The Nedbank Tour de Tuli is a major fundraiser for Children in the Wilderness, so it was no surprise that a visit to the local Lentswe-Le-Moriti Primary School, nestled in a corner of eastern Botswana, was on the agenda. Amongst the photographers and videographers asked to cover the event, I was fortunate to spend a good three hours on site, watching the community’s anticipation grow ahead of the visit of the first groups of Tuli riders, led by Botswana’s Minister of Tourism, Philda Nani Kereng.
The children had been writing exams that morning, and at noon had been sent home for lunch, a rest, and to make sure their school uniforms looked their best. I arrived just after 1 pm when they had reassembled, and found them in the quad, under a tree, playing games, singing, chanting and dancing, led by their teachers. There was also a line of chairs in the shade, occupied by men and women in their finest, wearing hats, ready for the ceremony. When I asked who the waiting adults were, they told me they were the village community leaders.
It was hot, the sun relentless, and the dust ever present, but the spirits of the gathering were high. Smiles beneath the masks were visible in the pairs of dark eyes and the energy palpable. I didn’t see it flag once, even though the wait for the visitors was longer than expected.
The children shyly relaxed with me, giving me winks, catching my hand or my shirt softly and posing for photographs. I was touched by the care of the teachers, who dished out water for the children from buckets as the heat of the day settled in.
Suddenly a flurry of activity, calls of warning, teachers quickly lining up stray charges and bursting over the hill came a group of riders, led by the Minister – dressed in the Tour cycling kit and sporting a smile as wide as the Limpopo River.
Every pair of eyes in the quad focused on her as she came to a halt with a wobbling flourish and spread her arms wide. What a warm and vibrant soul. This woman will make change happen – there is nothing that will stop her.
I loved her style, and how she connected with each person in the school and village community. Gifts were received with deep gratitude, words spoken about sustainable tourism, biodiversity and conservation, and then it was all over.
I lowered my camera and watched the cyclists disappear into the distance.
Penny Bird, 26 July 2022
A taste of the Tour