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Mayuni Conservancy Namibia – And a way to build up some good karma!

Mayuni Conservancy - Some "good karma"-building

A blog about our adventures ánd a conservancy project!

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After our beautiful wildlife trip in the Okavango (read about it here), we went for a cultural experience. From Maun, we traveled the long distance to the deserted area of the Tsodilo hills. An area also known as the Mountain of the Gods. We drove up around sunset and we could feel why this area is and has been a sacred area for many different cultures over thousands of years. The mountains arise out of nowhere in an else-wise flat and dry country. In these mountains, there are about 4500 different rock art paintings of which many are over 3000 years old!!

Sun was setting behind the Mountain of the Gods when we arrived. Beautiful!

We arrived at the campsite where we met Craig, a South-African bloke who had been travelling on his own for a while. He and we were happy with the company. We enjoyed a beautiful chatty, star-gazing night together and the next morning we woke up early to hike the hills in the cool of the dawn. We were guided by two local men, Tshebe and Phetolo, who told us everything about the paintings and the area. Besides visiting the paintings, we also did some rock climbing and caving. Okay, I might make it sound a little bigger than it was, but it was very nice for a change to do some active things instead of sitting in a car the whole day! During the hike, and in one of the caves they showed marks in the rocks. These marks in the shape of holes, were made by the many, many tools that were sharpened so long ago. It was very weird and at the same time impressive to see something so touchable and real like the paintings and these marks, and then realize it was made thousands of years ago by people so alike and yet so different from us. Nowadays, however, they still use the holes in the rocks, only not for tool sharpening, but for a game! It’s called Diketo, and works like this: you repeatedly throw a rock up in the air, and while the rock is in the air, you scoop several smaller rocks out of the hole, after which you try and put them back in one by one. Phetolo showed us and made it sound and look very, very easy. But this hand-eye coordination is a lot harder than you might imagine! Lars and Craig both tried, but were failing miserably, throwing rocks in all directions except into the hole! It was kind of dangerous! And I guess, after that, I was afraid to even try. Plus, I might have been a bit more interested in exploring the cave (even though we were told there might be snakes…). By the time we finally got back from our supposed-to-be-2-hour-walk, it was very hot and we took a refreshing shower before we hit the road. As Craig planned to go in the same general direction, we convinced him to join us to the campsite we booked. What we didn’t know was that it was only for 4x4 cars…

When we arrived at the gate, the guy told us we still had to drive about 13 km on a road with a lot of soft sand. And looking at Craig’s car All-Wheel Drive Sabaru, the guy said he probably wouldn’t make it. I suggested he could pack his gear in our car, but with an uncanny amount of faith in his car, Craig said the car could do it! It was sort of a 4x4 after all! The gate guy looked at us sceptically, but let us in anyway... All right, we figured to just give it a try then! And it worked!!! His car kept going, even at the parts I really thought he wouldn’t manage.  But then, about halfway to the campsite we had to drive uphill in deep sand, and the clearance of Craig’s car simply wasn’t high enough. So instead of reaching the top of the hill, he ended up on top of the sand just before the top, without any grip with his wheels whatsoever. As this was the third car (and the fifth time) we had to dig out someone else’s car, we were, what you would call, experts. We knew the problem was the clearance and that we had to remove the sand under the car. We knew we had to get some sticks to put under the wheels for some grip. And we knew that if we would push hard enough, while he kept hitting the gas, we would probably be able to get it out. Of course, Craig didn’t know all this, so he was in a bit of a worry, walking around his car frantically, while we were digging the sand from under his car. Then we told him to hit the gas while we pushed. At first, he hit the gas, stopped and hit it again. If you let go of the gas, you just roll back in the hole. We started shouting loudly at him to keep it going and very slowly we pushed the car out and on to the side of the road. As we were only halfway there, we decided to get his gear and leave the car behind. You should know that all of this happened while we were within a game area, were wildlife roams freely. I was explaining to Craig that our experience is that after a shitty ride (or a stuck car) something good is bound to happen here in Africa, especially in game areas. And not even a minute later we almost drove into a pack of wild dogs! And this is a very, very rare sighting, especially as this was a group of about four adults with nine pups! And there they were, right in front of us on the road. The pups were fighting over a kill that had just been brought over by one of the adults! Beautiful! And there is so much interaction amongst wild dogs, we saw one adult arrive and the pups went running towards her and just jumped on top so she rolled over by the force of the pups. After that, she gave them the kill and they ran off and five of them started pulling it in different directions. Lars and I were so happy and excited! At first, Craig was still with his head in worry mode for his car, but he got dragged in by the wild dog’s behaviour and our enthusiasm. And only after we arrived at camp and the staff told us how few wild dogs they saw, and how envious they were, he finally realized how rare this sighting was (even though we had told him). And it hit him (and us) how much luck we had that his car got stuck; we might have missed them if we would’ve been able to continue!

