I have the best job in the world. I have been fortunate to coordinate Napa Valley College’s Community Education Tours for the last 40 years. About six months ago I started looking for some way to give back in appreciation for all the wonders that I have seen and experienced over the years.

I found my perfect way to give back on a Collette Impact tour to South Africa. I was hooked when I read about the company’s yearly philanthropic trips to South Africa rural villages to deliver Hippo Rollers and work with at-risk preschool children.

A Hippo Roller is a device used to carry clean water more easily and efficiently than labor-intensive traditional methods. In these villages, women and children walk several hours each day to collect water with heavy five-gallon buckets, balanced on their heads. The Hippo Roller consists of a barrel-shaped container which holds the water and can roll along the ground, and a handle attached to the axis of the barrel. It delivers up to five times more water than a single bucket.

We delivered 180 of these water collecting devices to community members living at Knysna, a remote village that had endured a devastating fire this year in June. Our small group of 22 included locals Linda Glass and Wayne Davidson and my daughter Jenny Lockwood.

In Knysna there are many families living in the poorest of conditions. Their houses are constructed of scrap lumber, corrugated metal and other materials that can be pieced together to give shelter. Most have no water or electricity. Both parents leave each day to find work and children are left to fend for themselves.

The Knysna Education Trust was formed with the mission to provide children at least one hot meal daily as well as proper preschool care that gives them the tools and equal opportunities for entering primary school. The Trust aims to protect these children from the burdens of physical and mental abuse, and ultimately HIV, by giving them care in a safe and positive environment.

Knysna Trust staff may drive by these homes, notice 3, 4 or 5-year-olds by themselves in the yard. The parents are asked if they would agree to bring the child to preschool daily so the child could be educated and fed a hot lunch. Most of the parents want something better for their children and agree. A sponsor donates money to keep that child in school for a year. The cost is amazingly low: $155 for an entire year.

We spent three days in the pre-schools reading books to the children, painting murals, cooking lunch, comforting crying babies, and engaging with the children.

Besides being a “feel-good” trip to give back to those in need, we discovered the beauty and culture of South Africa on this special tour.

Cape Town is a cosmopolitan city that lies between towering Table Mountain and the sea. Its architecture fuses the traditions of the French, German and Dutch. A cable car whisked us to an altitude of more than 3,000 feet to the top of Table Mountain. The views of Cape Town, Robben Island and Lion’s Head were breathtaking. That evening we took part in a unique African experience: a lesson on the djembe drums to learn the local beat. Following our music lesson we enjoyed a communal African dining experience.

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We visited Oudtshoorn, the ostrich capital of South Africa. We enjoyed a guided tour of one of the oldest working ostrich farms in the area by a tractor safari through the farm viewing ostriches in various stages of development.

We ended our trip in Stellenbosch. It is a wine-growing region very much like the Napa Valley. There are more than 500 “wine farms” there.

Many vineyard workers’ children in this area are “at risk” as they are left unattended. A local trust, the Pebbles Foundation, provides not only pre-school education, but supports worker’s children through to the university level.

We visited one of the schools and in anticipation of our visit, the children were dressed in colorful costumes. We put murals in two rooms and played and interacted with the children. The Foundation has outfitted three vans to travel to the wine farms and visit the children who are not attending the school. There is a lending library van, a computer van, and a learning toy van. The van makes rounds of the area every two weeks.

These interactions were life-changing for me and I am sure for the other trip participants. I returned home humbled and in awe of those who are trying to better these precious lives.

These programs are an example of the many ways that travel can change lives for both travelers and the communities that are visited. Napa Valley College will be offering more Impact Tours in the future. If you want more information please call 967-2940 or email jsercu@napavalley.edu.