South Africa Connection Trip – Virgin Unite

South Africa Connection Trip – Virgin Unite

Arriving into South Africa

Despite having traveled over 30 hours to arrive in South Africa, and experiencing bad jetlag, I was beyond excited! It was my first time ever to visit the African Continent. I was traveling with my business partner, kindred spirit and yoga instructor, Gina Murdock to work with Virgin Unite on a Connection Trip.  We arrived a few days early to see and experience a bit of South Africa on our own, before our group arrived.

After getting to our hotel in Johannesburg at 10 in the morning, we got freshened up and shortly thereafter, went on a walk in the area of Rosebank. After being in airports and airplanes, it was lovely to get some fresh air. We found a quaint outside mall, packed with local people enjoying lunch. Our friend Tim Nash picked us up here. Tim is South African and attended a Virgin Unite Connection Trip that we led to Jordan 6 months earlier. We have been emailing him, and he graciously offered to show us around to some of his favorite places. Along with Tim were his friends Andre Marais and Tarik Khan.  After exchanging quick hellos, we were off on our first South African adventure.

Soweto Bound

Tim brought us to Soweto. The drive gave us an opportunity to see more of Johannesburg, which are an incredibly clean city, great roads and infrastructure. As we approached the outskirts of Soweto, we began to see more of shantytowns, but overall there was no litter to be seen. We parked the car, and headed to the Hector Peterson Museum, and learned in detail about the student uprising that happened on June 16, 1976 in Soweto.  The Museum was created in memory of Hector Peterson, and all of the young heroes and heroines who sacrificed their own lives for freedom, peace and democracy.

Hector Peterson Museum. Yoga Retreats. International Adventures. Seva Yoga. Yoga South Africa

The museum was incredible. Between the riveting pictures as you entered into the lobby, to the stories of the youth, the videos capturing not only the events themselves, but personal interviews from both sides. This museum not only tugged at your heartstrings, but gave you so much hope for the future. The stories of the individuals are about pride, commitment, growing up, discovery, love, suffering, sacrifice, forgiveness and retribution. To see how these African youth who could not stand the oppression any longer, with their refusal to speak Afrikaans, led to a revolution and the beginning of the end of apartheid. Everybody in the world should see this museum.

Afterwards, we walked through Soweto, which is just steeped in history. We saw the area where Hector Peterson was shot, as well as other incidents marking that sacred day in time. We met up with some of Tim Nash’s friends that live in Soweto, Nhedi and Humphry.  As we were walking with them towards the house that Nelson Mandela lived, we heard the most beautiful voices singing and decided to investigate.  It was coming from the nearby high school. We walked around the corner, and into the school’s courtyard, where there was a small tent. Inside the tent, there must have been about 30 kids in their high school uniforms singing.  We wanted to get closer, and so Nedhi, who is from the neighborhood asked permission if we could join them in the tent. They smiled warmly and beckoned us in.

Seva Yoga. Yoga Retreat. Volunteer Trip. Yoga Volunteer. Yoga International.

These kids could sing!  From deep tenors to angelic sounding sopranos, it was delightful to hear them. For their last song, they gathered in a circle, including us in the group, everyone holding hands, and sang the most beautiful gospel song.  It was so moving and heartwarming. Afterwards, I spoke to one of the high school boys that was directing the singers, and he said that they were a choir that had recently been established because they all love to sing, and are looking forward to an upcoming competition in whih they would find out if they were any “good.” I assured them they were fantastic.

Nelson Mandela House

Afterwards, we walked over to the home where Nelson Mandela lived before he was imprisoned. A very modest home, steeped in history. We had a wonderful guide that showed us around and shared with us wonderful stories about the Mandela family. My favorite part of the exhibit was seeing the letters that Nelson Mandela received and wrote from his prison cell. He had the most beautiful cursive script- very flowing and meticulous. Another highlight was the World Champion Belt that Sugar Ray Leonard gifted to Nelson Mandela after he was released from prison. Since nobody has contested Nelson Mandela since then, he remains the “World Boxing Champion.”  He touched so many people’s lives and hearts and continues to do so everyday.

Visiting the Nelson Mandela House. Inspirational Yoga. International Yoga Retreat International

After leaving the Nelson Mandela house, we went across the street to a small open air café and had some drinks and snacks, and just watch a day in the life of Soweto. It was so wonderful to see people walking around, enjoying themselves, relaxing- we had been warned that whatever you do, do not visit either Soweto or the city of Johannesburg- how dangerous both places are supposed to be. We felt completely safe and welcomed by all of the locals.

