It Takes a Village – Abelana and the Children of Mashishimale

There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about
~ Margaret J. Wheatley, Author

From the moment we founded Abelana Game Reserve in 2019, we’ve aimed to partner with the growing community of Mashishimale, our vibrant neighbouring town. It’s always been our intention to build strong, positive and mutually beneficial relationships, connections with far-reaching impact.

Abelana CEO, Ian Beauchamp, says, “As disappointed as we were that the COVID pandemic put the brakes on some of our more extensive community plans, such as building an educational centre, we couldn’t let it stop us in our commitment to these children. It’s a bit like running software in the cloud, without the hardware on the ground – we aren’t going to let the pandemic stop us from doing the good work that we’d planned from the start.

What we’ve seen is that the biggest strides we’ve gained were not made by merely giving to the community, but by empowering them to achieve their own greatest potential, through discovering and nurturing their own incredible strength and capability. Many of our community members and their families have made Abelana their “home”, securing employment in various roles at our lodges.

But we have to admit – without shame, mind you – that there’s one category of the community that we’ve come to love the most… and that is, undeniably, the children and youth of Mashishimale.

An Enlightening Day at Abelana Game Reserve

During the long (bizarre and boring) months of hard lockdown in 2020, we passed some of our time by creating an exciting tourism and conservation education program targeted at local children from the Mashishimale schools. As COVID restrictions have now relaxed, we can finally bring this dream to life – and what a journey it has been!

The program is surprisingly simple to execute and fun for everyone. A group of 8 children and their teacher are collected directly from their school in the town, and are welcomed to Abelana Game Reserve as if they were guests. They’re transferred by a game viewing vehicle to Abelana River Lodge, where they’re made to feel at home with snacks and chilled beverages on the decks overlooking the Selati River.

Because these children already show an eager interest in the hotel industry, they’re given an insightful talk on the operations and layout of the lodge. We chat with the children about all the roles that make up the guest experience, from check-in to housekeeping and service. We also tell them about our own vision, and what the word Abelana and company logo means: the act of sharing, hand-to-hand – experiences, memories and values.

The children are transferred to a classroom across the river, where we present a collection of animal skulls. Here, we shed light on the richness of our reserve – an entire ecosystem of animals and wilderness, birds and insects, amphibians and, of course, the mopane worms that blanket our trees during summer months… It’s our hope to instill into these hungry young minds a delight and reverence for Africa and a willingness to do what’s right to protect it.

Following a light, delicious lunch, we pile the children and their teacher into a game viewing vehicle for a lengthy afternoon game drive. It’s the cherry on top of their day, where they really get to see the world through fresh eyes, encountering wild game and beautiful vistas with renewed respect.

How Education Changes the Poaching Narrative

Part of our work with the children is to teach them about the tragic impact of poaching. Many children are intrigued, and genuinely concerned, about the poaching of animals, but few fully understand the bigger picture when they arrive at our gates.

Assistant lodge manager, Natalie, shares her recent interaction with a young student: “One young boy asked me why the poaching of rhinos is so serious. I pointed out that establishments like Abelana support a lot of local suppliers, many from their own community, their own families. I explained that most of our guests are likely from overseas and this type of guest takes an African safari to see the Big 5. So if we have no more rhino, elephant, lion, leopard, buffalo… we won’t get guests. Without guests, there’s no income, no business, and no support for the local suppliers. At the end of the day, it’s entire families who bear the brunt of poaching – a ripple effect. The student was astonished and said he’d had no idea of how connected we all are.

By teaching these children – eight at a time – we help the entire community to draw the connection between animals and tourism and their own families. We see a glimmer of hope for our endangered animal populations, the future of our own lodge, and the extended community as a whole.

We’ve been truly enchanted and surprised by the enthusiasm and sincerity of every child, and genuinely can’t wait to welcome each new group of children as they embark on this adventure with us… It’s even possible that they are, in fact, our favourite guests!

If you’d like to find out more about our educational program, or other ways that we partner with our neighbors at Mashishimale, please get in touch with us at 061 952 4302 / info@abelanagamereserve.com.

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