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Original Source: Brightcontinent.com

Remember moaning about having to go to school? Parents coaxing you with cliches, like, “The best time of your life,” or, “You’re lucky, when I went to school I had to walk 5 miles, in the pouring rain!”

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120 boys pitched up at Mfuwe Secondary School without any coaxing, so keen on school that they walked for days to get there – often in the rain. A dilapidated classroom was converted into a dorm to accommodate them. It’s hard enough seating half that number of kids in a classroom so imagine 120 kids living there, using an ablution that can’t cope, two boys to a mattress on bunks crammed so close it makes prison look plush.

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While I was enjoying the vast comfort of Mfuwe Lodge in Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park, the boarders of Mfuwe Secondary School were moving out of their cramped quarters. Who could blame them. But they weren’t trekking back to their distant homes, they were moving into newly constructed twin dorms with vast new ablutions funded by The Bushcamp Company/Mfuwe Lodge and guests so inspired by the school that they established The Sausage Tree Charity to generate funds, as did more recent guests Cool Hunting and The U Foundation.

But then every guest at The Bushcamp Company and Mfuwe Lodge does their bit. US$10 of their bill goes to the Luangwa Conservation and Community Foundation (LCCF). The LCCF is the brainchild of The Bushcamp Company’s, Andy Hogg, and so far five other South Luangwa camps and their guests contribute to it. 50% goes to conservation, 50% to the community. If I learned anything at school, that’s a good ratio. Too many tourism and conservation companies look at their local community as secondary to wildlife. But, we’re not animals, are we?

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Lately the LCCF has managed to buy a plane for the anti poaching effort and build 6 new classrooms for the education effort. And it doesn’t stop with building dorms and classrooms. In a nearby primary school, a feeding program gives 800 kids a nutritious meal every day, a library is stocked with computers and books and four shipping containers were recently unloaded of desks, chairs and all manner of scholastic paraphernalia. The next project is a dorm and ablutions for female boarders and it’s almost 100% funded. After that things get rolling on new sports facilities.

Most heartening is that the schooling of more than 160 kids is sponsored directly by guests. These are kids like Kelvin Phiri (pictured below with a plate of food) one of four siblings from different fathers. Their young mother couldn’t cope leaving him neglected and malnourished. Now he is being put through school and fed a proper meal every day.

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Lisa Gower, the Mazungu pictured here, is instrumental in the success of these programs. It didn’t take any coaxing to get her back to school. After visiting Mfuwe four years ago, she left a great career in the UK to teach here. Before long she was working with The Bushcamp Company to manage the community and conservation effort.

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Thanks to the support they get, perhaps these kids will look back on school as one of the best times of their life and go on to create more good times – for themselves, their families and others to enjoy the wonderland that is Zambia’s Luangwa Valley. I know I did. I was racing back to school every day I was there, and loving it.

With great admiration and thanks to Mfuwe Lodge for teaching me, and putting up with me.

Shenton Safaris
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Former editor at Africa Geographic.