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During our epic holiday, Zimbabwe: The path to the smoke that thunders, customers will experience a variety of bucket list moments from watching the sun set over Victoria Falls to spotting some incredible wildlife.

And one ‘pinch yourself’ encounter will be when you can sit back and cruise along the waters of stunning Kariba Lake, watching animals including rhinos, lions, elephants and crocodiles congregating at the shoreline, on an exclusive boat with Zambezi Cruise Safaris. But while you’re sipping a cool drink and taking in the magnificent scenery, you’ll also be helping the school children from the local community.


As part of Titan’s BE Better programme of initiatives, we speak to Phil Dobinson, owner of Zambezi Cruise Safaris and Lodges, as he reveals how he’s raised funds to build two schools for the community and continues to help feed 800 children per day. He also tells us how our customers can meet the pupils and teachers at Chengeta primary and secondary schools and see for themselves, the amazing work that Phil and his team are doing.

Tell us a little bit about what customers can expect when staying with you?

We have stunning lodges across the whole of Zimbabwe, where guests can relax in elegant and comfortable surroundings with some of the most wonderful landscapes - from the shores of Lake Kariba and two game resorts, as well as Hwange National Park.

Customers always feel surprised when they first see Lake Kariba – because the term ‘lake’ doesn’t conjure up the vastness of it. It’s 270km long and we cruise the entire length watching the wildlife along the shoreline. The water is so blue, the area is just beautiful, and we often get told by customers they feel like they’re sailing the Greek islands, except there are elephants here!

It’s our local guides, though, that really makes this holiday a special one. All the customers become close friends with them because they spend so much time together and learn so much. Our guides explain the whole history of the country, what happens here, and the cultural aspects of everyday life. And then they have superb knowledge of all the wildlife.

Zambezi safari cruise boat in the evening light 

Tell us more about your community school?

Between two of our lodges and around an hour and half from the capital, Harare, we’ve built Chengeta primary and secondary school for the local community and it’s completely free. By law, parents have to pay school fees – it’s not very much around $12-18 per term, but our families are very, very poor, so we subsidise this. A lot of them also travel up to 14km to get to school. They leave home in the dark around 5am and it can take them two and a half hours to walk to school and back. But they are desperate to go to school, they never miss it and walk these huge distances because they know they’ll have a hard future ahead of them without it.

We feed the children daily – there is close to around 850 of them. But we know then they are at least getting one good meal per day. Most Zimbabweans are lucky if they eat twice a day… And we also managed to get 200 bicycles, so for the children who live really far away they are able to cycle to school instead.

 

Group of pupils waving goodbye 

What other projects are you running?

We've started a small farming enterprise which teaches the children about modern farming methods, as most of them live on rural farms with tiny plots. And unless they can get a job after school, they're going to carry on living on a farm. So, we want to be able to give more education around farming, animal husbandry, things like that.

Once a month, we also take every single class out onto the game reserves. There are at least three different vehicles per class, and they spend the day with our local guides learning about conservation. They love it. They have a packed lunch and get to see all the wildlife. Of course, they never normally get to do this, as they don’t get to be on the other side of the game fences, so this is just another small thing we can do for the kids and help their understanding of conservation and to further their education.

We also have school football teams and they compete in local football tournaments and they travel to different schools in the area and we take them to these school events. It’s all part of daily school life…

First classroom to be built 

How do you fund this project?

It's been partially funded by me and through the company. My mum, who is 75 now and lives in Solihull, also helps raise lots of funds. In fact, her and her friends have managed to raise around 50% of the money we used to build the school. We also have amazing customers who have donated to the project and continue to do so. We’re currently building a computer room and trying to get as many second-hand laptops and tablets we can, which can be used by the children while they are at school. Donations like this make such a huge difference.

Pupils learning in the classroom 

Can customers who stay with you visit the school?

A lot of our customers when they hear about our project, want to spend time in the school. We don’t want to disrupt the kids’ learning, so visitors can see the children taking part in activities and school life, as well as spend time chatting with the teachers. When it’s break time, they can then spend time talking to the children. And it's so lovely, for both kids and the visitors. It can be emotional for the customers when they learn about the poverty of these amazing kids and see their resilience and determination in want an education.

It must be hugely rewarding to see the children thrive…

Yes, it really is. Going to school gives them more of chance of being able to get a job and that is the biggest thing we can do for them. It’s even more rewarding when I get to see some of the kids now working for the company. And because we have 10 lodges nationwide, we’re always looking for guides and staff, so knowing we’ve helped them do that is just fantastic. And I hope there will be many more.

Titan's BE Better programme was created so that we can support environmental and community projects across the world. If you'd like to find out more about our Africa tours, speak to one of our expert travel advisors

Article published on: 29th April, 2021

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Ting

Ting has a serious case of wanderlust. Having travelled to over 40 countries, it’s her mission in life to make her way through her ever-growing list. Her two young sons have also caught the travel bug, and recent trips have seen them making snow angels in Iceland while watching the Northern Lights, as well as walking alongside elephants in South Africa.


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