US Embassy Site Visit 2017
The US Ambassador’s Special Self-Help Fund for small grants aims to fund programmes that not only assist but empower communities, and the Matobo Rhino Initiative’s two Rhino Community Centres at the entrance to the Matobo National Park and the Whovi Game Park, are just that. In fact Yvonne Gonzales, Political/Economic Affairs Chief for the US Embassy in Harare, seeing the completed centres for the first time during a recent visit to the Matopos, called the project “the poster child” of the self-help fund.
She said the Embassy loved the fact that not only did the centres aim to create awareness of the rhino in a bid to preserve the species, but that there was also a strong community link. Chairman of MRT, John Burton, together with trustees, Colin Gillies and Gordon Geddes, took Ms Gonzalez and her two colleagues from the US Embassy’s Political/Economic Affairs (Mutsa Machimbidzofa and Melissa Finkenbiner) first on a rhino walk, and then to visit the centres which their department had funded.
Burton explained that the Matobo was one of the last viable sanctuaries of the rhino left in this part of the world, and that their protection and preservation were vital, not only in terms of maintaining the bio-diversity of the park but also as the rhino represented the potential for much-needed tourism revenue for Zimbabwe.
The community centres, built under thatch, give detailed information about the rhino, attractively set out on boards with photographs, but even more importantly, they include a pot into which visitors are encouraged to donate money.
“For a long time the community has had no vested interest in the rhino,” said Burton. “The perception has been that it is only the tour operators who benefit from their presence, not the communities which live alongside them. These centres aim to raise money which can go back into the community, and benefit the people there.”
Written by Violette Kee-Tui