Miracles in Matabeleland

There are many African safari and safari lodge operators who are contributing significantly to the conservation of Her wildlife and to the socio-economic development of Her rural people. This “good news story” is just one of them - a story that, for the Zimbabwe communities and individuals benefiting from the efforts of skilled and generous people from around the world, is a saga of saving lives and bringing hope.




From a campfire discussion with a group of Spanish and Italian dentists at Bomani Safari Lodge many years ago to the first Mobile Dental Safari in 2011, this year, the seventh, was without a doubt the biggest and best yet. The number of patients treated in a little under a week was just over 4,000, while the first year was 1174! It’s not just about the numbers – the event has evolved into so much more than annual dental care for rural villagers. There is now have an optical component that this year was larger than the dental, and a number of other new elements have been added, each providing relief to thousands.

These are some of the Miracles from the “ 017 Smile Safari”. This is an incredible Team of international and local professionals, who voluntarily do truly amazing work - performed in some of the most remote parts of Zimbabwe! This epitomises everything that Imvelo Safari Lodges - who organise, provide the logistics and foot the bill - stand for. As do so many of the responsible tourism companies who operate in these remote areas of Africa.


Miracle 1
Where eye surgery is required!


This year the first surgical ophthalmological component was provided in response to what had been seen in these communities in previous years. The Team was joined by gifted young Zimbabwean ophthalmologist, Dr Gilbert Moyo from United Bulawayo Hospitals, who diagnosed patients in need of eye surgery. Working with Sam Moyo, the Imvelo Communities Officer, these patients will in the future be organised with transport to town for an operation that in most cases will save their eyes and restore vision. The first patient, Goodnight Sibanda, has already had a successful operation that was urgent - paid for by the D3 Foundation. Raising money for more than 100 other patients Dr Moyo identified as requiring eye surgery is underway.


Miracle 2
Clear sight for old and young


The Optometric Team, that last year comprised two Spaniards, was overwhelmed by the number of people needing spectacles. So this year the Team grew by two more Spaniards and two Zimbabweans from Bulawayo optometrists, John McMinn & Co. They were equipped them with state of the art eye testing equipment paid for by money raised by Smile is a Foundation. Even this stronger and much better equipped Team could barely cope with the demand that came forward. They treated over 1900 patients, a large number of them older people requiring two sets of spectacles for reading and distance, as well as hundreds of sunglasses to protect eyes from our harsh sun.


Miracle 3
More experts volunteer their services!


The Team has almost doubled since the first year in 2011, but most gratifying is the number of Zimbabweans volunteering to join and the number of new enthusiastic young faces in the Spanish and Italian Team. Some of the original veterans are facing increased family and work commitments which have made it more difficult to travel every year, so they have carefully selected new faces that can replace them in years when they are unavailable. By expanding the Team, pressure on individuals to join us every year is relieved.

Miracle 4
Support from all over the world!


The donors, who have financed much of the project, have continued to provide support as it has expanded.Higher Life Foundation this year picked up the tab not only for airfares, but also for a larger fleet of buses to move patients over long distances. Smile is a Foundation purchased the expensive equipment, anaesthetics, spectacles and medical kits, plus funded the catering and accommodation. D3 Foundation funded 3000 litres of diesel; 3500 meals served at the clinics; over 4000 toothbrushes; tens of thousands of Ibuprofen and Amoxicillin, and is leading the drive to raise funds for patients needing eye surgery. Apart from spectacles brought from Spain, Elke Kuepper with ITP in Germany organised and arranged delivery of thousands of pairs of spectacles. Feinschmecker from Joburg provided cooler boxes filled with cold meats and goodies. Bulawayo dental practitioner, Dudu Sibanda, volunteered her time at our clinic in Dete, and also autoclaved and sterilised all the tools. John McMinn and Matt Love assisted in many ways, but also arranged for their staffers, Karene and Somayya, to work with us for the week. Shoes collected by Anita McGaw in Melbourne were given to those patients most in need. The list of supporters is amazing and, obviously, appreciated by the beneficiaries.


