05 November 2013 by Dianne Tipping-Woods

Hlokomela: Changing, enriching and saving lives

Join one of Hlokomela’s tours and meet some of the people living and working on the farms and lodges around the town of Hoedspruit in South Africa’s Limpopo province.

You buy Hlokomela's herbs directly from it – or washed and packed from Hoedspruit's supermarkets

When you’re travelling in South Africa’s Limpopo province, you’ll be amazed by the gorgeous landscapes, the Big Five and all the activities you can do when you’re on safari. If, like me, you’re the kind of traveller who is looking for something more, though – that human connection that makes a trip unforgettable – then the Hlokomela and Associates Tour might be a good place to start...

'We come to Hlokomela because it gives us life,' is the familiar refrain from the farm and lodge workers who benefit from this innovative HIV-prevention and care project. It aims to reduce HIV vulnerability in the farm and lodge industries through peer education, awareness raising, prevention and treatment.

Hlokomela's herb garden is a great source of pride to everyone who helps make it a success

Run by the Hoedspruit Training Trust, the Hlokomela project is currently rolled out on 69 sub-project sites and reaches more than 12 000 people working on farms and lodges in and around the small town of Hoedspruit.

These people are the ones you meet on the street as you shop for souvenirs of your trip, the ones who help grow the fresh produce you enjoy in restaurants and lodges, and the ones who work on game reserves to help make sure your holiday is unforgettable. On a Hlokomela tour you will get to meet some of these people in a different context and learn that Hoedspruit’s community is much more than what you encounter on a short trip through the town, or during a brief stay at a lodge.

She knows more about courage and love than anyone I have ever met and I was humbled that she shared her story with me.

At the heart of Hlokomela’s work is its wellness clinics, which provide healthcare services for farm workers and labourers. You’ll also visit the Bavaria glass recycling and sewing projects, the Hlokomela herb garden and the Gorutha Centre (famous among the children of farm workers for its toy library). These are all initiatives that respond to the needs of people living in the greater Hoedspruit community by involving them and working with them to help them develop skills, stay healthy and find happiness.

Each person involved in Hlokomela has a story to tell about how the project has changed, enriched and – in many instances – saved their lives. 

You might meet Mercy*, an HIV-positive mother of one who received life-saving emergency treatment at one of Hlokomela’s primary healthcare facilities when her CD4 count had dropped to 0 and she weighed just 32kg. She knows more about courage and love than anyone I have ever met and I was humbled that she shared her story with me.

Hlokomela's herbs are widely used within Hoedspruit's lodge and restaurant industries

You could meet Sister Lea Swart, the project’s managing Sister. She told me how, within three months of starting treatment, Mercy had recovered well, and how this extraordinary young woman (along with many others she’s met) changed her life as much as Sister Lea herself has helped to change – or save – hers.

You might meet Martie Vorster, who runs the Gorutha Centre and the glass recycling and sewing projects. She introduced me to some of the children at the toy library. If you visit in the school holidays, you’ll find the kids, mainly the children of farm workers, wide-eyed from a ride in the town’s bright red Tuksi, a visit to a private game reserve or some other activity that has them bursting with the contagious excitement that will want to make you see the world – or at least Hoedspruit – through their eyes.

Kapama is one of the many lodges in the Hoedspruit area that support the annual herb party, a celebration of Hlokomela's success

You might encounter Doris Malepe, one of the Nompilos (trained caregivers) who help deliver primary healthcare to farm workers from the area’s citrus, mango and avocado farms. As she told me, she knows the life of the workers, because that’s the life she lives. 

There’s also Primrose*, who can tell you about the first time she saw the sea during a holiday programme organised by Hlokomela; or Almero*, a male mentor in the Hlokomela project who got to see Bafana Bafana (South Africa's national soccer team) beat Angola on the same trip.

You'll see walls, buildings and billboards in and around Hoedspruit that share Hlokomela's messages

You’ve also got a good chance of running into director Christine du Preez, and I think she has more stories than everyone else combined...

After the tour, you’ll understand that what sets Hlokomela apart is the fact that the people it helps are at the heart of its work – and they’re awesome people. You’ll leave with a better picture of the community and, perhaps, your life will look different to how it seemed to you before.

For more information about the Hlokomela and Associates Tour, contact Marian Viljoen on 082 851 0048 or Christine du Preez on 083 300 2933. The proceeds from the tour will help to make the Hlokomela wellness clinic sustainable.

*Name has been changed.

All images courtesy Hoedspruit Training Trust

Category: Responsible Tourism

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