Photo of Nelson Mandela. Inspiring Yoga. Yoga Adventure Retreat. International Yoga. Seva Yoga

Johannesburg Fun

We headed back towards Johannesburg, and stopped along the way at Andre’s house.  He wanted us to visit his home, and when we arrived, I could see why! It was spectacular- an old school Johannesburg home. It was built over 100 years ago, and completely regal in its structure. The lavish gardens he tended to himself, and they were absolutely exquisite. From his top porch, we witnessed the most breathtaking sunset- deep reds and oranges. They sky looked as if it was on fire. As we drove back to the hotel to meet with colleagues for dinner, the sky continued to dazzle us with its beauty.Tim and his friends dropped us off, with plans set for the following day.

We had dinner at the Clico hotel we were staying, a sweet boutique hotel in Rosebank with beautiful outside gardens and patio areas. The weather was perfect for dining alfreso. Tracey Webster, CEO of the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship (BCOE) and Jenny Duffy, Special Events Coordinator for the BCOE joined us for dinner. We had the loveliest time. Conversation was flowing with excitement for our upcoming Virgin Unite Connection Trip.

Both Tracey and Jenny are so enthusiastic about the BCOE, as well as living in Johannesburg, and the endless potential of opportunities that are available here. They spoke about the revitalization of the downtown area, and how its safe again to go into the city. They both spoke with so much pride and hope for their country of South Africa, and the positive change and growth they have both witnessed in the past few years.  As we said goodnight to them, we were all so looking forward to our upcoming experiences together with the Virgin Unite Connection Trip.

Cradle Of Humankind

The following morning, Tim Nash picked us up with Tariq Khan and Orlando Gallardo, who was with Tim this past September on our Virgin Unite trip to Jordan. We were off to Tim’s family property- the Cradle of Humankind- over 15,000 acres about 45 minutes outside of the Johannesburg, but a world apart. When we arrived on the property, we first went to the main house, and switched out the vehicle, and suddenly, I was in my first safari Jeep!  We took off across the street, and into a complete wonderland of beauty.

Cradle of Humankind Yoga. Seva Yoga. Yoga Retreat. International Yoga. Yoga Travels.

From rolling hills to farmland to rocky crags and bushveld, we were off on quite an adventure!  During the day, we saw zebra, oryx, eland (biggest antelope in Africa), warthog, wildebeest, gemsbuck, kudu and sable- and we saw them in great number. It was spectacular as we toured this vast private property to see these exquisite animals grazing in their natural habitat.

Tim’s had a wonderful surprise waiting for us on his property. For over 20 years there has been a paleontologist named Lee Berger surveying the property- convinced that there were hominid fossils existing. Five years ago, in 2008, Lee and his 9-year-old son Matthew were on the property, on his fossil quest.  When they arrived at a site that Lee had been determining by Google Maps that there could be some kind of activity there, Lee told Matthew to go “look for fossils”. Lo and behold, minutes later his son called Lee over to look at a rock he found- embedded inside holding was a hominid clavicle and jawbone- and the reason Lee knew this was indeed a clavicle was that he had his PHD in studying it!  What are the chances of that?

Lee Berger. Seva Yoga. Yoga Ventures. International Yoga Trips. Global Retreats. Humanitarian Retreats

Human Evolution- Changing in front of our eyes!

Since that time, there have been incredible breakthroughs in his findings. The fossils he has found on the property date back almost 2 million years. This species of early human, shedding light on a critical period during which our ancestors began to walk upright, use tools and develop a capacity for language. Scientists say the two million-year-old fossilised skeleton is from a previously unknown type of hominid, the evolutionary branch of primates that led to humans. The new species could be an intermediate stage between ape-like hominids and the first species of advanced humans, Homo habilis. Lee has has found not only one, but quite a few almost complete human skeletons in the fossil remains. Unprecedented in history, the findings are changing the way that scientists have viewed human evolution. Lee now has a team of 107 scientists from around the world working collaboratively as a team unearthing these remaining fossils and studying them in great detail.

Lee Berger spent over 3 hours with us on the property, and during that time we had the best science education I think I’ve ever had in my life!  He showed us the exact spot that the fossils were discovered, and the detailed story behind it. He brought us into the hole where fossils remains of hominids still remain, soon to be excavated. Lee’s discovery of these fossils has changed science and history forever. It was incredibly exciting to spend the afternoon with him. To witness firsthand history in the making!