By the time we did arrive at the campsite, it was already dark, but we were lucky enough that the manager had not given our spot away. Again, we had the best spot of the whole campsite right on the edge, next to the river, and some other people kept on insisting they wanted to move there! I don’t know why we are so lucky with these things, but I am really happy we are. We went to put up the tent when Craig finally realized he had forgotten to take the box with his tent in it! It was so funny, and luckily the managers saw the humor as well when we walked back over to the lodge and he booked one of the luxury tents there. After that, we just got a beer at the boma (fireplace) and called it a day. The next morning, we went on a game drive with a local game ranger named Justus who had been working in the conservancy area since 1992. Besides the regular impala, lechwe and hippo, there was not a lot of game that morning, but we almost found lions! And even more important, Justus told us everything about the area. Which was one of the reasons we wanted to visit Nambwa and the Mayuni Conservancy in the first place. We wanted to know more about how this conservancy was set up, and the fact that, in part of it, hunting is allowed.

 

Our beautiful campsite with a deck looking out the river. We heard the hippo's and saw some lechwe's right across from us!

This is what we learned. First, let me just say it is a very successful cooperation between community and lodge owners with the aim of conserving nature so they can benefit from tourism. We had not realized this before we visited, so that was a very interesting finding. Mayuni conservancy was the third community conservancy set up in this region, after Salambala conservancy in the East and Wuparo conservancy in the South. It was started by IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation), an NGO which works in Namibia and has pioneered one of Africa’s leading models of community-based natural resource management. This is apparent from the successes of the conservancies we have seen in the Caprivi strip region (now called Zambezi-region). Hopefully we will be able to meet with someone from this organization, as we haven’t been able to get in touch yet, but we will try visit their office in the coming month 😊.

Anyway, back to the Mayuni conservancy, the area where we saw the wild dogs (yaay!). When IRDNC came in, people were skeptical and suspicious of these people and their plans. However, four volunteers started with demarcating the conservancy area, thereby patrolling the border sort of as anti-poachers. However, in the beginning, they did not have any ammunition besides their hands. Locals just laughed at them. But over time, they received ammunition and even a vehicle and the community came to respect them. In the meantime, a meeting was organized, one with food and beers to make it attractive. And a lot of people showed up and the community came to understand what the conservancy would be all about. For example, if someone has a good well-substantiated idea to start a project, e.g. farming or small craft business or whatever, they can ask money from the conservancy. But they can also ask money for a guiding education, where the conservancy will see it as a way of investing in them. So, the money from the conservancy is coming back into the community. Take for example the campsite we were staying at, Nwambwa. This is a community owned campsite of which the profits all went to the community. Three years ago it was expanded with a lodge, which is partly owned by the community and partly by a British-Namibian investor. But besides the managers and a few game rangers, the rest of the employers are from the community.

Then another part of this conservancy is used for professional hunting. However, oppositely to how they do it around Kafue NP (read it in this blog), here they hunt sustainably. Hunters are not allowed to go without a guide and they can only kill old males; old elephant bulls, kudu’s or old hippo’s. If you ‘accidently’ shoot a female, you’ll have to pay a fine. And if you kill two instead of one animal, you must pay double the amount. And the beautiful thing here is that the conservancies in this area work together: at the end of the year each area does an animal count and if it turns out that for example no elephants are in one area, they will refer to the neighbor. Smart!

