In the spirit of responsible tourism, white-water rafting operators, Swazi Trails have provided a sum of over ZAR 80,000.00 (approx. US$11,000.00) to a rural riverbank community in central Swaziland.
Mphaphati is a impoverished community of over 100 homesteads, whose existence is a fragile mix of subsistence agriculture and remittances from family members working in the distant agricultural estates and cities of Swaziland, a small country bordering South Africa and Mozambique.
“We have a very long relationship with this particular community,” explains Swazi Trails Managing Director Darron Raw,” 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.”
Swazi Trails, a Swaziland-based adventure company, 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.
“Back in the 1990's we undertook to voluntarily contribute a sum of money for each person who joined one of our trips,” explains Raw, “as we wanted to contribute in some small way to the development of this area.”
Like many under-developed communities in Africa, the people of Mphaphati are linked by a common desire to provide greater opportunities for their children. Education is the key to this and it is for this reason that the Swazi Trails donation is directed to the local primary school.
“The school is the one place that joins our whole community,” explains Head Teacher Mrs Busi Lukhele, “as children from almost every homestead pass through here. We are grateful for the help that Swazi Trails and their tourists have brought, otherwise there is no-one else that can assist us.”
To most travellers white-water rafting is all about adrenaline, risk, excitement, screams, shouts, wildly beating hearts and wildly expanded bar stool stories. However the fleeting glimpse that visitors get of exotic locations and of local people like those alongside Swaziland's largest river is a daily backdrop to the operators that run these rivers. Many of these remote communities are markedly under-developed.
“We cannot divorce ourselves from the hardships that people undergo to eke out an existence in these rural areas,” continues 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.”
“There are hundred's of homesteads in this community,” explains Raw, “with many differing needs, some exceedingly desperate, however the one thing that cuts across all of them is the need for quality education for their kids.”
It was for this reason that Swazi Trails struck up a relationship with this particular school which is situated almost within earshot of the thundering Holomi Falls. It is a relationship that dates back more than fifteen years, and which includes a time when the company's current rafting guides were themselves barefoot schoolchildren wondering what the future would bring.
“Yes – our entire contingent of rafting guides come from Mphaphati,” explains Raw,” and 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?”
As to what the Mphaphati community plans to do with the funds, there is a long list of capital projects that the school committee has already laid down. In fact the list is so long that these funds seem already over-stretched, but like the river rafters inertia is not an option, so the priorities will be picked off one at a time.
So if you've been rafting on the Great Usutu River at some point over the last few years, give yourself a pat on the back. Not only did you survive the rapids and crocodiles, but by your headcount you've also left a contribution behind that is causing some shouts of joy on a dusty African schoolyard.
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Other background information and FAQ's:
• This white-water rafting operation was launched in 1991 and has run continuously since then. The Great Usutu River is unique in Southern Africa in that rafting is possible throughout the year, with no low-water off-season.
• Swazi Trails also operate other adventure activities such as quad trails, adventure caving, mountain-biking, hiking and teambuilding as well as wildlife safaris and guided cultural tours. The company has been Swaziland's leading incoming tour operator since 1987.
• In 2007, Swazi Trails was invited to join the global whl.travel network as the marketplace-operator(MPO) for Swaziland. Whl.travel
is a recognised leader in responsible tourism sphere, and is geared towards highlighting ways in which travellers can identify and book sustainable accommodation venues and activities. All Swazi Trails activities are bookable online at www.swazi.travel
• Mphaphati Primary School is a government institution, with approximately 250 pupils. Many of the development costs of a school are borne by parents of school-going children. To date the annual schooling of children has been largely financed by parents, however a new Constitutional requirement for free primary school education will be implemented in Swaziland incrementally as of 2010.
• Swazi Trails has made two previous donations to Mphaphati Primary School that totalled ZAR 45 000.00 in years gone by. These funds were used to build a school office building and to buy text books.
• Another benefit to the community which arose from the annual Swazi Xtreme Adventure Race
(organised by Swazi Trails), was a donation of food for a year for all the school's pupils. This was courtesy of a sponsorship from South African company Tiger Brands as part of their Unite Against Hunger initiative.
• The Swazi Trails donation to Mphaphati is being used to build houses for teachers. Rural schools struggle to attract quality teachers often due to the fact that suitable accommodation in these impoverished communities is practically non-existent. It is therefore of strategic importance that school committee's provide reasonable accommodation such that suitable candidates can be attracted.
• Swazi Trails white-water rafting trips can be booked via firstname.lastname@example.org or online at www.swazi.travel
. Alternatively call +268 416280 in Swaziland or +27 11- 704 1975 in Johannesburg. RSA.