Our last morning at Singita Pamushana was a memorable one – Shepard, one of the Singita staff members, joined us for breakfast and explained both the history and present-day sentiments of the Zimbabwean people. Just like South Africa, Zimbabwe has had very recent turmoil, and, while the situation is not as bad as it was in the past, there will always be struggles with Mugabe remaining in power. It’s as though the country is waiting on pins and needles until his passing to see what might happen next. We’ve spoken with several members of the Singita staff about their history, and the same thing stood out here as in South Africa: the positive attitudes. Somehow, even through very fresh tragedies, the people in these countries overlook the negative. It’s as though it doesn’t even occur to them to house bitterness, a gut instinct for most cultures. Shepard explained the corruption of the government and response of the people before taking us to a nearby community to see the impact that tourism has had.
Every day, Singita properties feed over 20,000 children. They are a living, breathing example of the positive impact that the tourism industry can have on a struggling culture. The staff told us early on that we would be able to go into the community before we left – my stomach was in as many knots as it was with shark diving during this morning’s drive over. I tried to mentally prepare myself for what we were about to experience, to imagine the kind of emotion that comes from leaving the comfort of luxury and entering into a world of reality. So often I turn a blind eye to the needs of others right in front of me – who wants their heart to be broken by something so extreme? I could only remain in my own apathy for so long – there is absolutely no way to look past poverty this significant. It was truly a life changing experience for me, but so incredible to see the positive impact that Singita has had on the community.
At first, I felt like such an intruder, especially during the first part of the community visit: feeding time for the younger children and toddlers. I watched timidly as most of my group flocked to the children with natural instincts. I honestly don’t have these kinds of instincts, even outside of the situation, so my hesitation grew even stronger. I decided to photograph the experience instead, especially in watching the interaction from my fellow agents. Ansley, who’s past trips to Africa has prepared her for this, was absolutely incredible with the children. She came right in, without hesitation, and played soccer, helped serve porridge, and loved on the children.
Our next stop was the school, where we stopped by classrooms for grades 1-8. The children greeted us, read sentences in English, and presented a dance. It was touching – they were so happy to have visitors and to interact; they were not quite as shy as the younger ones. My favorite moment came when they saw me taking a photo – in the first grader’s class, one little girl pointed to the camera to see what I was doing. When I showed her the picture of herself, she smiled so wide – many of these children have not even seen themselves before. There were no mirrors anywhere in the community. More and more children added themselves to the group to be photographed, turning the picture from a small group to nearly half the class.
I was really, truly touched by the entire experience, which had to be cut a little short since we were late for our flight. Singita Pamushana outdid themselves in giving us a true experience of Zimbabwe – from the culture to the history to the benefit of tourism overall. Thank you to everyone who made this experience happen, we are all so grateful.