Lee Berger. Yoga Ventures. Yoga Retreat. International yoga. Seva Retreat. Global Yoga Adventures

What I loved most was learning about how the hominid fossil was named. Rather than naming it himself, he had a contest among entered by 15 000 pupils and students across South Africa. A 17 year old student named Omphemetse Keepile. a pupil at St Mary’s school in Waverley, Johannesburg—was named the winner of the naming competition. She named the fossil Karabo, which means “answer” in Setswana.In her presentation just before being announced the winner of the naming competition, Keepile said she chose the name Karabo because “it suggests that answers are present and that more answers will follow”. “The fossil represents a solution to understanding the origins of humankind. It has helped researchers to seek much deeper into the information that they have and the information that they will acquire through this discovery,” she said.“It has enabled them to broaden their former understanding of the concept of humankind.”

She was awarded a full scholarship to University as a result. From everything we heard, Lee Berger has acted with such respect and integrity for the project, and for the country of South Africa. It was quite remarkable to have such personable time with him, and to hear his enthusiasm for this discovery of the origins of humankind.

After Lee departed to get back to the laboratory, Tim continued the tour of his exquisite property. We stopped and had a delicious picnic lunch at their family retreat, which overlooked a beautiful river. The river water was crystal clear, and just lovely scenery. Rocky crags, tall reeds, and rolling hills in the background made up our view. After lunch, we went kayaking, as well as swimming in the river. So refreshing in the afternoon sun, as well as a beautiful way to bask and relax and drink in the view.

Yoga and Kayaking Vacation. Yoga Vacation. Yoga Venture. International Yoga. Seva Yoga.

Cradle of Humankind Exploration

After kayaking, we went on our next adventure. We had no idea when Tim invited us to his property how vast, magnificent and extensive his land is. We drove for a bit, and then ended up in front of these huge caves that back in the late 1800’s were mined for limestone.  We got out and explored around. The caves were massive in depth and width. Apparently, Lee Berger had set up equipment deep in the caves years before as part of his research to discover fossils.  In these caves he actually discovered 2 hominid teeth, which were the first discovery in over……

International Yoga International Retreat. Best Yoga Vacation. Best Yoga Retreat

After the caves, we toured around the property some more. Tim’s land is majestic, and beyond incredible to view packs of African animals roaming the land. At dusk, as the sun was setting, we saw herds of antelope, zebra and elands grazing. It was postcard picture perfect. As we were leaving the property, I was just filled with gratitude for being able to witness and experience the breathtaking beauty of the land, as well as be able to spend time at the Cradle of Humankind, now a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Johannesburg Fun

We headed back to Johannesburg to meet up with the Virgin Unite staff that we met the previous night. They were at a friend’s named Neville at his loft kjvDjkhome in downtown Johannesburg that lives in the newly refurbished area.  In recent years, the downtown area of Johannesburg has been revitalized and become safe and friendly to live. For many years it was considered quite a dangerous area, and not safe to visit. The purpose of going to visit Neville’s home was the idea of incorporating a pop up dinner at his unique and refurnished pad.

Neville’s home is in such a cool, hip artist loft area. As we were driving into his neighborhood, there were art galleries everywhere and a chic art party happening where we parked. We went inside Neville’s home, and there were the loveliest group of South Africans there to greet us.  Jenny and Tracy from the previous evening an intimate gathering with some of their friends. After being introduced, we were given a presentation by Gerald is the managing director of a Media Company in town, and he and Neville have partnered to bring more tourism and fun to the downtown area.

Gerald leads tours of Johannesburg, and ended up giving us  a slide show presentation of the downtown area. He was filled with the most interesting facts and fun about the city, its history, the people, statues, art. None of the 0 locals in the room had ever seen the presentation, and they were all captivated by it!  It was so fun to be shown the rich history of South Africa, and the deep sense of pride and heritage everyone present felt. These young adults were all entrepreneurs, and incredibly motivated to do what they could to strengthen the economy, and help continue to move South Africa forward and upward in our global economy.  What a wonderful evening.

We then all had dinner together at a delicious restaurant next door, and then went to bed early! Our Virgin Unite Trip was beginning the following morning, and we wanted to be well rested and ready for the group.

Virgin Unite Connection Trip Begins

We first met up with the team, which included Jean Oelwang- CEO of Virgin Unite, Nicole Darsney- Investor Relations, Tracey Webster- CEO of the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship, and Jenny Duffy- Project Manager for the Virgin Unite South Africa Connection Trip. After introductions and finalizing logistics, we were ready to greet the arriving first group.

Our first group arrived that morning, and these participants had just flown in from Heathrow- a very engaged and dynamic group of individuals that all shared great enthusiasm for entrepreneurialism.  After setting their bags down, we began our opening presentation.  The guests were staying at Melrose Arch in Johannesburg, a beautiful and centrally located hotel.  We had a delicious and beautiful lunch reception for the guests- an opportunity to get to know each other, as well as a formal welcome from Jean Oelwang, the CEO of Virgin Unite.

