Outside GO Travelers Making a Difference in Zambia
Outside GO Travelers Making a Difference in Zambia
Not only did the Lyon and Greenfield families have the time of their lives in Africa late last year, but they chose to change the lives of those they met for years to come.
Recent GO travelers, Neil and Cindy Lyon and Bill and Margaret Greenfield, didn’t just have an epic two-week safari in southern Africa. They became a part of the culture and soul of Zambia by donating a life-changing second meal a day for more than 300 students at the Twabuka School. Offering students healthy eats does more than just cure rumbling stomachs—it increases attendance and makes for a healthier community. Neil and Cindy expand on their travels and their commitment that, together with the Greenfield's, will improve the welfare of Twabuka students for years to come.
Q: Last fall, you embarked on an epic 2-week safari in southern Africa. Tell us, what inspired the trip?
Cindy: I’ve always wanted to go to Africa. Our last name is Lyon and I’m a Leo, and so I love the big kitties. I was turning 60 and Neil asked what I wanted to do for my birthday. I said I wanted to go see cats, and he said “you want to go to the zoo?” “No, I want to go to Africa!” That’s how innocently this trip started.
Q: And did you see the big kitties?
Neil: We saw lions, cheetahs, a leopard. Hundreds of giraffes, hundreds of zebras, a million impalas, and a hundred elephants in one sitting as they crossed right in front of us on a dirt road. We walked with the rhinos. It was an incredible trip.
Cindy: We knew we would get excited about and love to see the wildlife, but we didn’t know in advance how much we would love the African people. At each camp you visit on safari, the guides have their work cut out for them. By the time we were at our third camp we had seen a lot of things. Our guide asked us what we still wanted to see, and the one thing was a leopard. He was determined that he was going to find us a leopard. It took him a couple of days–10 hours of tracking to be exact–and he found one. He was so determined.
"We knew we would get excited about and love to see the wildlife, but we didn’t know in advance how much we would love the African people."
Q: Tell us about your visit to the Twabuka School in Zambia.
Neil: We went there with a suitcase full of school supplies and solar lights. We were going to Twabuka School to drop it off on what was scheduled to be a 15-minute visit, but we had no expectation that we would do anything beyond that.
Cindy: One of the things that was really impactful when we went to the school was that as we drove into the school all these little children just ran joyfully along the vehicle smiling and saying "thank you for come see us!" There was no sense of entitlement, there was just joy and gratitude.
Neil: They were the sweetest greeters you could ever have on the planet. It was so wonderful. That really set the tone for how we felt when we got to the school a few minutes later. There was definitely no grand plan but we were so inspired by the kids and teachers we met. The need was so great and we knew that for a totally manageable amount of money we could really change things. We found out that there was an Italian musician named Federico Spinucci that had started funding one meal a day at Twabuka (which we were told was the one meal that many of these kids got on any particular day), and so we talked to one of the people we met at the school. I said I’d like to be in touch with this musician guy, who is in fact an attorney based in Rome. Largely because of my interactions with Federico, and knowing that he had vetted this out and had been doing it for three years, that gave us the confidence to say let’s just do it.
That morning we had gone to Victoria Falls and then gone on a bush walk with white rhinos with two park rangers. Just imagine the contrast, going to this school and having these beautiful kids chasing our car and welcoming us. On our way back to Toka Leya, what started as a couple of elephants walking in front of our car ended up being so many that we lost count at a 100. Some of them were mere feet in front of the vehicle.
Cindy: That was our first day of the trip.
Q: So you decided to donate a second meal a day to every student–over 300 total–for the next three years. Tell us more about what this commitment means.
Cindy: While we were visiting we learned that the woman who started the school had at first had trouble getting children to attend. But once they started providing food, attendance went way up because the kids could eat (which they might not have at home). And the product of that, partly because of education and partly because the kids were at school, is that the AIDS rate in the village went way down. The impact of education is huge here.
Neil: You could also tell in our interactions that so many Americans and Europeans come in and visit this school and say they’re going to help, but very few ever do. You could sense that even with Federico, he couldn’t be sure that we were really going to commit. I told him on a call that while I’m sure most don’t, we are going to do this. Once they realized we were serious about helping, everyone’s gratitude was through the roof.
Cindy: That’s why we made the commitment to provide the second meal for three years.
"There was definitely no grand plan but we were so inspired by the kids and teachers we met."
Q: Have you always given back like this?
Neil: We have always supported local non-profits in Santa Fe that have focused on underserved kids, and in some cases rescue animals. I’m with Sotheby’s and last year we were at an international conference where one of the speakers was a guy who started a non-profit called New Story. New Story builds houses in third world countries where they have tremendous housing problems. They don’t just go build a house—they work with local governments and local contractors to buy land and create neighborhoods and villages. This 20-minute talk really inspired Cindy and I to buy a home for a family in Aquas Calientes, Mexico, with our business partner at Sotheby’s International Realty. We felt so good about it, I’m sure it had an impact on us when we went to Zambia.
Q: How can our readers help the kids at Twabuka School?
Neil: It would be great if we could generate the funds for a 5 or 10-year commitment, or double the amount of money we are sending now to provide things like solar panels for electricity for the school. It's such a manageable amount of money that you can literally change someone’s life in a day. Why not?
Right now the best way to donate to Twabuka School is to contact Neil and Cindy directly.
Inspired to GO to Africa? Check out the below adventure similar to the one Neil and Cindy experienced with us.
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