Defender African adventure
Umoja Africa 2016 covers six countries and works on 12 charity projects and it’s all done in a Defender
For anyone who truly loves Africa, there is only one way to travel: in a Land Rover. So, hot on the heels of the inaugural 2012 Umoja Journey – where we travelled from Mombasa, Kenya, to donate two Land Rovers as ambulances to a women’s clinic in Lubumbashi, Democratic Republic of the Congo – I cajoled three fellow adventurers to join me on a similar mission. They were Liz Dillarstone and Nicola Guise, both from Oundle, Northamptonshire, and Colleen Cole, from Canada.
We prepared ourselves for adventure and excitement, and finished the journey with a renewed sense of social purpose, and a healthy respect for the virtues of a well-equipped Land Rover. Between the camaraderie, magnificent scenery and '80s disco music, there were moments of quiet reflection when the true purpose and meaning of the Umoja (which means unity in Swahili) journey came into sharp relief.
Umoja Africa 2016 was a physical journey across six countries, and an internal journey to find deeper significance in all that we do so we can live our legacy now.
On arrival in Kenya, I picked up the Land Rover we’d rented for the first leg of our journey. Now, while many LRM readers would see a battered 1960s Series vehicle as a dream renovation project, I can only confess disappointment. We were not expecting luxury, but we did need reliable transport for our long drive from Nairobi up through the Rift Valley to Gilgil, then two days later to the Mara and from there back to Nairobi. Some negotiating with the hire company resulted in an upgrade of about 20 years to a mid-1990s Defender. We were ready for business – or so we thought.
We picked up Jocelyn, Executive Director of International Needs Kenya, and headed for our first stop – the Lighthouse Project, which is an alcohol and drug rehabilitation programme in Limuru that fights against drug and substance abuse. They train community workers to first recognise children and young people struggling with drug addiction and then help implement strategies that rehabilitate and reintegrate them into the community. Here we met a young man called Shammath, who had turned his life around with the help of this team, and is now introducing others who face similar struggles.
From there we enjoyed a relaxing drive up the Rift Valley
before deciding to take a short cut through the Kigio Conservancy to reach our destination at Malewa Bush Ventures. We were told to expect a bumpy ride that would knock 20 minutes off our journey, with a promise that we might see zebra, impala, and possibly giraffes. Bumpy sounded great, until we got rather lost, not helped by the fact that our directions told us to follow the signs for Malewa until the last sign at which point, ignore it and go straight on! How do you know when you have reached the last sign? Somehow we figured it out and reached our destination, indeed seeing the promised wildlife.
The following morning we were due to arrive at Gilgil Special School by 8am for the start of assembly. After a downhill jump-start, we were on the road and pulled in to the field just as the school flag was being raised. It was an emotional moment as children welcomed us with song. The school helps over 100 once forgotten children to access an education, and as well as equipping these vulnerable children with skills for life, the interaction with other local children encourages understanding and acceptance in the community.
Four travellers enjoy lifechanging experiences as they drive a 20-year-old Defender from Nairobi, Kenya to Cape Point, South Africa. David Marshall, of International Needs Canada reports… Pictures: David Marshall, Liz Dillarstone, Nicola Guise, Colleen Cole