After Jean gave a brief overview about Virgin Unite and all of the inspiring projects and initiatives they have undertaken, we went around the room, and introduced ourselves, and I have to say, I was amazed at the inspiring and hard-working people gathered, who truly care about global issues we are facing, and how as entrepreneurs we can solve them. An incredibly dynamic group of individuals and I was so excited to be accompanying this group for the week!

South African Leadership

We then got to hear from Dr. Taddy Belcher, CEO of the Community and Individual Development Association and the Maharishi Institute, and a pioneer of the free tertiary edu-cation movement in South Africa, helping create five free access institutions of higher learning. He is the Chair of the South African National Government task team on Entrepreneurship, Education, & Job Creation, reporting into the Deputy President via the Human Resource Development Council, which has been established to guide the strategy for education and skills development in South Africa.

He co-founded the Branson Centre of Entrepreneurship with Sir Richard Branson in 2006. As a result of his work, over 5,500 unemployed South Africans have been educated, found employment and moved from poverty to the middle-class. These formerly unemployed youth now have combined salaries in excess of R250 million p.a. and expected life-time earnings of R9.5 billion. 600 000 young South Africans in schools have been reached with one-week education and life-skills training courses. Dr Blecher was a 2002 World Economic Forum “Global Leader of Tomorrow” award recipient, a 2005 World Economic Forum “Young Global Leader of the World”, a Skoll Global Social Entrepreneur winning a $1 million prize for his work, and has been honoured with two honorary doctorates. In 2009 he was named by author Tom Peters as one of his top 5 most influential entrepreneurs in the world over the last 30 years. Amongst other awards, Taddy received a $ 1 million award for Social Entrepreneurship presented by the Skoll Founda-tion towards his work, to honour the most innovative and effective approaches to resolving critical social is-sues world-wide. He is passionate about the approach of Consciousness-Based Education, a system of education developing the full potential of every student, leading the Maharishi Institute in October 2010, to win 1’st prize in a global education competition to find the most promising and innovative education initiative in the world, voted on by 10 National Ministers of Education. He continues to be involved in the development and operation of key initiatives, including In-vincible Outsourcing, the Ezemvelo Eco-campus MERU, 21st Century Learning Labs, and the Africa College Fund.

Taddy is an exceptional speaker, and so incredibly awe-inspiring. It was so wonderful to hear his story, and learn about all of the impact he is helping to make in South Africa.  Taddy is such a great storyteller, and kept us all captivated with his life story.

Apartheid Museum

After Taddy spoke, we departed for the Apartheid Museum. You could spend a week there, although we unfortunately had only a few hours!  From the moment you arrive at the Museum, you are segregated into “Whites” and “Non-Whites” and are immediately invited to experience what it must have been like to live during the time of Apartheid. The museum is so informative, vast and well thought out. From captivating videos to candid newspapers articles to artwork to real life displays, it was the most in depth museum I have ever experienced, that made your emotions swirl- a true emotional roller coaster ride from deep grief to anger to sadness to horror to hope and joy. Truly astounding.

Nelson Mandela. South Africa Yoga. Yoga International Trips. Seva Yoga Trips. Yoga Adventures

Engaging Speakers

At dinner we heard from James Mwangi, and he recounted the most heartwarming story of his life. He is South African, and Dalberg’s Global Managing Partner, overseeing the activities of the firm’s 10 offices and more than 120 staff from his base in Johannesburg. He has served a wide range of clients including governments, multilateral institutions, private foundations, major investors, and corporations across Africa and around the world. James has helped new organizations ranging from think tanks to private equity funds to develop business plans and implement launch strategies. James has also led strategic reviews of several financial institutions seeking to stimulate development in Southern Africa via their investments. He has advised East Africa’s largest bank on its overall strategy and helped two West African heads of state to create new decision-making processes. Prior to joining Dalberg, James was a consultant at McKinsey & Company. He holds a degree in economics from Harvard University and is an Archbishop Desmond Tutu Leadership Fellow of the African Leadership Institute.

South African Entrepreneurs

The room was buzzing after the speakers finished, with stimulating conversation and Q&A with the speakers about their work. Again, I felt so grateful to be a part of such a dynamic group of individuals that are so passionate, and truly want to make a sustainable impact in the lives of their community- both locally and globally- and to come up with entrepreneurial solutions to the challenges we face.   The conversation lasted well into the night and friendships were formed.

