Caring for Kids With Special Needs in Kenya

I recently received news from a Kenyan friend, Margaret Njuguna, about her progress starting a home for children with special needs. En-Gedi Children’s Home is in Athi River, a town just outside Nairobi, and will provide both residential and day care.

Poverty and societal prejudices often lead to very poor care for children with disabilities. Some Kenyans believe that it is a curse or bad omen when a child is born with a disability. Because of these prejudices or parents’ work responsibilities, a child with a disability may be kept inside all day and not allowed to play or interact with other children. Others live permanently in public hospitals.

Margaret returned to Kenya earlier this year to start the home, after 30 years of international experience in community development with the non-profit ministry World Renew. She and two other caregivers are caring for two boys who are seven years old, and one who is two years old. One has spina bifida, another has cerebral palsy, and another has a disorder affecting the use of his legs and one hand. By the end of the year, En-Gedi Children’s Home hopes to be caring for 10 children.

Currently, U.S. residents who would like to donate to the home can do so by making a check to Set Free Ministries and clearly indicating “En-Gedi” on the memo line and mailing it to Set Free Ministries, 700 36th S.E.  Suite 108, Grand Rapids, MI 49548.

And if you are planning a safari to Kenya with Ujuzi, I would be happy to add a service visit to En-Gedi Children’s Home. Just let me know you’re interested.

Earth Day is Every Day in Rwanda

One of the first things that many travelers notice upon arriving in Rwanda is the lack of litter. Rwanda is beautiful country, and its citizens strive to keep it that way – not just for special occasions like today’s Earth Day. Littering is frowned upon, and many towns and cities have monthly litter clean-ups that are widely attended and a source of community pride.

Another of the tools that Rwanda uses to protect its environment is a ban on plastic bags. The government implemented the ban in 2008 after studying the effects of disposed bags on the environment. According to the Rwanda Environment Management Authority, people were burning plastic bags along with other trash, releasing dangerous pollutants into the air. Bags were also carried away on the wind. This led to litter; the deaths of livestock and wild animals that mistook them for food; and clogged drainage systems that resulted in flooding and sanitation problems.

The plastic bag ban may have its downsides. Some are concerned that disposable paper bags are being overused and may create their own sustainability problems. But so far the benefits of the plastic bag ban are many. Besides promoting a cleaner environment, the shift away from plastic bags has helped local economies by increasing demand for reusable carriers. Business both large and small benefit from this, with independent weavers manufacturing many of the reusable baskets and bags that are now in demand.

And the natural beauty of the country is unmarred by plastic bags blowing in the wind.

Welcome to South Africa

Photo courtesy of South Africa Tourism.
Photo courtesy of South Africa Tourism.

I’m excited to announce that Ujuzi is now offering safari tours in South Africa.

South Africa is a unique destination for safaris. It’s one of the few places where you can plan a safari that never takes you into a malaria zone. Many of the national parks have paved roads, and visitors have more options for getting around. Self-driven tours are a possibility in addition to the traditional guided tour. On guided tours, it’s common for game vehicles to have open sides for uninterrupted viewing and a greater sense of being one with the landscape.

Springbok near Xaus Lodge, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
Springbok near Xaus Lodge, Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park, Northern Cape. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism

Malaria-free safaris are a wonderful option for individuals who are unable (or don’t want) to take malaria-prevention medications. The two malaria-free safari areas of South Africa are the Garden Route Region along the south coast and Madikwe Game Reserve near the northern border with Botswana. They have the “Big Five” (elephants, rhinos, cape buffalos, lions and leopards), and Madikwe is also famous for its populations of African wild dogs. These areas offer so much great wildlife viewing that you’ll want to include them on your South Africa safari itinerary whether you need to avoid malaria medications or not!

Contact me to start planning your South African safari!

De Wildt Cheetah Farm, Hartebeestpoort, North West Province. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism
De Wildt Cheetah Farm, Hartebeestpoort, North West Province. Photo courtesy of South African Tourism

Tanzania: A Study in Contrasts

A wonderful side benefit of wildlife safaris is the opportunity to experience new cultures. I have learned so much from the people I have encountered in Africa, and have found that understanding the culture has made my travel experiences so much richer.

Take, for example, Tanzania. Over the centuries, a profusion of various native peoples as well as Portuguese, Arabs, Germans, and English have converged here to create a fascinating and vibrant culture. Wisconsin Public Radio recently aired a fascinating interview with historian Emily Callaci about mainland Tanzania and the islands of Zanzibar. I highly recommend it for anyone planning a safari to the area!

Listen here:

“The Finest Trip of My Life”

Bill Starr has jumped out of airplanes. Every year, he goes fishing in Alaska among wild bears. But he says no experience compares to a balloon ride over the Serengeti: “There were animals as far as the eye could see – wildebeest, zebra, ostrich, hyenas. Nothing tops that. I could tell you about that balloon ride until the cows come home, but you really have to see it to believe it.”

Starr, who lives in Billings, Montana, went on an Ujuzi safari to Tanzania with his wife and six friends in February. It was his first trip to Africa, and he’d spent much of the previous year reading about Tanzania and its wildlife to get ready. “But nothing can prepare you for it,” he says. “The trip was beyond my expectations. It’s one thing to look at pictures of animals. It’s another thing to be standing there with them right next to you.”

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In Ngorongoro Conservation Area, a male lion walked right up to his group’s slowly moving vehicle to inspect it. At Tarangire National Park, they came upon a pack of 27 African wild dogs – a sight so unusual that even their guide was over the moon at the encounter.

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While staying at Kikoti Safari Camp, located on a scenic hill outside of Tarangire National Park, the group took a morning hike in the camp’s wilderness reserve. They saw baboons, impala and even a Cape buffalo. A guide carried a spear in case any of the wildlife became hostile, but all of their encounters were peaceful thanks to the guides’ experience in wilderness treks and reading the body language of animals.

Starr’s group also took a night game drive, allowing them to see many animals rarely seen during the day. These included bush babies, tiny nocturnal primates with huge eyes and a baby-like cry; and springhares, rodents that look like a cross between a kangaroo and a rabbit but are not directly related to either.

Staying at a mobile tented camp called Zebra Camp was an integral part of what made the safari so memorable, says Starr. The camp moves with the wildebeest migration, and Starr’s group spent three nights there while visiting the Ngorongoro Conservation Area and Serengeti. “The Zebra Camp was outstanding. There is nothing that can top living next to the Serengeti in a tent, and the service was excellent.”

Even though the camp moves frequently, it was incredibly comfortable – with real beds, showers with hot water, chemical toilets that were cleaned out daily, and electricity from a generator. Even though it was in the middle of the wilderness, the service and incredible food were on par with with a luxury hotel’s. “We had a fantastic chef,” he says, recalling the sculptures that the kitchen staff would carve out of the melons they served at breakfast.

Starr says he would recommend Ujuzi “to anyone planning a safari to Tanzania. It was the finest trip of my life. We saw every animal that we desired up close and personal. And our guides, Modi and Amini, were excellent. We felt like they were family by the end of the safari. ”

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Thank you to Bill’s friend John Traeger for allowing us to share some of his photos from the trip!

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