Since the 1990s, white-water rafting operators Swazi Trails, the whl.travel local connection in Swaziland, have voluntarily set aside a small amount of money for each person who joined one of their trips. Then, on 25 November 2009, in the spirit of responsible tourism, they contributed the latest amassed total of 80,880 South African rand (approximately US$11,000) to the impoverished rural riverbank community of Mphaphati located in central Swaziland. The Swazi Trails donation will finance the construction of houses for teachers who work at the Mphaphati Primary School.
“We have a very long relationship with this particular community,” explained Darron Raw, Managing Director of Swazi Trails, “as not only do we pass through this area on a daily basis with our rafting groups, but all of our river guides are drawn from families and homesteads within the Mphaphati area.”
This is not the first time Swazi Trails has provided support to the Mphaphati community. Two previous donations totalling 45,000 South African rand were also earmarked for the school to build an office and buy text books. In addition, through the annual Swazi Xtreme Adventure Race organised by Swazi Trails, a donation of food for a year for the school’s pupils was made courtesy of a sponsorship from South African company Tiger Brands as part of their Unite Against Hunger initiative.
“It’s great to see small companies really spreading the benefits of tourism,” commented Jennifer Aston, whl.travel Director for Africa. “Swazi Trails’ generous donation is by no means their only initiative; their dedication to consistently doing tourism the ‘right’ way epitomises everything that whl.travel stands for and we are incredibly proud to have them as contributing members of our network.”
Supporting Educational Opportunity
Mphaphati is an agricultural community of over 100 homesteads whose residents rely heavily on remittances from family members working in the distant agricultural estates and cities of Swaziland. Like many subsistence communities in Africa, though, the people of Mphaphati strive to create new opportunities for their children. A solid education is fundamental to this.
“There are hundreds of homesteads in this community with many differing needs, some exceedingly desperate,” continued Raw, “however the one thing that cuts across all of them is the need for quality education for their kids.”
“The school is the one place that joins our whole community, as children from almost every homestead pass through here,” commented Head Teacher Mrs Busi Lukhele. That is why Swazi Trails has been such an enthusiastic supporter of this particular primary school, situated almost within earshot of the thundering Holomi Falls.
“Our entire contingent of rafting guides come from Mphaphati,” said Raw, recalling how Swazi Trails’ first trips date back to a time when the company’s current guides were themselves barefoot schoolchildren perhaps wondering what the future would bring. “No doubt their own kids are going to be attending the same school over the next few years. Possibly they will aspire to be adventure guides as well – and keep it in the family!”
Mphaphati Primary School is a government institution with approximately 250 pupils. A good portion of the school’s operating costs are, however, borne by the parents of school-going children, including finding accommodation suitable for attracting quality teachers. A new Constitutional amendment guaranteeing free primary school education is set to see practical application roll out starting in 2010. But until then communities continue to seek all the support they can, which is why Swazi Trails directed its donation to the local primary school.
“We cannot divorce ourselves from the hardships that people undergo to eke out an existence in these rural areas,” concluded Raw. “Nor are we able to change a situation that the might of governments and global activism is clearly struggling to reverse. But inertia is not something that adventure operators are comfortable with, so we are glad that we and our crazy clients can play a small part.”
Len Cordiner, CEO of the WHL Group, agreed: “I am very impressed with the work Swazi Trails is doing to help the Mphaphati community in Swaziland. It is emblematic of the type of positive impact tourism can have for local communities when there are long established and strong local bonds between the tourism operators and the communities in which they work. Swazi Trails are a great example of the type of local partner we in the WHL Group are proud to be working with.”
In simpler and more poignant terms, “We are grateful for the help that Swazi Trails and their tourists have brought. Otherwise there is no one else that can assist us,” said Mrs Busi Lukhele.
Swazi Trails is the local connection in Swaziland for whl.travel (part of the WHL Group). They have operated white-water rafting trips on the Great Usutu River since 1991. The company offers half and full-day rafting excursions departing from the kingdom’s tourism hub in the Ezulwini Valley, as well as other adventure activities such as quad trails, adventure caving, mountain biking, hiking, teambuilding, wildlife safaris and guided cultural tours.