Branson Center of Entrepreneurship Day

The following morning, we met early- we had a full day ahead of us. Tracey Webster, CEO of the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship (BCOE) had a full day planned for us. We first met at the Melrose Arch hotel, and were given a presentation by students from the BCOE.  Tracey introduced us to Sandhya Singh and Raksha Mahabeer – 2 students of the BCOE- affectionately nicknamed  “The Art” and “The Beat” of Summertime, a Branding, Design and Marketing Firm based in Johannesburg. Together they had created for us a bound, colorful, informative and professional booklet highlighting all of the entrepreneurs currently part of the program as well as the staff at the BCOE. The book served as a “Bible for us” during our trip, as we were able to consult when we were given a presentation, or went to a site visit.

Our day was action packed. We visited entrepreneurs from the BCOE. We began with a very unique and unexpected visit to.. 2 young men that have began a hip and cool underwear company, that makes sexy, comfortable and artistic underwear, from gold lame briefs to boxers with holes cut out of the sides.  After showing us all of their wares, they surprised us with a fashion show, in which some of their friends came out very scantily clad boxers.   What a fun and unique was to start the day!

Yoga Ventures. International Yoga Retreats. Seva Yoga. Best Yoga Vacations. Best Yoga Retreats. International Yoga.

We then moved on to the most heartwarming visit to see where the Schwe Schwe Poppy dolls are made.  This began in 2006 with 5 ladies. Takes about 15 minutes to make one doll.

Yoga International Trips. Global Seva Yoga. Best Yoga Retreats. Best Yoga Vacations

Our group fell in love with these dolls, especially after visiting the home in which they are made. There were about 10 South African women there, all working together, laughing, smiling and having a good ole time as they worked. Each doll is unique.

Women's Yoga Retreats. Womens Yoga Vacations. Yoga Seva Vacation. Seva Travel.

After seeing the worksite of the Poppy Dolls, we went on a short walk to visit the inspiration behind the dolls- the kids themselves who have designed them. Less than a half mile away we walked, and entered the most colorful and vibrant crèche, also known as the Africa Feeding scheme. There are about 45 kids there, between 3-6 years old, all in colorful school uniforms, and they greeted us with songs. Beaming smiles, the kids performed quite a few songs for us.

International yoga vacations. international yoga retreats. Best yoga tour company. Yoga travel. Exotic yoga destinations.

After playing with them for awhile, we were given a presentation by the woman in charge, and learned all about what they were doing for the local communities. In addition to a community wide Nutrition Program, they were feeding over 3,100 children with peanut butter sandwiches and milk everyday. It was incredible to walk in the kitchen and to see these vats of peanut butter and over 150 enormous loaves of bread, (9 children per loaf) that are used everyday as part of the feeding program.  And so heartwarming to see the place where the Schwe Schwe Poppy doll got their designs. Kids drawing dolls began here.

This was created in 1945 to combat malnutrition, and still exisits today. They focus on 7 main programs.

1.Feeding- children – ensuring they are fed properly. (orphans, poor. HIV)

2.Health education. Offer parents health related education.

3. Food gardening. Grow own veggies for neighboring families.

4. Skills development- to sustain self to provide family& exit program & be self sufficient.

5.malnutrition rehabilitation center.(kids neglected- keep for whole day. Remove them from abusive environment).

6. HIV Aids awareness program& education. Protection.

7. Care for children program. Assist kids with birth certificates. Have documents for govt. Provide school uniform.

After such a lovely visit, we headed to Mandozi’s Restaurant. Mandozi is another entrepreneur at the BCOE – and through the help of the Branson Center has a successful restaurant in which he provides delicious and well prepared South African dishes at affordable prices for the locals. He was so inspired by Richard Branson, and Richard’s entrepreneurial spirit, painted on the walls of his restaurant is a quote by Richard: “My biggest motivation? Just to keep challenging myself… something new.”

Richard Branson Quote. Connection Trip with Richard. Entrepreneur Travel. Travel with purpose.

“To be successful you have to be out there, by following someone else’s formula.”

Branson Center of Entrepreneurship

We then headed to the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship, where the students attend their 6-week program. It’s a really cool, hip building that just feels inspiring walking inside of it. We were warmly greeted by the staff at the center, and then given a great presentation by Tracey Webster, who informed us about what the BCOE does, the program, and its effectiveness.

We then got to see “A Minute To Spin it Presentations” in which 3 different entrepreneurs were given a minute to present their business pitch to our audience, and there was a panel of our participants that judged their presentation. After the 1 minute pitch, each entrepreneur was asked questions by the panel of judges.  At then end, they were given honest feedback and savvy business advice.

Travel with Purpose. International Trips. Humanitarian Trips. Global Humanitarian Trips.

