hundreds of children with their education, and provide training, facilities and an improved platform for our artisans.
In characteristic laconic fashion, Stefan said to me later,
“No need to say further thanks…I just hope we meet some day for a few beers or so…”
To everyone who has offered such incredible commitment and support during this time, cheers to that!