Miracle 5
Better equipment for diagnosis and treatment

Some of the new equipment provide by Smile is a Foundation this year included two new auto-refractors (an electronic eye testing device), a trial lens case, and a dental irrigation and suction machine. The new equipment was provided by Smile is a Foundation.



Miracle 6
Lives changed, futures brightened!



Every year the project is overwhelmed with the stories of the individuals whose lives are change - the young mother who had tears in her eyes when one of our dentists removed the two extraordinary incisors of her ten week old baby that had made breast feeding almost impossible. The young children left out of school because of a “ earning disability", fixed with a simple pair of spectacles. The old people terrified of falling because they can’t see, suddenly able to see far and then, with a second set of spectacles, to even read again. The hundreds of children lining up in their afternoons after school to get a maize meal and beans lunch, and then watch real live dentists and doctors at work, and listen to an oral hygiene talk. Impromptu soccer match against the children at Mabanda Village on the drive from Dhlamini - accompanied by Spanish soccer songs!

Miracle 7
Reaching further out to neglected areas

Apart from taking care of the communities around the Imvelo lodges, this year the project pushed further into the communities on the remotest south western boundary of Hwange National Park, areas plagued by some of the worst poaching the Park has had to deal with. The Team were warned that it would be long distances and long drives down to Dhlamini in Chief Siphosa’s area – not a murmur of complaint was heard. As expected the mouths looked into that day were reminiscent of the mouths experienced in the first years : multiple infections; multiple extractions per mouth; abscesses, and thin, scared children with debilitating tooth aches. When the Team left late and exhausted, all were unanimous to return every year to that most remote and neglected part of the country.


Miracle 8
Programming long-term health benefits


In past years, the needs of thousands of school children have been attended to, but this year it went to the next level. At Ngamo Primary and Secondary Schools, a file was opened on each individual, capturing their dental and sight records so that in the years ahead their specific needs can be catered for. Over time, this record will provide a database to assess the effectiveness of the preventative programmes. This year’s ‘school clinic’ was such a success there are plans to bring several more schools into the programme next year, so that while the adults are being attended to at the local clinic, the nearby schools will also be a hive of health and hygiene education. The strategy is to engrave in young minds the importance of eye and oral health.

Annual interventions will include checking eyesight, providing spectacles where needed, and providing sunglasses to everyone to prevent eye disease caused by over exposure to the strong African sun. In the dental department all mouths will be checked, cavities filled, rotten teeth extracted and root canal work done when needed. On top of that every 6 months new tooth brushes will be provided, fluoride treatment applied and a 1 minute rinse with chlorexidene with the help of rural school teachers. On each occasion a lecture on prevention of both teeth and eye disease will be given to every class.


Miracle 9

School children see the Victoria Falls for the first time!


A major part of putting the Dental Safari into the field every year is assembling the fleet of vehicles and drivers. This year, the day after the last clinic, but before the buses set off back to their homes, the majority of the children at Chisuma School had never actually seen the Victoria Falls, even though they had grown up within sight of the spray column rising into the sky. The Dental Safari buses changed that when 388 Chisuma School children and their teachers were taken into the Victoria Falls National Park. Despite the constant anxiety of the teachers keeping the children safe, the well behaved children had as many pictures taken of them by other visitors as were taken of the Falls themselves that day. This is an addition that will be replicated every year for other schools in the area.


Miracle 10

The Team on a safari!


Part of the success of the Imvelo Mobile Dental and Optical Safari is the “Thank You” to the volunteers for their hard work and the sacrifices they make to do what they do. This year they had a day at Nehimba Lodge in Hwange with some magnificent elephant viewing; a day at Bomani for a sunset viewing of wild dogs at Stoffie’s Pan. A transfer to Victoria Falls on the overnight passenger train service enjoyed by everyone. Lunch at The Victoria Falls Hotel and dancing in the evening with Ingqungqulu Emnyama troupe ended the day. The final day at Zambezi Sands had the Team canoeing on the Zambezi and celebrating with a Spanish paella party on the beach next to the magnificent river. These memories will last a lifetime – but none stronger than those of the people that were helped along the way.



Curriculum Vitae                                                   Conservation    Community    Commerce    Culture                                      © David Peddie 2017