Malawi-based The Responsible Safari Company (TRSC) just got even more responsible. A partnership with the United Nations Millennium Villages Project (MVP) in the country’s southern Zomba District has created a unique ecotourism program that lets visitors experience firsthand how the UN’s Millennium Development Goals (MDG) are being implemented in a rural community setting in Africa.
This new collaboration reinforces TRSC’s strong ethical values and reaffirms its belief in sustainable travel and ecotourism as important supports for local socio-economic development. The MVP is also a valuable addition to TRSC’s growing portfolio of hands-on volunteer-placement opportunities and responsible initiatives in Malawi and Zambia, which so far include teaching in rural schools, village homestays and volunteering at a medical clinic or orphanage.
What are the Millennium Development Goals?
This UN initiative began in 2000, when world leaders at the UN Millennium Summit adopted a UN Millennium Declaration to “develop a concrete action plan for the world to achieve the MDG and to reverse the grinding poverty, hunger and disease affecting billions of people.” There are eight development goals, which seek to tackle the world’s most pressing development challenges, from eradicating poverty, hunger and disease to ensuring environmental sustainability. These goals have a deadline of 2015 and the clock is ticking…
What is the Millennium Villages Project?
The Millennium Villages Project came into existence with an understanding that the communities living in extreme poverty in Africa are unable to make the investments in human capital and infrastructure required to reach MDG targets. It offers a bold, innovative model for helping rural African communities lift themselves out of extreme poverty and have a chance of achieving the MDG by 2015.
The main Millennium Village Project site for Malawi is the Mwandama cluster in the Zomba District, in the south of the country. Mwandama is located in the only region in the world that has seen both a rise in temperature and a drop in rainfall in recent years. These changes have led to recurrent famines, the result of which is nearly 90% of people in the Mwandama Millennium Village cluster live in extreme poverty. In addition, largely privately owned tobacco plantations surround the area, which has had a significant impact on the development of the communities. Plantation owners restrict the use of roads to the villages and the easy availability of work on the plantations gives families an excuse to keep their children out of school. The whole community-development approach of the MVP therefore suited the needs of Mwandama, where, in 2005, the project began to improve living conditions for the population of 35,000 villagers.
Experience Life in a Millennium Village
Visitors to Mwandama MVP can spend a half or full day with the community. On arrival, guests are greeted by a guide from the community-run ‘ecotourism’ committee. The next few hours are then spent seeing and learning about different development initiatives designed to address the main areas covered in the MDG: education, healthcare, agriculture and infrastructure. The guide explains the challenges the community faces, the programs that have been implemented and the effects they have had. By visiting different villages and speaking with community members, guests discover the huge improvements to life in Mwandama, but also gain an understanding of the residents’ uncertainties about what will happen once the UN leaves.
Making Sustainability a Priority
The Mwandama ecotourism committee consists of 10 community members, of which six are men and four are women, all overseen by a representative from the UN. The Responsible Safari Company contributes all money generated by the half- and full-day visits to an MVP community ecotourism fund.
Kate Ward, joint owner and manager of The Responsible Safari Company, believes that village visits are an enlightening and invaluable experience for international visitors keen to observe a large community-development initiative in action. “We are proud to have worked hand in hand with United Nations community link coordinators to ensure this model of ecotourism is sustainable,” says Ward.
It is actions like these that make the MDG in Africa seem increasingly achievable.