In August 2015, the Peery family of Utah joined together with their friends the Wilsons and the Nelsons for a private tour of Tanzania with CW Safaris. In the spirit of giving back to the communities they were visiting, the families arranged to donate 30 brand new desks to the Hhaymu Primary School on Gibbs Farm – with a little help from CW Safaris director Sonya Bradley.
During their trip, the families had the opportunity to visit the school, see the newly delivered desks, meet with the schoolchildren who will be using them, and even enjoy an international game of pickup soccer with the local kids. In this interview, we asked Shane Peery to tell us more about this amazing family adventure.
How did you decide on a family safari in Africa?
Well, we have four children, and our daughter who just graduated from high school always wanted to go to Africa. So we thought this would be a good way to spend our last summer together before she moved to the east coast for college. Once we decided to go, we thought it would be fun to join with others, so we invited my wife’s uncle and their family of three (Wilsons), and then he invited his long-time friends (Nelsons), and we also invited a nephew who was very close with our daughter. So in the end, there were three families, all 12 of us together the whole time in a private group with our two guides.
Had any of you been to Africa before?
No, it was a first for all of us.
What was the range of ages in the group?
The youngest was our son who’s 10, and the oldest was 66.
What was your process in planning the trip? Did you tailor the entire trip to your group’s interests from the ground up, or choose an existing itinerary from the CW Safaris catalog and adapt it?
You know, we were kind of nervous about it. Our family had traveled to Scandinavia for about 2 to 3 weeks the previous summer and in Italy for a month the summer before that, so we felt comfortable traveling as a family. On those two trips we had kind of winged it, planned out our own hotels, planned out our own flights –TripAdvisor, stuff like that. But with Africa we had this mental block that we couldn’t do it on our own, so we searched the internet for a few months looking for reputable tour operators, and I asked anybody who’d gone, “Hey, how did you do it?” and CW Safaris kept routinely being referred to us.
When I called and spoke with Sonya at CW Safaris the first time, she said with a private group you can really do whatever you want, so I said “Well, if you could just take your family one time to Africa, what would you do?” She pointed us to the CW Safaris Tanzania/East Africa trip, but then we worked together and adapted it slightly. You know, we wanted a broad experience. We weren’t die-hard safari-ists. We wanted a full range spectrum: to feel the culture, eat the food, see the animals, a little taste of everything I suppose. One of the optional pieces we added was the balloon ride, and the trip to Zanzibar, but the biggest one of all was the service component that we did at Gibbs Farm.
How did you get interested in the idea of donating desks to the school?
We always wanted the trip to have a humanitarian component. We had heard kids love to have soccer balls, so we thought about taking a whole suitcase of soccer balls deflated and then pumping them up and giving them away. Somebody else gave us the idea to go and buy local food and give that away to help the local merchants. As we were grappling with what to do, we asked Sonya, who had been so helpful up to that point, and lo and behold she came back with this idea of donating desks for a school near the Gibbs Farm where we’d be staying. I would guess that if you interviewed each person on the trip, most, maybe all of them would say that half day time spent at the Hhaymu school was the best part of the whole trip, so we were glad Sonya suggested it.
Can you describe what it was like visiting the school? What struck you most about your experience there?
You know, seeing the finished desks was nice, and we could see how that would benefit the students, but I think what really struck us – having gone to school in Utah and our kids having gone to school in the United States – was just how different their experience was. These kids were five to a desk, packed into a fairly crudely built building with no air conditioning; I think there were about 400 in the school, with 100 kids packed into a classroom that in the United States would have 20 or 25 students. The headmaster greeted us and took us on a tour, but our favorite part was after the general overview when they took us into the classrooms. The kids were all singing songs and then we had these question and answer sessions – they all wanted to know where were we from, our favorite thing to do, our favorite thing to eat. I think what struck us was they were just so happy, and they each would hold our hands, and we had a little book where they could write their name, and we committed to send them letters and stay in touch, so it was just a really, really warm experience.
I understand that there was also a bit of a pickup soccer game afterwards.
(laughing) Yeah, our nephew, Trevyn, is a soccer player for his high school here in Utah, and a really good athlete. He’s 6’5”, and can run like a gazelle, so he started playing with them, and some of these kids were – I don’t know, 8, 9, 10? – and boy, they were running circles around Trevyn. It was a sloped field, uneven ground, with branches stuck in the ground for the goalposts, so kind of a crude game, but really fun. Most of us had our phones with us, and they were just enthralled by selfies. We probably have hundreds of pictures with the kids, cause they all wanted to push the button and see themselves in the camera after we took it.
Aside from the school visit, what other aspects of your safari were most memorable for you?
You know, our guides Frances and Godfrey were just off the charts; we had twelve of us, and six would jump in one vehicle in the morning and the another six would jump in the other one; so we went back and forth almost seamlessly between the two the whole trip and really got to know the guides well. It’s hard to describe how good they made the trip. They would always be talking to us and teaching us and giving us background – biology lessons, geography lessons, history lessons – constantly throughout the day. They were all about whatever we wanted to do, whenever we wanted to do it. I couldn’t say enough positive about the guides. To me, it made all the difference in the trip.
Do you have any advice for others who might be considering a family safari to Africa?
In retrospect, I was really nervous about it going in, because again our style of travel was to do it ourselves, but with this we were really just trusting in the itinerary and CW Safaris’ experience. At every turn, our expectations were exceeded. The places were nicer, the guides were better, everything was just better than expected. So if I could have just relaxed on the front end and trusted that everything was going to work out great, it probably would have been better. We travelled with the Wilson and Nelson families and could not have asked for better travelling companions. We admire both families so much.
What do you see as the lasting impact of your visit? What aspects of the experience have really stuck with you?
I think the thing that really sticks out is that how happy you can be without much. In America there just seems to be a growing sense of you’ve gotta have a bigger home, you gotta have a nicer car, you gotta have money. These children I don’t think had any of those things, and they were just as happy as can be, singing songs and playing around. So that was a takeaway, that you can be happy with a lot, or a little. In fact maybe the environment and the circumstances you’re in don’t really dictate whether you’re happy or not. And you know, I think for my kids, it’s that there’s just a different way of life out there. Our children have been in a primarily white, primarily affluent part of Utah, and for them to be able to see other ways of life, other ways to go about living than the way we do was really impactful for each of us.
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