As a hunter, there’s no greater thrill than stalking and harvesting big game. Knowing your money and efforts out in the field impact conservation of these animals and habitat. I recently finished an amazing 2-week safari down in Zimbabwe. As thrilling as this experience was, I must admit, this was not the highlight of my safari.
Thanks to Safari Club International Foundation and my local Tampa SCI chapter, I was sponsored to participate in The Blue Bag Program, which was established to help bring much needed supplies and medicine to remote areas and people in need around the world. The Bell family and Amy Bell Charities became a sponsor to promote the “Pay It Forward” spirit throughout the world in memory of their daughter Amy and in connection with Safari Club International Foundation’s humanitarian support program.
Back in 2021, I was fortunate to participate in this program while on safari in South Africa! With our Blue Bags filled with warm blankets and soft bedding, we delivered them to a remote community that was in serious need because of unseasonal frigid temperatures. We also brought food and dry goods that were purchased locally, as well as some game meat that we had harvested on our safari!
And now, before heading to Zimbabwe this year, I was made aware of an elementary school that was located right next to the area where I was going to be hunting. This school is extra special because it was built especially for the kids of the local Park Rangers and of the Patrolmen who work for the local Anti-Poaching Unit. The dollars spent by hunters coming to the area are directly being put back into the community, and together with the local government, the children of the folks that work to protect the hunting area and to look after the animals are able to get a quality education.
After landing in Harare, and before heading to camp, we stopped at a local market to load up on school supplies for the kids! The Blue Bag Program encourages participants to buy the donated goods locally in order to put money into the local economy, essentially doubling the impact of participation.
As soon as my hunt was finished, I loaded up the truck with the Blue Bags full of notebooks, pencils, pens, colored markers, crayons, coloring books, and math drill books, and drove through remote wilderness across the hunting area. It was hard to imagine that there was a school with small children nearby, when all around was the wildest lands in Africa. After arriving at the school, I was greeted by the schoolmaster, and several of the students, who gave me big smiles and kind hellos. Soon the rest of the students had gathered outside their classrooms to see what was in the bags. When I opened them up, all at once the children gasped, and excitedly said, “Oooooh!” and “Aaaah!”
I can honestly say that even after having such amazing success on my safari in Zimbabwe, the highlight of my trip was seeing the smiles on the faces of the children as they each took their share of the supplies that were brought in the Blue Bags. The kids were so thankful for us coming, and so thankful to all the hunters that come and visit the hunting area, because they truly understand the benefits that the hunting and outfitting operations bring to their lives every day.
It’s my hope that more hunters could participate in The Blue Bag Program, and that they too can experience first-hand the thrill that comes from engaging with the local communities that they visit on their hunts. And I’m sure that they too would agree, among the highlights of life, there are few that rival the joy of giving.
My plan is to bring more Blue Bags to all of my future remote hunting destinations through the help of my new non profit - Unleashed Outdoor Education & Wildlife Conservation Inc.
-Larysa Switlyk @LarysaUnleashed. @UnleashedGlobalAdventure @UnleashedOutdoorEducation