After a refreshment break featuring the most delicious savory delights by some of the entrepreneurs that specialize in the culinary field, we were then brought back for students in the advanced program.  Three students gave us a 10 minute presentation about their business. New judges sat on the panel and again, gave sound and sage feedback to these budding entrepreneurs.  After the presentations, we were given a chance to mingle with the entrepreneurs.. Each of them raved about the BCOE, and how much their business has grown by leaps and bounds as a result of the program.

We then had a chance to shop at the marketplace, set up in a room next door, featuring wares and goodies from all of the speakers we heard from.  The entrepreneurs were all so appreciative of the opportunity to present, as well as simply mingle with the guests. After about an hour, we then all moved to dinner across the street- and sat 1 entrepreneur to a table, and the rest participants and staff. This really gave us the opportunity to speak in depth with our participants, and go into greater detail about how to improve their business strategies. It was a great day and evening.  On our journey back to the hotel, the participants were buzzing with the day’s activities.

Ubuntu Travels. Ubuntuism. Travels with Purpose. Celebrating Entrepreneurship Travel.

Lee Berger at Wits University

We met early the next morning for another exciting and eventful day! We first headed to Wits University, to meet with Lee Berger,  the paleontologist who has recently discovered the most complete hominid skeletons ever, dating back over 2 million years.  Lee presented the group with the most riveting, informative and entertaining story about his discoveries, and letting people know that they were about to get a private viewing of skeletons that have not even been revealed yet to the general public.  What we witnessed was viewing firsthand the most precious objects on the planet- extremely rare, and will only be able to view behind glass in a museum in the future..

Lee Berger. Yoga Adventure Travel. Yoga International Retreats. Best Yoga Vacations. Yoga Retreats. Seva Yoga

What Lee Berger and his team of his scientists have discovered are changing the way history has until theis point been written, as a new kind of skeleton has emerged. In addition, it’s the first time ever they have been able to discover organic remains, skin and dietary remains. It was astounding to be able to witness this, and a highlight for the group.

They actually have been able to discover what these hominids last meals were, which were wild date palms, nuts, reed plants, bark.  At this same site, they have discovered that there are 4 other skeletons. So this discovery has almost doubled the number of skeletons in history.  What a treat!

Yoga Adventures. Yoga Ventures. Yoga Travel. Yoga Vacations. Seva Yoga. Best Yoga Trips. Humanitarian Yoga.

Ulusaba Bound

We then headed to a charter plane airstrip in Johannesbury, and our group met up with Richard Branson.  Richard greeted everybody in the group with big smiles and welcome hugs. His daughter Holly Branson and her husband Freddie Andrews joined us.  We boarded the plane and headed to Ulusaba, his private game reserve in the Sands Sabi Reserve.  It was about an hour flight to reach Ulusaba.  Once we landed we were greeted with champagne and a delicious spread of food.  We then had a champagne toast with Richard, and he welcomed us to his property. And then it was Game Drive time.  Just outside of the airport strip, the game reserve vehicles were waiting.

Yoga Adventures. Yoga Ventures. Yoga Travel. Yoga Vacations. Seva Yoga. Best Yoga Trips. Humanitarian Yoga.

During our evening drive, we saw elephants, giraffe, antelopes, and so much more. It was exquisite.  The guides and trackers at Ulusaba were a wealth of information.  We drove around spotting animals for a few hours.  My favorite part of the game drive, besides getting so up close and personal with the elephants, was “Sundowner Time”- when we would stop for cocktails at sunset on the game drive!   So breathtakingly beautiful, to get to witness these animas.

Adventure Yoga Retreats. Safari Yoga. Yoga on a Safari. South Africa Yoga.

After the drive, we were brought to Ulusaba lodge, which is a magnificent property perched on top of a hill, overlooking the Sand Sabi Reserve. It was so beyond beautiful. The rooms were absolutely gorgeous,.  We congregated for cocktails in the main lodge. By the time I arrived, conversation was flowing.  Our participants were all in animated conversation with Richard, Holly, and the staff at Ulusaba. After about thirty minutes of drinks, we all were seated for a candlelit dinner.  There were about 25 of us at this table.

Dinner with Richard Branson. Celebrity Travel. Yoga Travel. Humanitarian Trip Travel. Yoga Ventures

Richard greeted each of us warmly, and welcomed us to his property. He then wanted to hear from each of us. We all went around the table and introduced ourselves, and spoke about why we were on the trip. Richard is such a great listener- is incredibly attentive, as well as quite mischievous.  Quite a bit of our conversation around the table continued to involve the entire group, speaking about opportunities for entrepreneurship in South Africa, and how we can all get involved.

