It is one of Sabi Sabi’s core philosophies that in order for conservation to be successful in Africa, there needs to be an integral and participatory relationship between tourism operations and the neighbouring communities which border the reserve. Sabi Sabi has long recognised that its greatest asset is its staff, the majority of whom hail from local communities and many of whom have been part of the Sabi Sabi story since the very beginning more than 35 years ago. Today, there are second generation employees based across the four Sabi Sabi lodges, in the hospitality and safari sphere.
With this in mind, Sabi Sabi has always endeavoured to focus its community involvement on projects that benefit and involve staff, their families and respective communities. Our mission is to make a difference by fostering the success and upliftment of our neighbours in the communities bordering the Sabi Sand Reserve. To the west Sabi Sabi borders the rural Shangaan villages of Huntington, Lillydale and Justicia in the Limpopo Province of South Africa, where many of Sabi Sabi’s staff live.
With an average dependency ratio of 1:30 they represent tangible ‘benefits beyond boundaries’ to many people. It should be noted that the relationship is reciprocal; the employees themselves provide a loyal service to the company in all aspects of the operation from the workshop, Safari department, hospitality and marketing. The company in turn invests in human resources, recognises talent and believes in promoting its employees on merit and accomplishment. An ongoing internal training programme is in place that promotes and encourages skills development.
Financial benefits through employment are but one aspect of benefits. The focus of community projects is sustainability, ownership and accountability – in other words a partnership approach rather than a hand out.
In conclusion, a balance that effectively integrates the cornerstone pillars of ecotourism, conservation and community is needed to ensure the effective management of this private game reserve in Africa. Sabi Sabi Private Game Reserve represents almost 4 decades of defining and refining this model and has successfully managed to integrate these cornerstones and put them into practice. But the challenge is ongoing and the brand cannot afford to ‘rest on its laurels’. Sabi Sabi strives to be able to contribute to solving these challenges and to be part of conservation of both community, culture and nature for all future generations.
Education is the key to a brighter future, for which reason Sabi Sabi has committed so much of its outreach energy into this field. Besides transport being provided for teachers, bicycles for pupils and books and equipment for schools, there are several ongoing school/training initiatives.
Swa Vana Care Centre
This is a Sabi Sabi supported initiative running within the community. It comprises a care centre for HIV orphans and vulnerable youth, where day care facilities are available for children living with guardians. The centre offers meals, educational activities and a safe after-school environment for children. Sabi Sabi has incorporated Swa Vana into the community tour ensuring that they benefit financially through the proceeds from the tour. To date these proceeds have assisted the funding of a new building.
Lillydale Education Centre
The centre serves as a multifunctional environmental education centre, promotes Shangaan knowledge and rural development tourism to the area and encourages local environmental conservation practices through training workshops. Today the centre employs six local teachers who are providing much needed adult literacy and numeracy education to the villagers
Under the auspices of Reservations Africa, a preschool was built and opened in 2002, with the day to day co-ordination and assistance of Sabi Sabi. The Sabi Sabi staff has been instrumental in maintaining the structure of this facility and their relationship with the project has continued to strengthen over the years.
Teach the Teachers
For many years Sabi Sabi has co-ordinated and run the conservation modules of the Teach the Teachers and Reach and Teach Education Programmes. To date the programme has trained over 120 teachers from neighbouring community schools.
In conjunction with the Dreamfield’s programme Sabi Sabi has launched a sports initiative by funding full sports kits for soccer and netball teams for more than a dozen schools in the local community. These kits include balls, boots and uniforms, items which are completely out of reach of the general village family. A great number of children will now have everything required to start up a league, inspire participation and foster joyful, healthy activity and team spirit.
Of course one of the very real problems facing the rural areas bordering the reserves is the very high rate of unemployment. With over 230 staff members, most of whom come from the surrounding communities, Sabi Sabi is a major contributor of employment in the area. To further stimulate local economics, projects have been designed with the aim of creating practical and dignified sources of income and opportunity for the villagers.
Entrepreneurs and outsourcing
Sabi Sabi resolved to support rural businesses by outsourcing to the local community wherever possible. Outsourced Lodge services such as gardening, thatching, washing and waste removal have helped many local entrepreneurs maintain viable businesses.
Talented community choirs, marimba bands and traditional dance groups have been formed and are hired whenever entertainment is requested by lodge visitors.