Justus, who worked for the hunting company in this area for a few years, told us that he thinks in this region they will probably stop hunting within two years, even though they earn money from it. He says enough money will come in from ‘plain’ tourism just like in Botswana. The main reason however, is that if they continue, they will enter a difficult relationship with their neighbors. In Botswana, hunting is not allowed and without fences separating Namibia and Botswana, the Namibian people are killing the animals that wander across the border. And for Botswana this feels like they are killing ‘their animals’, which makes sense. Furthermore, Justus mentioned that lodges are not the only thing that can provide money or the community. The area also needs for example a fresh vegetable garden, a restaurant, a shopping center and even a bakery. So, there will be enough jobs coming around when tourism picks up! And to show that this model has worked, I can quote Justus: ‘People from the village let lechwe and impala walk in their house and don’t see them as meat, but as a way to earn money from tourism.’ And that is a very good way to preserve nature!!

- Kellie -

Posted by bylifeconnected in Blog, Projects, 4 comments

Simalaha Community Conservancy

Simalaha Community Conservation - Mwandi

A Project with Climate Change problems and Third World issues

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Now this was a different experience from what we have ever been in. In the Philippines we have encountered the importance of certain traditions and official ways to do things. But I have never felt this nervous for a simple meeting than what I felt in Mwandi! But I guess this is only natural, as we set out to meet at the Royal palace with the royal family of Barotseland. Apparently, it is kind of like meeting with our Dutch king, King Willem-Alexander, and then with a lot of rules. For instance, I had to wear a chitenge, which is basically a sarong. And our shoulders had to be covered. Some kids that lived around the palace took us inside, one was holding my hand. We walked over to a lady sitting there, and the kids all kneeled before her. The kid who was holding my hand started pulling me down. Apparently, we had to kneel! Then the woman told us to sit down and face towards the building. A man came out and after we explained what we were doing here, he told us what to do when we would enter the Mwandi Bre Kuta (the building); before the entrance, kneel and clap your hands, then go in and do the same thing before you sit on your chair. Luckily, we had a wonderful guy with us, Mike Mwenda, honorable councillor for Mwandi ward. I’m pretty sure he is the youngest councillor in Zambia with his 23 years, and he is very passionate about his community and all the people in it.

The wildebeest that have been re-introduced to the Simalaha Conservancy area.

Anyway, we entered the building, feeling quite uncomfortable doing all these rituals. Five old men were watching us, lined up against the wall, and we were seated opposite them. These men are called Induna and are part of the Barotse Royal Establishment. Mike was with us to translate and we were bombarded with questions. As we went here with the idea that we would be the ones asking the questions, this was a bit of an adjustment! But we realized they were trying to find out if we could be of any help to them. You see, we went to visit this area because this is a one-of-kind Community Conservation project in Zambia where the initiators of the conservation are the actual people of the community. The King and one of the induna we spoke to, were the ones who had set up the Simalaha Conservancy with the help of Peace Parks and Kaza. They are now five years into the project and are ready to take on tourism, but there is no lodge yet. They wanted to know if we were interested in setting up a lodge! Wauw.. that was something to consider...

But first we laid out our plan to them and we wanted to know more about the conservancy. The manager of the conservancy was called and we could meet with him the following afternoon. In the meantime, councillor Mike showed us around. We visited Sikuzu Village, the village directly on the border of the conservancy, and its community school. This school was only set up a few years ago and still had several issues, especially concerning water. There was no water and due to climate change, several of the wells in the vicinity were dried up. The kids have to walk for 2 km’s to haul water! And then you have us, we just take all of this for granted in the Western world…. A similar problem had occurred with a garden community project. A very successful garden was planted and maintained by the community; they even gave free vegetables and money to the very poor. However, the pump next to the garden broke down/dried up a few months ago and hauling water from the river for this many plants is impossible. We saw that all the vegetables were drying out and only a few red tomatoes were left on the plants. So even though we had expected an area that had it all figured out, the major issues of Third World African countries remain. And as we found out here, climate change is increasing these problems. We can safely assume these problems will become even worse over time!

