Imvelo Safari Lodges' Smile and See Safari was another massive success and another miracle in Matabeleland

If you’re looking for a story of triumph in the face of Covid-related adversity, this is it!

Imvelo were able to bring our full Smile and See Safari back to the communities in Matabeleland this year. A multinational effort of individuals from Spain, Italy, The United Kingdom, The United States, South Africa and Zimbabwe coordinated to carry-out this mission.

In past years we had used local clinics or schools and taken over classrooms and offices, but that clearly was not going to work now with covid restrictions. So, our new plan was to set up our own tent city under shady trees, with as many as 14 huge open-sided airy marquee tents, each one designated to a specific activity – registration, diagnosis, anesthesia, sterilization, pharmaceuticals, optometry, fluorination and more, all laid out in such a way people could enter at one end and receive treatment via socially distanced queues in socially distanced spaces before leaving at the other end.

And then we had to organize arrivals such that our clinic area was never occupied by more than a hundred people. All of whom had to be temperature checked, recorded, fed and watered, and treated as necessary before the next group. Our project team had to more than double in size.

While the support team were prepping the site our doctors rose early and loaded onto the trucks, eager to see the stories each day would bring. At Sipepa clinic for example Edward, 93 and dressed in his finest, had walked two kilometers to address a dental issue during which it was noticed he had cataracts. He will be connected with a hospital where his transportation, accommodation and surgical procedure will be graciously funded by Smile and See benefactors. In Dhlamini clinic our team was approached by a woman concerned for her sixteen-year-old grandson. She explained that he had an infection and the team moved into position to remove a painful and toxic abscess before prescribing antibiotics. Those with convenient access to regular medical care would not likely consider the extraction of twelve teeth in one day however this was necessary in the case of one woman.

Over the course of the week, the team passed a major milestone at Mlevu clinic when we treated our project’s 30,000th patient and our 10,000th optometric patient at Sipepa received spectacles after having her eyes tested.

A key objective for Smile and See is preventative care for young people and over 750 children were given fluoride treatments this year. Students were escorted by their teachers, classroom by classroom, which allowed for safe distancing. Fluorination has been  shown to be an important factor in long term dental health. The outreach also provided an opportunity to make children feel comfortable around healthcare professionals.

And on our last day at Dhlamini (Thanksgiving in the US), as we were literally closing our entry gates, along came an old man escorting his even older father. When we counted, he was our 4007th patient for the year and he was to be our last. His name was Willy Bhayana and he came from Ntampane village and his age was 104 years old!

We are so grateful that our Christmas wish came true – to bring the Smile and See Safari back to rural Matabeleland and uplift and help our communities who have again had another extremely challenging year. The logistics behind the scenes were unbelievable and is in the truest sense ‘team work at its best’. We need to say an enormous thank you to all the wonderful donors and partners that helped us even long before we put up our first marquee and got to work. Immense gratitude goes out to Smile is a Foundation, the D3 Foundation, Miracle Missions, the Meikles Foundation and the Camelthorn Foundation along with many other incredible donors. Without this support none of the lifesaving work would be possible. Smile and See 2021, our most difficult in 11 years, was another massive success and another miracle in Matabeleland.

For more information on our community and conservation programmes please visit Hwange Needs You.

Thank you to Suzanne Hixson for some of the content.