We all retired quite early to bed, as we had a 5am wake up call for the following morning game drive.   We met in the main lodge just as the sun was beginning to rise.  After coffee and a quick snack, we were off on our morning game drive. The light was so beautiful, and we got to see male lions, about 5 of them. What incredibly beautiful beasts, as well as hippos, giraffes, elephants and rhinos.   During the middle of the game drive, we enjoyed a coffee and biscuit break- a highlight for the group.

Safari Yoga. Yoga with Purpose Travels. Travels with Purpose. Yoga Seva Yoga. Philanthropic Travel.

After an epic game drive, we headed to the lodge for breakfast, followed by a presentation by Karl Langdon, who is the General Manager of Ulusaba. In 2002 with his good friend Gregg Cambell, they founded Pride and Purpose,. Pride ‘n Purpose is Ulusaba’s charitable arm – committed to helping disadvantaged communities living adjacent to the Sabi Sand Reserve. Pride ‘n Purpose’s main focus is on sustainable development initiatives and improving access to food, water and health services.

Ulusaba directly employs almost 100 members of staff from local villages in the area. This engagement with the community is vital to ensure that efforts to promote conservation of the landscape and wildlife take everyone’s needs into account.


Ulusaba and Pride and Purpose

Both Ulusaba and Pride ‘n Purpose have excellent relationships with local tribal authorities which helps them work together to improve the area’s prosperity.

Pride and Purpose believes people are most effectively helped if they are empowered to help themselves. Over 35,000 people across six communities benefit from Pride ‘n Purpose which is jointly funded by Virgin Limited Edition and Virgin Unite.

The charity benefits over 35,000 people across six communities. They have supported three local entrepreneurs and suppliers, and guests have volunteered around 3,093 hours of their time to support the charity’s work. Donations in kind total over ZAR 600,000 and funds raised amount to over ZAR 2.5 million. All the charity’s running expenses are covered by Virgin Unite and Virgin Limited Edition so 100% of donations go directly toward much needed projects.

After the presentation, we were introduced to David Khoza,  Pride ‘n Purpose projects coordinator. David is quite possibly the most joyful and smiling person I have ever met. He started to work at Ulusaba as a waiter in 1997 before Sir Richard bought the property. As a hard worker under Sir Richard, he became a General Assistant and very soon was moved up to relieve the Lodge Managers and eventually Safari Lodge Manager. The highlight on his managing career came in 2008 when the tourism Indaba voted David as Best Manager amongst all the Sabi Sand Private Game Reserves.

We then headed onto the game vehicles for the 20 minute drive to visit the crèche that Pride and Purpose is building. We were greeted by Lindsay Hanekom, who is the Remote Support Manager for Pride ‘n Purpose. Lindsay greeted us and explained more about the community we were visiting, and the lack of primary education in the area. Once they recognized the need, are building  a crèche.  We walked with her to the new crèche, and the kids came and greeted us.  Absolutely the cutest and sweetest kids. They recited the days of the week for us, the months, numbers and seasons. They were so proud, and also sang us some local South African tribal songs.  We played some games with the kids, and sang back to them “ You are my Sunshine”, and “The Hokey Pokey”.

Volunteering overseas. International Volunteer Opportunities. Volunteer Vacations. Giving back. Travel overseas.

After visiting with the kids, we got to work.  We were painting the crèche. Lindsay and David had the paint all ready for us. As a team we painted the outside of the crèche. It went from plain walls to colorful flowers, butterflies, trees. We then each coated our hands in paint, and made our own handprint on the tree.  The kids loved it, and the painting of their new school.

Pride and Purpose. volunteering overseas. Yoga Volunteer Trip. International Yoga Volunteer Trip.

We then headed back to Ulusaba for a delicious lunch and an afternoon of speakers. We first had the opportunity to sit down with Richard, and have a Q&A answer session with him. This gave all of the participants on the trip an opportunity to share with Richard ideas they have for their own entrepreneurial ideas, as well as for the BCOE, as well as expanding the Virgin Unite 24902 community. Richard was very receptive to all of the ideas, and was busy jotting down notes and ideas. He wanted to hear from everybody, and was incredibly respectful of everybody’s brainstorming.

Bhubezi Community Healthcare Center

After our session with Richard, he introduced Hugo and Liesl Templeman – co-founders of the Bhubezi Community Healthcare Center. In 2007, Virgin Unite launched an innovative public-private partnership to tackle HIV/AIDS and improve healthcare in one of the most impoverished areas of South Africa. The Bhubezi Community Healthcare Centre is a one-stop clinic for basic healthcare, TB and HIV/AIDS care, managed and developed by social entrepreneur Dr. Hugo Tempelman. Everyone has the right to basic healthcare. But in rural South Africa this isn’t always a given. TB and HIV/AIDS ravage communities, like those in the Bushbuckridge area in the Mpumalanga province, where most of the 500,000 population has limited access to health services and an estimated 20% are HIV positive.

