Isibindi Africa celebrates the one year anniversary of its most recently developed establishment, Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge in the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. The four-star lodge based in KwaZulu-Natal opened its doors on 1 March 2015 as part of a vision to uplift and empower the surrounding Mpembeni community. In just one year, the lodge has been successful in its Mpembeni initiative – a project that was put in place in order to meet the development needs of the community.
As a joint venture between the Mpembeni Community Trust, National Empowerment Fund, Frenken Associates and Isibindi Africa, the Mpembeni initiative was designed to involve the neighbouring community as part-shareholders of Rhino Ridge, in order to improve the community’s socio-economic situation. In line with this, the lodge has also provided much needed job opportunities – from creating temporary jobs during the building of the lodge, to offering permanent positions for on-going operations. To date, the lodge employs 64 staff, 97% of which are employed from previously disadvantaged communities. This is an increase of 37% from when the lodge first opened.
Receptionist, Nomvelo, is just one example of how the lodge’s socio-economic efforts have benefitted members of the community. Nomvelo comments, “For me, working at Rhino Ridge Safari Lodge has been great. I enjoy meeting new people and working alongside the friendly staff. Since the lodge opened in March last year, I have been promoted twice and now work at front of house as a receptionist. Rhino Ridge has changed my life!”
Rhino Ridge puts great emphasis on the professional growth of its staff members by equipping them with a skills set that they can carry with them throughout their careers.
Zama, who started her journey at Rhino Ridge as a gardener back in February 2015, has grown in leaps and bounds within a year, and now takes on the role as a housekeeper at the lodge. Comments Zama, “I came to Rhino Ridge last year as a gardener. Since then, I have learnt many other skills and have been promoted to housekeeper – and not just any housekeeper because I strive to give our guests the best service. Rhino Ridge has the winning formula when it comes to making superstars out of their employees.”
Spa therapists, Promise and Lungi, have also thrived in their time at the Rhino Ridge. As a result of their hard work, paired with the skills training that is offered by the lodge, they have both been awarded their certificates to practice professionally. This in turn will prove beneficial in furthering their careers.
Aside from its employee-focus, the lodge is also involved in various development projects which contribute to the welfare, income and conservation spirit of the community. Rhino Ridge donates to the Little Bird Feeding Fund in its efforts to raise the R2 500 that is needed every week to feed 26 children at the nearby Primary School in Mpembeni. The lodge also partners with the High School, offering mentorship in skills development, and furthermore assists the orphans of Mpembeni by providing evening feeding schemes for child-headed families in the area.
Rhino Ridge also now offers Big 5 walks within the Hluhluwe iMfolozi Park. Nunu Jobe, an experienced trails guide with many years of experience doing Wilderness Trails in the Park, is now based at Rhino Ridge. These walks provide an opportunity to experience the bush at an intimate level and are bound to create a new awareness and appreciation of the Wilderness.
Going forward, Rhino Ridge aims to continue in its efforts in providing skills training, job opportunities and education on wildlife conservation, as well as solidifying itself as a popular eco-tourism venue that aims to boost the economy for Mpembeni. Comments Brett Gehren, Owner of Isibindi Africa, “What started out as a vision to make a difference in the local community has resulted in a credible, sustainable, eco-friendly lodge that we can all be proud to be a part of. We look forward to carrying out the legacy of Isibindi Africa in all aspects of the lodge and endeavour to strive towards new heights, as a leader in community upliftment projects.”