“There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.”
That quote by Nelson Mandela greeted me upon entering my villa at Singita Lebombo. Written on the back of a notecard that had been addressed by Alison Higgins Street, the wonderful rep who escorted my group on our last trip to Singita Pamushana, the words could not have been more appropriate.
While the animal viewing, accommodations, and service (we’re talking service that takes note of what side of the bed you sleep on and intentionally leaves that light on on at turndown) are spectacular at Singita, the most memorable element of these reserves, in my opinion, is the heart behind them. I had written about this on my last trip to Pamushana, but each Singita property has a unique altruistic mission that contributes to the surrounding community. Here at Lebombo & Sweny, the reserve has the Singita School of Cooking, which we were fortunate enough to learn about and experience firsthand.
The Singita School of Cooking is an incredible concept that takes the idea of “teaching a man to fish” instead of “giving a man a fish” to the next level. The school chooses 9-10 students from the surrounding village to participate in 18-months of courses, where they are taught invaluable skills that prepare them to successfully earn employment in the local hotel kitchens. While learning, the students prepare meals for the 120+ members of the Singita Lebombo & Sweny staff. Upon graduating, most of the students come to the Singita properties – I can only imagine what a life-changing transformation it would be to enter a cooking school unemployed and to end up in a Relais & Chateaux kitchen.
Completing the school gives each student a gift that will last a lifetime, not to mention a skill-set that lifts their entire family and community exponentially. Skilled kitchen staff and chefs receive a higher salary and, in turn, the students are able to provide a higher income for their family, which leads to better educational opportunities and a greater wellbeing overall.
Upon our arrival to the Singita School of Cooking, we were greeted by the head chef, Louis, who gave us a tour and told us more about the mission. If any man were fit for the job of not only training these students, but pouring out both passion and compassion into them, it was Louis. From the few minutes we spent with him, his love was beyond evident. At one point, my mother turned to me and said, “You can see his heart through his eyes” – it was absolutely, stunningly true.
As he explained Singita’s dedication to three missions – community, conservation, and tourism – Louis pointed out the reason that each of the aspects rely so heavily on one another. “It’s like a triangle,” he said, “to conserve the land is to conserve a resource, if everyone is not benefitting from the resource then not everyone will protect it. You can’t have one without the other, which is why we as a company are dedicated to all three aspects equally.” Since Singita began implementing their community projects, they have seen an incredible change of heart in the surrounding areas – the local people genuinely appreciate the opportunity that the company is bringing to each community.
The program, which has been running for 6 years now, really hit home with my family. As a business owner, my father has recently found his passion and is in the process of growing the nonprofit organization that he founded, Changing Oil Changing Lives.
So many of us are given so much that success is no longer defined by what has been received, it’s measured in how much of ourselves we give back to this world. Singita is far more than just a luxury hotel; there is a pulsating heart that can be felt, seen, and heard far beyond the confines of the property.
“Travel is often misconstrued for escapism, but that is not right, or rather it is only half right,” says Eric Weiner in Man Seeks God. “We fling ourselves halfway around the globe not to fall apart but to come together, to create new patterns of meaningfulness.”
Africa has a way of shaping and refining one’s character, shedding light on those new patterns of meaningfulness. Traveling here is more than a trip, it’s a journey; and returning to Africa is not only to find the ways in which you yourself have altered, but to find the ways in which you can continue to grow.