The clinic provides basic health care services on a sliding scale fee basis and free diagnosis and treatment for those suffering from HIV/ AIDS or TB. ‘Right to Care’ (funded by PEPFAR/ USAID) provided the clinic with infrastructure and support in the form of staff housing, an ambulance and an x-ray machine. They also cover operating expenses, including human resources. The Department of Health provides the ARV, TB and opportunistic infection medication including pathology monitoring. The Dutch ‘Postcode Lotterij’ funded an admin extension for the Centre, and continues to fund the ongoing management costs.

Hugo Templeman pictured with wife Liesl and Eve Branson

Bhubezi is an example of what we do at Virgin Unite. Just as the Group start new companies for profit, Virgin Unite are incubating new “social businesses” that bring our companies and our partners together to create sustainable, entrepreneurial approaches to social and environmental issues.” – Sir Richard Branson

Since 2007: The clinic has had over 145,000 patient visits. It has Initiated over 6,200 patients on Anti- Retroviral Treatment (ART), allowing patients to manage their illness and reclaim a better quality of life. Of these, over 3,600 are still active on treatment. In bringing medical expertise and state of the art healthcare to the area, the clinic is also creating jobs. It employs 50 people from the local area, including three doctors, who are dedicated to saving lives in their community.

Starkey Hearing Foundation

We were then introduced to Bill Austin, Founder & CEO of Starkey Hearing Technologies as well as Founders of the Starkey Hearing Foundation.  He has more than 50 years of experience in the hearing industry. Mr. Austin turned Starkey Labs, a small ear mold company he purchased in 1970 for $13,000, into Starkey Hearing Technologies, the largest hearing aid manufac-turer in the U.S. No matter how much success he achieves in business, Bill will always be remembered for his generosity and steadfast belief that the gift of hearing can change the world.

He built Starkey Hearing Foundation on his vision: So the World May Hear. He leads the Foundation on dozens of hearing missions every year, having visited more than 100 countries to give the gift of hearing. Under his leadership, Starkey Hearing Foundation is fitting more than 100,000 hearing aids annu-ally. Mr. Austin has received many honors for his philanthropic work, including: the Horatio Alger Award, Mexico’s Aztec Eagle Award, the Jefferson Award, the Albert Schweitzer Leadership Award, the National Caring Award, and the Humanitarian Award from Variety International.

The following day we would be accompanying both Hugo and his wife Liesl Templeman, and Tani and Bill Austin to the Bhubezi Medical Clinic to provide hearing aids for free to people in the local community. We were so excited to meet with these outstanding pioneers in their field. But first, time to go on an afternoon game drive!  We headed out and saw the most  incredible animals – over 10 lion cubs all playing together, we sat and watched these playful animals for awhile, so adorable and cute!

Possibly the most moving experience on the trip was at a ‘Hearing Mission’ with Bill Austin who bought a ear mold company in 1970 for $13,000 and went on to build Starkey Hearing Technologies, the largest hearing aid manufacturer in the U.S. Bill and his wife now spend their time with The Starkey Foundation giving away $100 million in value of sophisticated hearing aids across the globe each year. Hearing aids cost $1,000 each and many people need two. They would never be able to afford the devices. It is quite something to fit a hearing aid to a young man who has been deaf for over a decade after contracting meningitis and to watch his face change as he hears again and commences a conversation. Almost everyone there was in tears and there were 300 people in line! For more information on the amazing work and mission of Bill Austin, visit their web site.  You can read Sir Richard’s blog about the experience too.

Starkey Hearing Foundation with Richard Branson. Hearing Healing Mission. Bill Austin.

After a sunset game drive overlooking a pond filled with hippos, we were brought to the most beautiful setting- a dinner in the bush. As we arrived, there were tiki torches lit, and African drummers playing in the bush. The drummers were set up in front of a bonfire. The Dinner in the bush with dancers, a fire, a bar, Sam Branson playing the blues and fine food was not quite the usual barbie I am used to.Lot of ideas and actions came out of the trip and the group has plans to assist some of the entrepreneurs and initiatives mentioned above.  An awesome trip, with fantastic people and valuable time spent with one the world’s great entrepreneurs.

Safari with Richard Branson. Humanitarian Mission Trip. Adventure of a Lifetime. Philanthropic Travel.