Many thanks to everyone interested, and to those who donated, to the Cyclone Idai disaster relief.
Also, thank you to Wild and Free Foundation for making their 501 C3 fund available to us. For those who don't know, W&F is the soccer for poacher’s foundation that we work closely with. Headed by Matt Bracken, W&F uses the game of soccer to uplift poaching villages along the Kruger Park. These communities are not the problem yet their members are killed regularly after being forced into poaching. Killing the poachers is not working and this new approach allows us to open lines of communication to those directly involved with killing rhinos.
We flew out from JFK to ORT in Johannesburg, South Africa with our Hemingway Safaris team. Charles Chare is from the Zimbabwe capital Harare and is a 25-year Hemingway Safaris team member. We loaded my land cruiser and trailer to the brim with supplies and headed 500 km north to the Zimbabwe border post. Bertha Mutowebwe heads the Tourist Office there and did a huge amount of work to get all the goods cleared by customs before we got there. Anyone who knows Zimbabwe Customs must know what a bonus this was. We paid no duty (tax) at all. Thank you, Bertha! Then we headed 550 km north/ east into the Ba Vumba Mountains bordering Mozambique, which is one of the most scenic areas in Africa. The roads were good until we got within 70km of Chimanimani Village where the tropical cyclone had hit. Many rock slides had wiped out the mountain roads but these had been cleared before we got there.
Upon reaching Chimanimani, we were stunned by the devastation. Hundreds of rock slides had wiped out buildings and homesteads along the mountain ranges leaving what looked like ski slopes in the summer. Whole villages were buried under many tons of rock. Some of the rocks were estimated at 20 tons. The human remains will never be recovered. We stood on one rock slide where 350 bodies lay buried. Local people described the two days of torrential rain, firestorms, and rock slides as being from the hands of ‘The Gods’. The huge granite rocks smashing into each other as they rolled caused spark showers. Then the slides wiped away every tree, every home, and every structure.
We heard of many narrow escapes and acts of astounding bravery. Sadly, we also heard of disgusting tales of food and clothing in helicopters being directed away from the area to officials' own villages out of the area. We met with Jane High, a Zimbabwean power-house, who was organizing all the disaster relief and who gave us accommodation in her Frog & Fern Lodge. I urge you to stay there if you are in the area. She also runs the Tourist Board in the area. She directed us to the areas most hard-hit and in greatest need of supplies. Most of these villages were at the very top of the mountain range. Toyota will be proud of my Cruiser's performance, as I don't think many other vehicles would have been able to make it. With our heavy loads, we managed to get where army trucks could not go!
We took double loads of food and blankets to what we were told was a small village. The jungle drums sounded as we got close and many people ran out of the forest to meet us. We expected to feed about 100 people but there were many more! The local chief did an amazing job keeping order. Only the elderly, women with small children and those pregnant were allowed to line up first and we set out all the food in separate and orderly lines. It was truly an emotional and rewarding time.
In the village, the soccer field was under a single rock slide and completely covered. We offloaded all our construction tools and equipped the 17 members of the soccer team who had started building shelters for the homeless. I remembered how a soccer uniform had changed the lives of poachers outside of Kruger. Next, we headed 100 km to the nearest town with a building supply store and bought construction overalls, steal tip boots, and other construction supplies. It is amazing to see the pride in our building team. We have a credit at the building supply store and will continue to replenish the credit until our funds run out. Roof sheeting is in big demand and the first load of 85 sheets have just been delivered.
Charles is now back in Chimanimani supervising the building efforts and funds allocation. A second storm Kenneth, hit northern Mozambique which was more powerful but had less loss of life. Cool weather is setting in so there is still more work to be done. Charles Chari has done an amazing job and will continue to monitor all future donations and our account at the supply store.
When everything is rebuilt, go to the Bavumba. You will not regret it. We had no safety issues. Only one smashed windshield and trailer nose-cone. From the weight we hauled, my brake pads are shot! There were police roadblocks but they waved us right through and were very welcoming. We must get the tourists back to the best country in Africa.
Our village reconstruction is ongoing so feel free to continue helping by marking donations to Wild & Free Foundation as ‘for disaster relief’.
Thank you again to all who helped.
Brian Gaisford & Hemingway Safaris