After this sad story, Mike took us to the Mabale fishing camp where his father and family live during the dry season. This is right on the edge of the conservancy. He told us there are still people living inside the conservancy where they fish and have cattle. We saw these cattle mix with the wildlife! At the fishing camp we met his father and family, and he showed the simple, one-year houses from grass where they live in. On the way back we squeezed in three young woman with their baby’s in our car, so they didn’t have to walk to the village (took us 15 minutes by car, can you imagine how long by foot!). And once we were back we were told we could camp at the lodge next to the Royal palace. Only later did we realize we were staying in the backyard of the prince!!! The next day we were to have another meeting at two ‘o clock, I’m already feeling anxious around one, imagining a similar meeting to the day before. Only this time without our translator!? But surprisingly enough they were an hour early. While we were having lunch, we saw one of the induna, the elderly one who helped set up the conservancy, walk up to us together with the manager! That was a bit awkward, but then they went and waited for us at the deck. Here we finally realized that the guy who was walking around the terrain in kind of shabby clothes, was actually the prince... Holy shit, that was weird, as we just assumed it was one of the guys maintaining the terrain. Nevertheless, this meeting was a lot more casual and we were able to get answers to our many questions. The prince was very helpful and the manager had some guys come over so they could take us into the conservancy after the meeting. During this meeting, they seemed to realize we were not the ones to set up a lodge as we had come to Africa with other intentions. This had been our conclusion as well, especially as we feel that this Simalaha project is already heading in the right direction in both community development and nature conservation. With the guidance of the king of Barotse and the help of the Peace Parks, there is enough people invested in this area to make it successful. However, if you know anyone, or are that person that wants to set up a lodge in Africa, here is your chance!!

The guys that showed us around in the conservancy after the meeting, pointed out the places they have reserved for a lodge, and they are pretty amazing! And so is the vision of the conservancy. There is a large floodplain that will have a very high carrying capacity for grazers and a lot of mopane forest for browsers. They are in the process of restocking with zebras, impalas, wildebeest and giraffes, coming from Botswana and Namibia and even Kafue NP. At the moment, the area is still fenced, but in the future, it will become a crossing area for wildlife between Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Angola. A initiative called Kaza that has the aim of connecting the different wildlife areas in these countries, thereby becoming the largest wildlife area in Africa (read more about it here).

As Simalaha is right on the border, between Chobe NP and Kafue NP it is the crossing they need. Plus it is actually a good place for tourism because it is located along the Zambesi river. Going in the north-western direction there is the beautiful Ngonye falls we have visited. And in the south-eastern direction there is Victoria falls. However, if they ever want tourism to develop, one of the things they will have to improve is the road to Livingstone (Victoria falls). We have never in our lives seen such a bad road. A trip that should take about one and a half hour now took four! The road has more potholes than road! But that didn’t take anything from the impressive experience we had in Simalaha and we are happy to have visited this inspiring place.  Read more about it here...

Posted by bylifeconnected in Geen categorie, Projects, 2 comments

Vision Zambia

Vision Zambia

Support of several projects in the Linda Open Community

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Vision Zambia is an NGO that supports three projects in Zambia: Linda Open Community School, Light of Hope Health Care Centre and Mother of Mercy Hospice. In combining these projects Vision Zambia focuses on improving the empowerment of woman, the physical well-being (through health care, clean drinking water and sports) and education of people living in the Linda community (about 50.000 people), located within the Lusaka region (location). We met with Sue and Jeff, two of the visionaries behind this beautiful charity. They are wonderful people and were very happy to help us. An absolute inspiration to us!

