Tendai Rupapa/Leonard Ncube/Bongani Ndlovu
THERE is truly a first time for everything, but flying in a plane and touring the Majestic Victoria Falls is a lifetime experience for children from the previously marginalised San community in Makhulela area, Thwayithwayi Village under Bulilima District.
Indeed, Christmas has come early for them courtesy of First Lady Auxillia Mnangagwa who has honoured her promise to take them on a week-long holiday to Victoria Falls with exciting packages that include air travel, boat cruises, game drives and sleeping in hotels.
Amai Mnangagwa visited the community last month with her Nhanga/Gota/Ixhiba programme where she promised to take the children on holiday as part of her drive to integrate previously marginalised communities with the rest of the country.
The children are indeed having the time of their lives as they had never set foot outside their community, neither had they visited a big city.
The San community in Zimbabwe is one of the indigenous tribes that have had a rather belated encounter with modernisation and globalisation.
Their transition from a hunting and gathering economy to an agro-capitalist economy has been slow, hence the First Lady’s involvement in assisting the community to set foot in the development train.
Her first visit to the area was in 2018 where, through her Angel of Hope Foundation, she introduced nutrition gardens in the community and assisted with the provision of modern houses and sanitary facilities.
Under her mantra of not leaving anyone behind, the First Lady has been working closely with the community and involving the community in awareness campaigns against Covid-19, cancer and other ailments.
The girls and boys on the trip are aged between 11 and 15 and drawn from ECD to Grade Five.
Their ages tell a lot about how children in the community delay going to school.
They are accompanied by their village head Mrs Matjena Ncube and two other village elders Mrs Agnes Bhule and Mrs Samkeliso Dube.
They arrived in Bulawayo on Thursday morning and put up at Motsamai Lodge where they had their meals before embarking on a Heritage Corridor Tour of the city which took them to the Natural History Museum, St Mary’s Cathedral Basilica and Joshua Mqabuko Nkomo statue in the CBD.
Their tour guide was Zimbabwe Tourism Authority’s marketing executive and former Miss Zimbabwe Bongani Dhlakama.
At each venue, they were given a detailed tour of what was there, like at the St Mary’s Basilica Cathedral, Archbishop Alex Thomas explained to them when it was built and how significant the place is to the history of Zimbabwe, Africa and the Roman Catholic Church.
They landed at Victoria Falls International Airport on Friday morning.
Victoria Falls is home to one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World.
When an Air Zimbabwe flight landed at 9.20AM, first to come out were the timidly looking group of boys and girls, with school bags on their backs.
Because of fear of the unknown, they kept close to each other as they walked to the domestic terminal for Covid-19 procedures that included sanitising and temperature checks.
A shuttle bus was waiting to take them to a hotel where they checked in, had their breakfast before going on an afternoon game drive.
Along the way, they were excited to see baboons which they could not differentiate from monkeys as they said they were no baboons in Bulilima.
Saturday was also packed with a cocktail of activities.
The group toured the Rainforest and Victoria Falls Bridge among other activities.
They were also taken to the Fuller Forest on Sunday where they had a tour of the forest and lion encounter.
Everything was new to them and they were enjoying.
After touring the Fuller Forest, they were taken back to their hotel for lunch where they enjoyed processed food using fork and knife, something they had never done.
The hotel staff was so welcoming and taught them how to use the cutlery.
It was an experience of a lifetime.
Thanking the mother of the nation, Mrs Ncube said she was excited to be in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls for the first time.
“I am very happy to have seen Victoria Falls for the first time in my life. I want to thank the First Lady for what she has done for us as a community. This shows she loves all her children countrywide including us the San community.
She does not select her children and we are so grateful especially for affording our children such an experience” she said.
Ms Ncube said the children were now inspired to better their lives.
“Imagine people from the San community in an airplane, it’s unbelievable. We saw the Bulawayo city, now we are in Victoria Falls where we visited many places and everything was new for us. What the First Lady has done, has opened the eyes of these young children so that they can see how life on the other side is like,” she said.
One of the children, Nhlanhla Tshuma (13) a Grade Two pupil at Makhulela Primary School said the trip was an eye opener.
He said together with others they enjoyed a whole lot of packages which are largely for the well-heeled.
“I cannot believe this is true. At times I pinch myself just to check whether I am not daydreaming. I am so excited to be part of this trip. I had neither boarded a bus nor an aeroplane. What the First Lady has done for me will forever remain on my mind. When I go back home I will share information about what I have seen with my parents and siblings.
We are enjoying good food and sleeping in hotels like kings. This is just exciting,” he said.
Another, Tholakele Ncube (16) also a pupil at Makhulela Primary School who is in Grade Five added that it was a great experience being in Bulawayo and Victoria Falls.
He said at first he could not believe his eyes and was glad because the First Lady had honoured her promise.
“I am overjoyed with what the First Lady has done for us. We are enjoying ourselves and learning new things everyday. We are so grateful to Amai for what she has done. They will see me at school because I have lots of stories to share,” she said.
When they return home, the children will share with their colleagues, families and the community various things they would have learnt on the educative trip.
Their dream came true and tomorrow (today) is another day, more activities are in store for them.