A lot of things go into a bucket list trip like an African safari, whether you realize it or not. While you’re obsessed with spotting the Big Five – lions, leopards, rhinos, elephants and African buffaloes – or gazing at your serene surroundings from the comfort of your lodge, the hospitality industry is having an impact in behind the scenes.
Top luxury lodges and tour operators are directly involved in creating programs that empower people in nearby communities and promote sustainable tourism practices that help protect the natural environments and wildlife that surround them. This ensures that such an expensive vacation brings great economic and social benefits to local communities.
I witnessed many of these initiatives first hand during my visit to Africa. They opened my eyes to all that goes on in safari lodges – and changed my view of African safaris.
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Enjoying a luxurious safari vacation doesn’t just mean enjoying incredible service, breathtaking views and gourmet cuisine. Premium safaris are also a celebration of the areas in which they operate, as they draw attention to the importance of protecting endangered species, conserving natural resources and creating jobs and economic opportunities for surrounding communities. .
Many African safari operators and lodges have programs that give back and protect wildlife, but there are several high-end properties and businesses that go above and beyond to incorporate philanthropic efforts into their offerings. These allow you to effortlessly support initiatives that create lasting support systems for the people and places you meet while enjoying an epic journey you’ll never forget.
Be aware though that not all companies take the same approach to giving back, so it’s important that you do your homework beforehand. Check an operator’s website for information about its programs and pay particular attention to charitable initiatives. Safari lodges that run their own programs will outline their commitments directly in their mission statements or highlight their scope at the top of their homepages.
To help you get started, we’ve scoured the web and drawn from our personal experiences to highlight three safari operators with great social initiatives. While they are far from the only companies doing their part to positively impact local communities, they stand out for the scope and scale of what they do on the ground.
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Singita is known for having some of the most luxurious safari lodges in southern and eastern Africa, with properties in enviable locations such as Sabi Sands Game Reserve in South Africa, Grumeti Game Reserve in Tanzania and National Park volcanoes in Rwanda.
At each of the company’s six sites, conservation, wildlife management and community partnerships form an important part of its operations. However, there is one place that is particularly memorable for the work he does: Pamushana Lodge.
Located in Zimbabwe’s Malilangwe Game Reserve, Singita’s Pamushana Lodge spearheads an extensive food program that provides 19,000 local children with nutrient-dense meals every day. The Supplementary Feeding Programme, which was launched in the early 2000s after food shortages across Zimbabwe caused by persistent droughts, focuses on toddlers, young children and school-aged students so that hunger does not hinder their development and education.
One of the details that stuck with me long after my visit to Pamushana was seeing some of the women who had been empowered to run the programs in the 436 feeding points and 11 primary schools. Each leader derived great satisfaction from her work. This passion for helping the community was hard to miss, as every child I encountered was smiling from ear to ear.
Several locations in South Africa, Rwanda and Tanzania also offer Community Culinary Schools, another unique Singita program that focuses on food but in a completely different way.
Through this initiative, Singita offers a professional-level cooking school experience to qualified members of the communities closest to its participating lodges. These are rigorous culinary programs led by professors who could easily work in a cosmopolitan city, as I witnessed during my stay at the Kruger National Park settlement. Everything I tried was delicious and seeing the students beaming with pride at their creations was priceless.
By helping local youth learn to become chefs, Singita not only broadens participants’ horizons, but also enables them to financially support their families. After all, the program helps pave the way for many kitchen jobs at Singita lodges and beyond. In fact, one graduate even performed at the Michelin-starred Blue Hill at Stone Barns in New York City.
Related: Everything you need to know to go on an African safari with renowned expert Marlon du Toit
Known for its conservation-focused programs and ultra-exclusive lodges in East Africa and Botswana, great plains aims to shed light on the connection between people, land and wildlife. The group seeks to do this through a series of projects that it has created and overseen over several decades with the help of its owners, Derek and Beverly Joubert – two figures well known in the safari world and beyond for their National Geographic documentaries that shed light on everything from endangered rhinos to relocating elephants.
Unsurprisingly, the Jouberts excel in conservation efforts, including some unique Great Plains-related projects.
Through Solar Lanterns, an initiative of the Great Plains Foundation, a safe light source is brought to families on the edges of the Okavango Delta in Botswana so that they can safely carry out their daily activities. By offering mason jar-style solar-powered lanterns, which are free, families in the community can rely less on flammable (and expensive) light sources like paraffin lanterns and candles. (Even if you’re not going on safari with Great Plains, you can donate a lantern via this link.)
Another notable Great Plains initiative is its female ranger program in the Okavango Delta and Sapi Game Reserve in Zimbabwe.
Traditionally, most rangers at safari lodges have been male, as they often have more educational opportunities and fewer hurdles to contend with when it comes to career prospects. As a result, there have always been few female guards on game reserves.
To address this issue, Great Plains provides education, resources and skills development opportunities to local Motswanese and Zimbabwean women so they can become forest rangers. Through these roles, participants serve as ambassadors for conservation, leaders in their local communities, and role models for young girls near and far.
Related: How to make sure your safari is ethical
A leader in the premium safari industry that combines authentic experiences with ultra-luxury accommodation and top notch guides, Micato safaris goes far beyond organizing one-of-a-kind African adventures. The tour operator’s programs truly stand out in the African tourism industry.
One that you can learn more about by browsing the company’s website is its One for One Pledge, a program that sends a child to school for every safari booked. The group covers everything from uniforms and books to tuition, so there are no out-of-pocket expenses for student families.
Plus, there’s Micato’s AmericaShare initiative, which began over 35 years ago. He established the Harambee Community Center in the Mukuru slum in Nairobi, Kenya, to provide the community with access to much needed services, such as education, technology, clean water and HIV/AIDS treatment. (Note that Micato can arrange AmericaShare tours if you’re traveling with them via Nairobi.)
From this AmericaShare program was born another equally important initiative: Huru International. Created by AmericaShare co-founder Lorna Macleod, this non-profit organization has a double duty of helping girls go to school by providing sanitary supplies and training unemployed women to make these products. By making it easier to access everything needed during menstruation, young women are more likely to stay in school and learn valuable skills they can apply to future careers.
Since its inception in 2008, Huru International has produced over 1.3 million high quality reusable pads, which have been given to over 175,000 girls across East Africa.
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At the end of the line
Going on safari not only opens a window to the wonders of Africa’s wilderness, but also opens a door to help others through social initiative programs created by local lodges.
Whether you book with one of these tour operators or choose another after doing your own research, you will find that it is possible to have an unforgettable holiday in Africa that will change the lives of others as well as you. By supporting sustainable development initiatives while visiting Africa, you will be doing your part to ensure the prosperity of our planet and its people for generations to come.