Linda Open Community School

We had a warm welcome at Linda Open Community School. Leah, the secretary of the school, awaited us and showed where we could find the Head Teachers office. Doreen, the Head Teacher, welcomed us and we could immediately feel that this was a confident and strong woman that has that natural aura of authority, which any Head Teacher should have. We had a good talk about what the school’s relationship is with Vision Zambia, what encompasses her vision for the school, what changes she implemented at the school and what impact this has had on the children. After the meeting we had the privilege to be shown around the school yard by Doreen. With pride she showed us the well-designed courtyard with a corner “just for reading”, the vegetable garden and some of the buildings that either function as classroom, laboratory or computer lab. Now and then she stopped with the tour and addressed one of the students to pick up some litter from the ground. She then told us that the specific mindset she wants the children to have, takes time and is a continuous effort. It was refreshing for us to see a woman in Africa with a long term vision, instead of having to focus on the short term struggle for survival that is so common in Africa. Money and opportunities, via the aid of Vision Zambia, can do that if given to the right person. This gives us the confidence that our plans for the future are definitely possible and excites us for what is still to come.

With Linda Open Community School, Vision Zambia supports about 1600 children in Linda Community. When Vision Zambia began working with the community the standard of education at the school lagged well behind government schools. There were not enough classrooms, no running water, toilets or electricity and the teachers did not receive wages.

One of the kids found a cool spot in the shade to study.

With assigning the current headteacher, Doreen, to the school things started to change dramatically. During our visit at the school, we could see and feel it had become a school with a vision. Doreen emphasized that you have to involve everyone, from the children, to the parents, to the teachers, in your vision until they all share it. And then you become a success. She and the other teachers want the school to be a center for educational excellence in its own right. And they are well on their way of achieving this as there are ablution blocks, clean drinking water, 4 extra classrooms have been built, computers and desks have been supplied, teachers receive wages and, above all, students enter examinations. As Doreen stated: ‘this school now meets university standards’.

Light of Hope Health Care Center

The sign above the little building John uses as his Health Care Centre in the middle of the Linda Community.

The story of John Shawa is inspirational. He felt the urge to help his community out and made it his life goal of providing his neighbours in Linda with a health care centre, which was lacking at that time. Now the Light of Hope Health Care Centre provides the most vulnerable and poor in the community with basic health care and food supplements from, for example, Moringa trees which he grows in his backyard. In addition, he looks after the Light of Hope Football Association where boys and girls can channel their energies positively, instead of falling prey to drugs, criminality and alcohol or become isolated because of AIDS/HIV.

After meeting with John at the Light of Hope Health Care Centre we really admire that he can do so much for the community with the limited resources he has. The health care centre consists of one building and lacks most of the facilities that hospitals have. During our visit, he showed us that there is always a way to help the community out. For example, he helped in building an ambulance (a bicycle with a kart behind it) for the sick that are unable to get to the health care centre. Currently, he is also in the process of building a lodge next to the health care centre. He showed us around and told us that 30% of the profits will go back to Light of Hope to improve the quality and reach of his health care. True dedication.

Here John shows us his Moringa trees. He himself also uses it as supplements to his food.

It was inspiring for us to witness that everything related to physical health (health care, nutritional support and exercise) can be managed from one organization. This is a clever way of keeping updated on the health of the community, which is essential in combating, alleviating and preventing HIV/AIDS and other sicknesses in Linda.

Mother of Mercy Hospice

The entrance to the Mother of Mercy Hospice. A Hospice set up by a Dutch woman a very long time ago in support of aids and HIV patients.

At the Mother of Mercy Hospice we witnessed, for the first time, what HIV/AIDS does with a human-being. Undernourished women and men were lying in bed, probably also affected by other sicknesses like TBC or pneumonia. The Mother of Mercy Hospice offers these patients free palliative care in the form of medicines, a healthy diet and some well-deserved TLC. Locally, there are only a few alternatives, so the hospice fills an important void for men, woman and children that can’t afford health care.

The Mother of Mercy is a hospice because it is not recognized by the Zambian government as hospital. As a hospice it doesn’t receive funding from the government and therefore it is dependent on funding from Vision Zambia and other organizations to function.

Donate

Are you as inspired as us about these projects? Do you want to help? Find the donate button via VisionZambia website (click here). Or contact us if you want to give some money to one of the projects specifically.

Posted by bylifeconnected in Projects, 1 comment