If anyone had’ve told me two days ago that I would have the opportunity to meet the great Kingsley Holgate, I don’t think I would’ve believed them.
Kingsley, the ‘Greybeard of African Adventure’, has been my role-model and hero since I was a little boy. With childish excitement and envy, I’ve always followed his amazing worldly expeditions and been hugely inspired. Meeting him has been an overhanging enigma – something that in the back of my mind, I truly thought would never happen, even though I dreamed of it. How could I ever meet him when he’s always adventuring so deep in the wilderness?
Last evening, I got to meet him, chat with him in person and sit around the campfire with him and his team, sharing stories of African adventures. These days, Kingsley is a leading ambassador in the global fight against malaria. He and his team are mid-way through their Great African Rift Valley (GARV) expedition, where, as ambassadors for United Against Malaria (UAM), they are distributing life-saving mosquito nets to malaria-stricken communities.
Cape Union Mart, who are sponsoring the expedition, sponsored him to take a break from adventuring and to be in Cape Town for World Malaria Day. I sat with ‘the bearded one’ for a few minutes and asked him a few questions:
RP: The theme for World Malaria Day 2012 is ‘Sustain Gains, Save Lives: Invest in Malaria’. What is your team’s connection to this message as you continue the fight against malaria?
KH: “Jees, this message is hugely important. We need to continue to sustain the gains we’re making in the reduction of malaria deaths, and to continue moving towards the common UAM goal of ending malaria deaths by 2015. We’re focused on that. In terms of where we fit in, our efforts go hand-in-hand with prevention education. When people invest in the fight against malaria, they give us the opportunity not only to provide life-saving nets, but to educate communities in the proper prevention of malaria. We can’t just dump nets and move on, we need to educate people and continue the fight!”
RP: The message is a clear call-to-action to drive investment in malaria prevention. How do you feel your expedition has inspired public support in developed countries?
KH: “I think we’ve achieved huge success in addressing malaria as a global problem. The efforts of all the UAM ambassadors and UAM’s partner organisations have made huge strides in turning malaria into a global issue – hence the Millenium Development goal for 2015 of zero malaria deaths. In a South African context, so many people ask me what they can do – they don’t believe that malaria is a South African problem. The UAM bracelets* have done a wonderful thing in addressing a truly South African problem in poverty and job creation, and using it in the fight against malaria. It’s as easy as popping into your closest Cape Union Mart and buying a bangle for thirty bucks. Nearly 500 000 bangles have been sold and I can’t begin to tell you how that has helped in the global fight.”
RP: You clearly embrace the motto ‘using adventure to improve and save lives’. For you, where does the connection lie between adventuring and inspiring action?
KH: “Adventure is unashamedly what we do. It’s what we do and it’s who we are, we’re adventurers at heart. Amongst ourselves, we’re all the type of people to say, ‘let’s do something we haven’t done before, let’s achieve something’. That’s where the connection lies, I think, in that adventure ultimately spells achievement. We could only inspire the people we’re trying to reach with stories of delivering nets to communities so much. But it’s our using adventure to achieve it that inspires people. People will look at us raising a UAM flag on the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, for example, and say, ‘Wow, look what these guys have achieved, all in the name of this cause.’ That’s when they’ll invest in it.”
RP: Why did you choose the Rift Valley for this particular expedition? What is its significance for creating global malaria awareness?
KH: “Well, we took on the Rift Valley as a geographic challenge, because we’re adventurers. No one has ever travelled the entire length of the valley and so that challenge is a huge part of this expedition for us. It just so happens that the Rift Valley is the most high-risk malaria area in the world, and so we’ve embraced the expedition as both a geographic and humanitarian challenge. Like I said, we’re using adventure to carry the UAM flag and to continue the fight!”
Listening to Kingsley talk, both in person and around the campfire, I was amazed at the youthful passion in his voice and in his eyes. When he speaks, he speaks with his soul and his whole face comes alive with the joy he finds in sharing stories and speaking to people. I was particularly inspired by something he said around the campfire: “adventure doesn’t belong to any of us, we’re just incredibly lucky to get out there and do what we do.”
I think that Africa and the world is lucky that he and his humble, dedicated team do what they do so passionately and achieve so much.
* To date, Relate‘s UAM supporter bracelet’s have:
- Raised close to $500 000
- Purchased approximately 30 000 nets, (which means 60 000 to 90 000 children now sleep safely at night)
- Created sustainable earning mechanism for approximately 250 people (who are often supporting up to five others)
- Connected over 500 000 people around the world to each other around a common cause
Watch Relate’s United Against Malaria video:
What can you do in the fight against malaria?