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"Memory Making" at Addo Elephant National Park

21 September 2006

Do you remember the first time you went on a school trip and left the community where you were born and raised? Or the first time you lazed under tall trees on a spring day and had a picnic? Do you remember the first time you saw a lion? Or an elephant?

Now imagine if all of those ‘firsts’ happened on the same day? It would be a memorable occasion-which is exactly what Addo Elephant National Park was able to provide to over a hundred vulnerable children as part of SANParks Week.

The Park successfully hosted groups of children from Paterson School Group and the Missionvale Care Centre and treated them to a gift bag, lunch, a game drive and a guide to answer all of their questions…and the lions and elephants played along too!

The children that visited the park are mainly HIV/Aids orphans, and none of them had ever been to a National Park before. Many had never left the community they were born in, let alone seen a wild animal. The children face huge challenges in their day to day lives. Says Sindi Dumana from the Paterson School Group, these childlren struggle to stay clothed and fed, and there are very few treats and very little joy in their lives, "that is why a day in the park was so special-the children were very delighted", she adds.

The Paterson School Group relies on donations from the public, and are hoping in the future to build a shelter for these vulnerable children. "When the children leave school at 3pm, we do not know what happens to them. Clothes we give them disappear, sold for liquor or taken for other children". Dumana hopes that SANParks will continue to be involved with the children in the future. She believes trips like the one organised by Addo provide lasting memories for these children, and an experience of the world that is very different to their own.

Says Linda-Louise Swain, who has been involved in the Missionvale Care Centre for about five years, the excitement started building up about a week before the trip. ""The children loved their picnic overlooking the waterhole and we then took them on the very interesting Discovery Trail. One of the highlights for them was when they were each presented with a shopping bag and a pen. For these little ones to be given their own possession is a very big deal and they all clung to them and made sure that their lollipops and oranges were safely stored!. Songs of joy and praise were the order of the day on the return journey, at full volume!!"

The shy smiles, the exuberant giggles, and the general excitment of children being children was a privilege for the park to share in, and who knows, perhaps a future park manager will be found among these kids in years to come. Even if this isn't the case, over a hundred children had a fabulous day out and will take away memoris of fresh air, sunshine, a picnic, and of course lions and elephants as well!

Mandy Roets, Marketing Officer for the Frontier Region believes that “SANParks Week has been hugely successful in reaching groups that would otherwise never have had the opportunity to visit the Park. It was wonderful to experience these children, and share in their excitement…and the week is not over yet!”