A visually impaired worker at the Mapenzi farm for the blind.

From http://www.theaustralian.com.au
Catherine Marshall
September 24, 2011

IN the town of Livingstone on the Victoria Falls northern rim, tourism touches the lives of almost everyone: blind farmers, reformatory students, orphans, the aged, the indigent, school students, local businesses and the AIDS patients who seek out the St Joseph’s Hospice where they will live out their final days.

This is Zambia, in the heart of sub-Saharan Africa, a region whose beauty isn’t easily reconciled with the hardships its people have to bear. It’s a dichotomy not lost on Sun International, the biggest investor in tourism in Zambia: its corporate social investment program supports 50 projects in and around Livingstone, operating according to a mantra honed during the development of its flagship property, Sun City, in South Africa, 30 years ago.

“Sustain the community that sustains you,” says the company’s international sales and marketing manager for the Australasia region, Lianne Kelly-Maartens.

The CSI’s co-ordinator, Stain Musungaila, selects projects that promise to deliver broad community outcomes: the Katombora Fish Farming Scheme, for example, addresses both the region’s protein deficiency and the vocational needs of the youngsters enrolled at the Katombora Reformatory Centre.

And the 16 tilapia-stocked ponds ensure a steady supply of fish for Sun International’s Falls Resort and Convention Centre.

The hydroponics farming scheme has enabled blind farmers to produce a bounty so great, they now employ sighted people to help carry the load.

And their produce is sold back to Sun International at a profit.

“You can see . . . the pride they have in what they’re doing and the fact they can now take care of their family,” Kelly-Maartens points out.

Rather than following a formula, these projects respond spontaneously to the needs of the community and the resources that are available: old hotel bedsheets are transformed into batik handbags by orphans and AIDS-affected women and sold to tourists; the resort’s rose garden is fertilised by a well-established worm farm, reducing the need for imported flowers; representations are made regularly to the HIV/AIDS and malaria taskforce in an ongoing effort to improve the local community’s health.

“AIDS has a huge impact on our labour force, our future generation, and that does influence how we run our complex,” says group sales manager Alison McKie.

“The government doesn’t have sufficient money to support that epidemic, so they look to private companies to run hospitals and hospices and to provide employment where there’s no discrimination.”

While the company is invested in almost every realm of life in Livingstone, it doesn’t demand the same of its hotel guests.

“Community visits are really done at your own discretion,” McKie says.

Ultimately, though, it’s the guests’ patronage that will ensure the longevity of this social investment program.

“It’s wonderful to realise that every single room-night I sell is going to help these people,” says Kelly-Maartens. “You always think, ‘Can I make a difference?’ Yes, you can make a difference, and every little bit helps.”