Here at Kaingu Lodge we are proud of our staff and the way we have been able to expand the number of people that we employ. We firmly believe that the only way that such large protected areas as Kafue National Park can survive is by their existence being justified by the neighbouring local communities that live next to the park and, in many cases, whose ancestors lived and owned the land that is now protected. Hard bordered, protected areas where local people derive no economic or aesthetic value and are excluded literally and figuratively are doomed to fail and rightly so. Tourism is a very obvious benefit that such protected areas can bring to local inhabitants, and is one of the few ways such (empty) areas can actually provide employment. While anti-poaching is always the “sexy sharp end” of conservation and sells donations and a nice story, the reality is that economic change is what will in the long term protect such areas. As a lodge we believe strongly in employment and education being key. We also believe that many tourists want to engage and learn from local staff. We ourselves have seen far too many lodges where staff and tourists are kept at a distance and only the managers and guides are whom tourists interact with. Not here. Being something that we feel strongly about we have certain key staff members and success stories that we want to share. Examples where people have been able to take tourism generated employment and use it as a genuinely life changing positive force. The first person we want to talk about is Benson Kaloza. Known as Benny and regularly described as our front of house superstar he is someone who has taken opportunity and grabbed it with both hands. Someone who really should be a role model for young people in our neighbouring villages and someone who is going to go far in this industry. Here is his story in his own words:
My name is Benson Kaloza and I am aged 26 years old. I am currently a management trainee and barman/waiter at Kaingu Safari Lodge and I would like to tell you a little bit about my background so you can understand how tourism benefits people.
Although I was born in Lusaka, I was actually raised by my grandmother in a village called Bushinga which is about 28km south of Kaingu Lodge. I was raised by my grandmother as she was not looking after anyone else and so could relieve my mother and father who were raising their five other children. My initial schooling was at Bushinga primary school. Life in Bushinga was quite hard. No running water, no electricity and as it was just my grandmother and myself I had to help with fetching water from a well 2km away, gathering firewood and helping fish the river for our food as well as with her small farm. Basically until I was aged 14 years old I went to school barefoot! I completed my secondary education at Uphill School in Itezhi Tezhi. As at the time there were no boarding schools in Itezhi Tezhi this meant that I had to go and stay with my uncle in order to complete my schooling. My uncle had a welding workshop in the town and life was a bit easier than in Bushinga, but still I had to help with all sorts of domestic work and my uncle paid for my schooling and fed me and gave me a roof on my head.
In 2012 I completed my secondary education (grade 12) and joined society as an adult where I had to do any available job to survive. I worked for a year in a secretarial shop or business centre in Itezhi Tezhi. I then worked for a truck owner for a couple of years loading and unloading his truck. As you can imagine this was pretty hard work, sometimes it was loading bricks and sand within the town, other times we would even have to go to Lusaka for a load. Through my uncle I then got a job as a timber cutter. Let me explain what this is: It means getting permits from the forestry department and going into the Game Management Areas and sawing trees into planks. It is a very old fashioned and hard job. Camping out in the bush and then building a frame to put the logs on and making the logs into planks with a two man pit saw. No chainsaws or anything like that. Sometimes camping out in the bush we would hear and see lions and elephants and leopards and hyenas. Despite this I actually really enjoyed the job although it was very very hard.
In 2015 we approached Kaingu lodge to see if they needed any hardwood planks and they did. So we were camped out for days producing some planks for them. While doing this and getting to know them I submitted an application for a job and luckily they employed me immediately as a waiter after talking with me and reading my application. After gaining experience I also added bar tending. At the end of 2016 the owners of Kaingu said that as they were really happy with my work they wanted to further my prospects and were happy to pay for further education.
In 2017 I started a diploma course in hospitality management at the Zambia Institute of Tourism. This is a distance learning course. It has been hard work to study and then take time off from the lodge and go into Lusaka to do courses and exams. But so far I have been passing all my exams and should finish this year in 2019.
To me hospitality means to receive and to treat guests and strangers in a warm and friendly and generous way. I really enjoy it because I get to meet and interact with various races from all over the world and it makes me so happy to help the guests. I also really like it when guests come back from an activity and I see how they are happy and excited to have seen animals in our area and talk to them about it. This makes me proud of my people, my lodge and my job. Basically helping people to be happy is a very rewarding job. But to make this work you have to engage with people.
Many people have helped me in my journey. Financial help, materially and also in terms of advice. To other young people from a similar background to me my advice is this: In life be very determined and focussed and never lose hope that one day you will make it. Through hard work I have come from a tiny village to now being in further education and with a good job. With my salary I have built a small business for my wife in Itezhi Tezhi in 2018 where we sell hair products. Overall we have been able to change our lives.
As for the future, who knows. But I hope that in five years time I will be fully managing a bush camp or small lodge. In ten years time I would like to be running my own food outlet or catering business. And one day I would like to be running my own Safari Lodge.
At the end of the day if it wasn’t for tourism I might still be loading and unloading lorries or camped out sawing timber in the bush.