Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Wild Game and Goodwill Hunting

Theresa Floten, Sue Devitt, Michele Gradin, Krista Krieger, Jenny Kennedy, Frances Schultz, and Margaux MacKay at Bongani Preschool.
Wild Game and Goodwill Hunting
By Frances Schultz

Frances Schultz
Earlier this summer, a small group of New Yorkers and friends ventured into the wilds of Africa to have some fun and do some good. But for trip organizer Krista Krieger and her buddy Michele Gradin, there was also a major pay-off: seeing first-hand the bricks-and-mortar benefit of their fundraising efforts back in jungles of Manhattan.

Lord knows we New Yorkers know about benefits. And what we don’t know we most certainly can find out right here on this very web site. But how often do we really know where the money goes? Much less actually see how it’s spent?

Back in the spring of ‘07, Krieger, a former CPA and wife of Africa-loving heart-surgeon Karl Krieger, embarked with sister Shelley Sorensen on her fifth journey to the Dark Continent, with accommodations organized by Conservation Corporation Africa. During her stay at Ngala Tented Camp, on a private reserve near South Africa’s Kruger National Park, Krista customarily joined in on a visit to the nearby local community. One of the schools she visited could not begin to accommodate all its students and had to hold some of its classes outdoors under trees.
Jenny Kennedy, Michele Gradin, Krista Krieger, Sue Devitt, and Lotus Khoza in front of the newly built Primary School.
Students learning under the trees.
So struck was she by the need for classrooms that she returned home determined to do something. Contacting Africa Foundation and its U.S.-based fundraising arm Friends of Africa Foundation, both non-profit partners of C.C. Africa, Krista got the ball rolling. Then she recruited her close friend, Michele Gradin, and the two decided to co-host a cocktail party at Krieger’s Manhattan home.” More a "friend-raiser," Krieger says, since, “It was free, just a cocktail party with a silent auction.” They raised $70,000. Not bad for “just a cocktail party…”

And while this amount barely covers dinner for two at Nello’s, it goes quite a long way in South Africa. “We built classrooms that will now accommodate about 220 children, renovated a pre-school, and built several ‘enviro-loos,’” which basically are eco-friendly out-houses, she says. The remaining funds, some $23,000, went to the foundation for other projects, which might include school facilities and materials, health clinics, and conservation programs all centered in the areas that surround and support the C.C. Africa-operated luxury properties throughout Africa and now recently expanded to India.
Frances Shultz and Sue Devitt with Children at Nkomo Primary School.
A part of all C.C. Africa proceeds is strictly apportioned to Africa Foundation projects, therefore directly or indirectly all C.C. Africa paying guests are contributors to the health and well-being of their local African hosts and to the protection of the environment for the profit of all. It is an unusual business model, to be sure, but it sets a compelling example and sends a powerful message about doing well by doing good.
In addition to Krieger and Gradin, other New Yorker joining were cosmetics diva Sue Devitt, former Ford model Jennifer Kennedy, writer-producer Anne Marie Cushing, and token note-taker me. Rounding out the merry band of maidens were film producer Margaux Mackay, Oregon-based artist Theresa Floten, and Friends of Africa Foundation Executive Director Wendy Wood.

Guests in the rustically elegant camps and lodges are always invited--but by no means required--to visit the villages from which hail the sweet young ladies who bring morning coffee and do laundry and the smiling chaps who mix gin and tonics and serve the superbly prepared meals. (Let the record show I do mean superb, and I’m a total food snob.)
Theresa Floten, Frances Schultz, Jenny Kennedy, Michele Gradin, Krista Krieger, and Wendy Wood in front of Rhino — darted as part of the Phinda Rhino Conservation Progam.
A lucky few guests, for an additional fee, even have the opportunity to participate in such adventures as a rhino-darting expedition, and we did. It is astonishing enough to see, let alone to drive to within 30 yards of a herd of the once-near-extinct white rhino; but my lands to go and stand right next to one and touch its rough, wrinkly hide and feel the deadly smoothness of that preposterous horn, (which is really made of hair, for heaven’s sake) is almost other-worldly. And poignant, too, to witness such a massive and noble beast so utterly subdued, however temporarily and for whatever good reason. Remarkably, the whole thing--darting, roping, blindfolding, injecting, measuring, notching of ears, medicating, anti-doting—thank goodness happened smoothly in our case within 17 minutes. It has to be quick; otherwise the animal risks death from the drugs powerful enough to, well, stop a rhino.

Africa is defined by such moments—brutal and gentle, cruel and benevolent, punishing and sheltering, tedious and exhilarating, ugly and beautiful. The paradox of Africa is that it is as hopelessly defeated as it is indefatigably hopeful. I like to think that it is to the hopeful side of that sentence that our group was called to believe in and to serve, in whatever ways we might—with our wallets, with our time, with our hearts and minds. For Krieger, “Showing my friends the beauty of Africa was one part of the trip, but I also wanted to show them first-hand what is happening there--the AIDS, the orphans, the overcrowding of schools--and how they can make a difference if they choose.”
The girls with Bongani Preschool children.
Bongani Preschool Children.
Inside and outside the Nkomo Primary School.
Conservation Corporation Africa's Ngala Tented Camp.
Clockwise from top left: Dining room at CC Africa's Phinda Rock Lodge; Shower and bath at CC Africa's Ngala Tented Camp; The Saxon Hotel, Johannesburg.
Jenny Kennedy at The Saxon Hotel, Johannesburg.
The delectable morning and afternoon spreads.
The pool at The Saxon Hotel, Johannesburg.
With little time to shop we stop at Curio shop, Art Africa, Johannesburg.
Scenes from our Luxury African Safari given to us Conservation Corporation Africa, Africa’s leading ecotourism organisation committed to providing world-class holiday experiences for travellers, and to ongoing investment in sustainable conservation development and community empowerment.
For information of booking a CC Africa safari, contact Nicci Young Wiese at nicci@grownoaktravel.com. Nicci, who is the wife of New Yorker and former Explorer’s Club president Richard Wiese, used to work for CC Africa and helped start the Africa Foundation. You may also contact CC Africa directly at 1-888-882-3742, or www.ccafrica.com.

To learn more about the Africa Foundation go to www.africafoundation.org or www.friendsofafricafoundation.org.
Jenny Kennedy. Sue Devitt.
Krista Krieger, Michele Gradin, Wendy Wood, Theresa Floten, and Jenny Kennedy on our last unforgettable night in Africa.
Frances Schultz is a freelance journalist, author of A House in the South (Clarkson Potter), and contributing editor for House Beautiful magazine.