More than two months have passed since President Ramaphosa announced a three-week long nationwide lockdown to combat the spread of Covid-19 and give the health system time to prepare. The initial lockdown, at Alert Level 5, was extended for two weeks, after which the country was moved down to Alert Level 4. This meant that certain sectors could go back to work, and our economy slowly began to open up again.
We are moving to Level 3 as of 1st June. Covid-19 infections are increasing exponentially as expected, and this trend is likely to continue as more and more people return to work. Although we remain optimistic, government predictions regarding the reopening of the tourism sector are concerning, as any extended delay poses a considerable threat to our communities because thousands of people and many businesses rely on tourism for an income.
On the conservation side within the Sabi Sand Game Reserve, not much has changed with regard to effort. In fact, if anything, there has been an increase, as the pressure on daily lives outside the reserve has increased significantly as a result of the closure of the reserves. These reserves are almost solely responsible for most of the jobs in the immediate area, and with the closure, there has been a significant drop in income. This has resulted in an expected increase in pressure on our wildlife as people become more desperate, and so the focus and efforts of our anti-poaching teams have remained on high alert. Also, as a result of no guests in the lodges, many of the guides and trackers are continuing with ‘drives’ to maintain a presence in the reserve, and to assist with ‘eyes and ears’ on the ground.
Unfortunately we are not directly involved in the running of the anti-poaching efforts, and so do not have access to accurate information regarding budgets, etc but there has most certainly been a drop in financial reserves as a large portion of the budget is obtained from the GCC (Guest Conservation Contribution). They have had to cut back on their budget and certain conservation issues may suffer in the long term, but the anti-poaching effort has certainly maintained its high presence. Certain aspects such as fire prevention and control is continuing and we are currently busy with burning of firebreaks in preparation for the fire season that is approaching. Individual properties are also certainly maintaining some of their essential conservation projects, and so, although it is tough circumstances, every effort is being made to ensure that the reserve’s conservation and anti-poaching practices are being maintained.
Our ability to continuously support our community projects, and to do so successfully, relies on the generosity and kindness of our Savanna guests. We do hope to welcome you back to Savanna soon, and in the meantime, we will keep you updated on what has been happening in the community and our plans going forward.
Tiyimiseleni Home-Based Care Centre
The Savanna Trust has received a phenomenal donation of fortified cereal from the Sight & Life Foundation. Sight & Life was founded in 1986 and works towards preventing malnutrition in vulnerable children and women of child-bearing age in developing countries. The cereal is fortified with vitamins and minerals often missing in the diets of people in developing countries and gives the immune system an essential boost. In the current climate, food security is a priority, and the donation of cereal is one step towards providing the children from Tiyimiseleni and the residents from Hlayisekani with the food security they are entitled to. The caregivers at Tiyimiseleni distribute the cereal to the children once a week, and we deliver the cereal to the Nursing Home as and when they need it.
In preparation for the reopening of Tiyimiseleni, the centre has been preparing the vegetable garden for new seedlings. Sadly, though, the restrictions placed on the centre over the last two months have meant that the garden had to be abandoned. However, thanks to generous sponsors, we are once again able to provide the centre with seedlings of butternut, onions, spinach, tomatoes, lettuce and beetroot to get the garden going. These will be essential additions to the menu at the centre when it re-opens.
As mentioned in our March newsletter, the Tiyimiseleni house mothers have been hard at work throughout the lockdown. They have been checking on the children three times a week, and have been working with the Department of Health to screen community members for Covid-19. Thanks to our sponsors, we were able to provide each house mother with 2 reusable cloth masks for their work in the community.
We have also been able to provide families with much-needed food parcels. The food parcels are made up of essential staple food items like maize meal, tinned food and sugar, and provide a family of 4 people with food for about 10 to 14 days. Food parcels were distributed to the child-headed households that are cared for by Tiyimiseleni. Without a parent or guardian, with no income nor access to government social grants, these families often rely on school feeding schemes and places like Tiyimiseleni for meals.
Most schools have been closed for two months, particularly those schools in rural communities like ours. While some schools can move to online classrooms and continue teaching, most rural schools and the children that attend them do not have access to the infrastructure needed to continue their studies. The Department of Education is working on solutions to the problems such as over-crowding in classrooms and access to Personal Protective Equipment, in an effort to make the return to school as smooth and safe as possible. We would like to help by providing as many children at Tiyimiseleni as we can with face masks. Reusable cloth masks will work perfectly with the older children, and plastic face shields will be best for the younger children.
If you have been following our Stay@Home Safari videos, you may have noticed the rangers are bundled up in warm clothes and the bush is looking brown and dry and winter is on its way! We would like to provide each child from Tiyimiseleni with a blanket to keep them warm. If you would like to contribute to our blanket fund, please do let us know!
Hlayisekani Nursing Home
Nyiko Mokoena, founder of Hlayisekani Nursing Home, has always bravely faced every challenge in his path and the present is no different. The Nursing Home is still waiting for its annual funding from the government, which is now four months late. This means that the caregivers have not received any pay for four months! Thanks to #AfricanSchoolRoom, the #CommunityCanChallenge and several Savanna donors, we have provided each carer with three food parcels over the last two months. Thank you!
The threat of Covid-19 to the elderly residents has been a huge worry to Nyiko and the staff. The Nursing Home is still under a strict lockdown, and no visitors are allowed on the property. The Department of Health recommended strict hygiene protocols for staff entering the premises and have suggested limiting clinic and hospital visits at all costs.
