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Tshembo Africa Burpee Challenge

Covid has forced us to rethink everything. The way we live and plan our lives has in many ways fundamentally changed . The truth is, that, for most people, the uncertainty which the ongoing pandemic brings, is the most difficult challenge. Many different industries have been affected but probably none quite as severely as the tourism industry, particularly in countries where it forms a major part of the economy.

One such country is South Africa, where the first wave of the pandemic last year saw one of the world’s harshest lockdowns and an entire industry grind to a halt for the best part of six months. About ten percent of South Africa’s working population is employed in the tourism industry with many more people reliant on it and since 2017 around 16 million visitors a year have entered the country. In combination with the domestic traveller, these visitors directly or indirectly provide an income for employees and their families in the tourism, hospitality and service industry. With South Africa’s first lockdown, that all but stopped. Not only did national parks, hotels, lodges, campgrounds and restaurants close; people weren’t allowed to leave their houses.

Whilst the first lockdown was effective in suppressing the pandemic for quite some time, very little support came from the South African government in helping with what could only be described as the beginning of a humanitarian crisis. Millions of people, many of whom were previously employed, struggled to get food on a daily basis. Areas around the Kruger National Park in particular were very negatively affected. Towns such as Hoedspruit in the Limpopo province for example are almost solely reliant on tourism.

And of course, the unfortunate reality has also been that the halt in funding coming into the country’s protected areas and parks has meant a stark incline in poaching and important wild species facing an even steeper uphill battle to survive.

Luckily, Africa is a continent of hope. ‘Helping your neighbour’ is a value that is shared by everyone. Some people would not stand idly by and watch a pandemic ravage their country, its wildlife and its people.

Bruce Lawson and Sean Pattrick, two wilderness trails guides living in Hoedspruit beside the Kruger National Park and Howick in KwaZulu Natal respectively, decided they would spend the last three days of the most severe lockdown restrictions walking fifty kilometers a day around their back gardens, whilst carrying their trails packs. This idea grew into the Walking4Hope campaign, where Bruce and Sean were joined by current and former colleagues, students, guests and friends; a backup ‘army’ of people from all over the world that ended up walking for almost a month.

While the campaign gained traction in the form of many participants, Tshembo Africa, a non profit organisation was developed to help raise and channel funds towards the food crisis many people around the Kruger National Park faced. When Walking4Hope finished in May 2020, 900,000 ZAR or 60,000 USD had been raised for food parcels which were produced locally and then distributed to the families and communities in need adjacent to the Kruger. On top of this, the campaign allowed the many participants to focus on something positive, something meaningful and impactful at a time when many things were completely uncertain; it gave us a goal.

There are few people who are as goal-orientated as Bruce Lawson. Bruce walked 1000 kilometers in 20 days during Walking4hope, a remarkable feat of endurance. He has walked more than 20,000 hours in the African bush during his career, making him arguably one of, if not the most experienced wilderness trails guides out there. He also spent two years of his life walking from Cape Town to Cairo, another charity-driven mission. Bruce currently works as a specialist multi-day wilderness trails guide under his own name, as well as specialising in birding safaris and all the while running ‘Bushfit with Bruce’, a crossfit-style gym using minimal equipment, perfect for people stuck at home during covid.

Bruce inspires the people around him through his actions, and March 2021 will see one of his biggest challenges to date. The aim for ‘Burpees for Conservation’, as this year’s challenge will be known, is for the collective participants to perform one million burpees over the course of 4 weeks and in doing so raise at least 1 million ZAR. On a personal level for Bruce, he hopes to inspire as many people to join by trying to break a world record of doing 30,000 burpees over the course of ten days.

But why burpees? Bruce explains: ‘Burpees are a great exercise because they work nearly all of the body’s major muscle groups, including quads, chest, shoulders and core, whilst also being a cardio exercise that requires explosive energy. I personally don’t find burpees that difficult, in fact I enjoy them and incorporate them into most of my workouts. Because of that I’m going for the endurance thing with the challenge. A lot of people hate burpees because they’re such a tough way of doing exercise and that’s probably another reason I chose them for this. Having proper motivation (such as raising 1 million ZAR for a worthy cause) is much better than me telling people to do something because it’s healthy and if people are motivated, they may as well do something that’s both difficult and good for them at the same time.’

This year’s proceeds will be raised and donated via Tshembo Africa again but to a different cause. The Greater Kruger Environment Protection Foundation was established in 2016, in direct response to the alarming number of endangered animals being killed in the Greater Kruger region by poachers. GKEPF aims to minimise wildlife crime by the continuous training and upskilling of anti-poaching units, their trackers and dog handlers and by having aligned approaches in protecting the boundaries of the Greater Kruger. The need for sufficient funding for non-profits like GKEPF is higher currently than ever before. Very recently, a report was released which detailed that Kruger National Park had lost over 60% of its white rhino and over 35% of its black rhino population in six years between 2013 and 2019 and this shocked us all. Even after this startling loss, the Kruger still has by far the largest rhino population of any single protected area in the world. Now, more than ever, the South African National Parks slogan of ‘Unite Against Poaching’ needs to ring true.

That’s where the brilliance of this project lies. Anybody can join. The more people that do, the more awareness towards this cause is raised and maybe, the more funds are raised too. In participating, people can work on personal and collective fitness goals whilst being motivated by a cause that virtually anyone can relate to. So, on March 15th Tshembo Africa, Bruce Lawson and the Greater Kruger Environment Protection Foundation invites you to join them in this challenge and see how many burpees you can do for conservation.

Jomi Krobb, Co-Founder & CFO of Trunks & Tracks

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