Supporting Local Communities in Botswana

With ecotourism and sustainable travel becoming an increasingly popular method to preserve the world, travellers are opening themselves up to new, unique and immersive experiences. Support and preservation of the local communities and cultures in countries affected by the travel industry, such as Botswana, is fast becoming standard. The government of Botswana saw this need to prioritise sustainable travel and created the National Ecotourism Strategy (NES) for Botswana.

One of the main principles of this strategy is to make sure any negative cultural and social impact is minimised, whilst simultaneously making sure that host communities’ profit from the economic benefits of tourism. Companies such as Wilderness Safaris, Natural Selection and Desert & Delta Safaris now make community engagement, protection and empowerment a continuing philosophy of their cooperation.

Through a mixture of cultural excursions, education initiatives, community employment and community levies – such as the Great Plains Foundation collects, the local communities in Botswana are protected and empowered on their own terms and autonomy. Historically, if people do not understand a culture, they usually react unjustly with hostility and suspicion. Community engagement whilst travelling is a model way to bridge this gap of understanding and misrepresentation, to create a more respectful and understanding world.

Advocating Cultural Engagement and Understanding in Botswana

Access to education in rural Botswana can be difficult for some children. Education initiatives by tourism companies and working with the local communities can help to ensure more children have access to education. Desert & Delta Safaris has various education initiatives to help enhance the education already available in many areas. Specifically, Desert & Delta work closely with Khumaga Primary School in Botswana to provide lectures to the children of the Khumaga Village, assist with the education they receive, and offer career guidance.

Receiving a good standard of education is a human right, providing support to help enhance the education that many receive helps to create more opportunities for children, and higher employment means families don’t have to live off the land. Africa is presented in Western media in an overwhelmingly negative light; portrayed as poverty-stricken and vulnerable, when a lot of the time this is simply not the case.

Education initiatives provide schooling to children who can’t access it due to the rural area in which they live, not what their country’s economic situation may be. Education and conservation go hand in hand with Wilderness Safaris, a sustainable safari operator based in Botswana, who created rural eco-clubs which engage with around 2,500 learners per year and which teach children about the vital importance of conservation.

Wilderness Safaris also grant scholarships, and their program helps more than 300 children receive paid education, helping them to create a future they can decide for themselves. 

Female Empowerment

Female empowerment is essential for communities, families, and most importantly, for the self-confidence and self-worth of women themselves. Travellers can now make the conscious choice to travel through operators who support and promote female empowerment.

A trip to Sanctuary Baines’ Camp or Sanctuary Stanley’s Camp, owned by Sanctuary Retreats, will help support the Dipetsana Women’s Bike Shop. Five local women are trained and employed as bike mechanics, and donated bikes from the UK, US and Australia are sold to members of the local community, helping nurses reach more patients and children travelling to school. Similarly, Natural Selection has community employment and training initiatives, which targets women and marginalised groups.

Traditionally the role of women involved staying at home, keeping house and cooking meals. Today this is rightly becoming an old-fashioned gender role. The Bike Shop helps women become independent and assists them in providing for their families and the community on an equal standing to men.

“Travelling is no longer just about the place, but the people, and assimilating to the culture of the destination helps travellers develop a deeper understanding of the country.”

Gaby - Author

In a conscious effort to learn from history and not repeat it, operators such as Desert & Delta Safaris, Wilderness Safaris, and AndBeyond make sure that local communities benefit from their presence. These operators employ members of the local communities where they are based, giving people an opportunity to gain experience in the travel sector and providing an income that supports not just the employee but their family too.

AndBeyond has created 101 jobs for the local community, and more than 85% of Wilderness Safaris staff members come from the rural and remote communities in which they work. For 63% of employees, a job working for a Wilderness Safari camp is their first formal employment. Desert & Delta Safaris conducted a survey and found that 80% of their staff feel tourism has resulted in a positive impact on their home village.

For a long time, cultures such as the San people have been oppressed and silenced, now they are regaining say over their own lives. Cultural excursions from safari lodges give these communities the chance to showcase and be proud of their traditions, free from outside influence. Tourism is not meant to make spectacles out of different cultures, and ecotourism promotes cultural understanding and celebration in partnership with the communities.

Travelling is no longer just about the place, but the people, and assimilating to the culture of the destination helps travellers develop a deeper understanding of the country. Guests of Deception Valley Lodge owned and run by Footsteps of Africa in the Central Kalahari Game Reserve in Botswana, will have the chance to spend some time with San bushmen of the Naru-Tribe.

This is an invaluable experience, being welcomed into their lives promotes amity and the excursions are led by the bushmen themselves. Guests won’t just sit and observe, members of the Naru-Tribe will welcome you to share in their life.

It is human nature to be inquisitive about cultures other than your own, and ecotourism promotes this inquisitiveness in a sensitive and empowering way. Community engagement reminds travellers that differences in traditions and cultures shouldn’t divide us, they should unite us; a very important lesson in today’s world. 

“I think in today's society, community engagement and support of others is so important, and often lost within other issues, such as climate change. It is inspiring to see safari lodges which work with the community about these issues, make a positive impact on multiple fronts. ”

Gaby Russell
Gaby Russell

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