A doctor from the nearby community of Lilydale has been assisting Nyiko in this regard. He has made himself available for check-ups, writing of prescriptions and dispensing of certain medicines. Nyiko, who has spent much of his time on the road ferrying patients to the clinic and back, is now able to focus his time and energy strictly on the health and safety of the residents at the Nursing Home.
The fortified cereal, mentioned earlier in this newsletter, has been much enjoyed at the Nursing Home. To further assist Nyiko’s food concerns, we are providing the Nursing Home with vegetable seedlings for their vegetable garden. This will help take the pressure off Nyiko as he waits for the government funding to come in.
Thanks to generous Savanna sponsors, we are in the position to help Nyiko with the required funds to keep the Nursing Home running and the residents safe and healthy. This includes food, cooking gas, cleaning materials, personal hygiene products, adult diapers and electricity costs. Our biggest concern for Hlayisekani is that the government funds may never arrive, and we are not sure how long we will be able to support the centre.
On a more positive note, the Savanna Housekeeping team, Aka the Savanna Knitting Circle, spent many hours knitting beanies for the residents at the Nursing Home. This project began late last year when guests that were staying at Savanna offered knitting lessons to all that were interested. During their stay at Savanna, the guests helped the team perfect their knitting techniques and provided them with the tools, patterns and skills to knit their own beanies and clothing.
Mketsi Primary School
Many of the vulnerable and orphaned children in Justicia attend Mketsi Primary School and nearly 60% of our staff live in Justicia, so the well-being of Mketsi Primary School, the learners and teachers is especially important to Savanna. Like all schools in the area, Mketsi Primary School has been closed for two months and they have not been able to maintain their school feeding scheme. This has likely meant that many children have not had access to adequate nutrition for two months.
We were, once again, incredibly lucky to receive 50 food parcels from the #CommunityCanChallenge for the most vulnerable children from Mketsi Primary School. David Mbeva, the Principal, identified which children needed help most, and arranged for the parcels to be distributed safely and quickly.
On the 1st of June, Grade 7 and Grade 12 learners are expected to return to school. Grade 7 is the last year of primary school and Grade 12 is the last year of secondary school. Naturally, the students in these years have the most at stake and need to return to school as soon as possible in order to successfully complete the academic year. Thereafter, every two weeks, the next grade down will return to school. This is good news, and we hope the return to school happens carefully and safely.
Youth in Action Choir
Many of you will remember the wonderful Youth in Action Choir from their performances at the outdoor Boma dinners at the lodge. The Youth in Action choir began as an effort to keep recently graduated, but unemployed, vulnerable youth safe and off the streets as they figured out what to do after school. The Choir’s performances at Savanna and other lodges in the Sabi Sand provides the 50 choir members with an income to support them as they pursue their tertiary education opportunities.
The Youth in Action choir members have been hard hit by the Covid-19 situation. They have not performed for almost three months and will not be able to do so until the tourism industry opens up again. Luckily, we were able to secure food parcels for each member from the #CommunityCanChallenge.
The #CommunityCanChallenge started as a 45km (28 miles) run on a balcony (49 902 steps to be exact) and a request for 49 902 cans of food. Since then, they have provided hundreds, if not thousands, of households with food parcels put together from contributions from many local businesses. This fantastic initiative has inspired our dedicated Savanna runners, who will be putting together a 21km run through Savanna’s property on the 4th July to raise funds for the Savanna choir. We estimate that it will cost approximately R1500 to feed one choir member for the rest of the year and so our goal is to provide food for all choir members for 2020. If you would like to donate to this fund, please see below.
Sabi Sand Private Game Reserve
Most lodges in the Sabi Sand have an associated non-profit organisation (NPO) that works to assist the vulnerable communities around the Sabi Sand. The lodges and NPO’s have formed a Covid-19 Response team that was established through a pre-existing NPO forum. This team is working together to collate and understand what help and support is being provided to the communities to ensure that the most vulnerable are getting the help they deserve, and what support is still needed.
The team has been hard at work providing clinics across the area with essential hand sanitisers, masks and gloves. They have identified the most vulnerable community members and applied for food parcels to assist them. Two weeks ago, the team received over a thousand food parcels for distribution in these communities!
The team’s work is just beginning. Food security concerns are likely to continue for months to come, and soon we will be looking at how best to assist our students and teachers with their return to school. Life as we know it has probably changed for ever, and we need to help our communities make sense of these changes and how to go back to “normal”.
Although we have received some wonderful donations for which we are so grateful, there is still a tremendous need for further help for our local communities. If you feel that you could contribute in any way to help the needy, you may like to consider assisting with one or more of the following needs we have identified:
- A reusable cloth mask costs just R25 ($1.39) from a local community supplier, and a plastic face shield costs R50 ($2.77) a mask. This would ensure that we keep our children and vulnerable community members safe! (Reference: “mask” or “shield”)
- A blanket costs R270 ($15), and will keep a child warm for many winters to come (Reference: “blankets”)
- A full year’s donation to make sure the children or residents have food, clothing and all the necessary support needed throughout the year costs us R2700 – that’s $150 per person. (Reference: “children” or “residents”)
- Donations towards the 21km “Run for Youth” choir fund. (Reference: “Youth In Action”)
With warm wishes
The Savanna Trust Team