Eric Ubisi is Londolozi’s sous chef. A quiet and humble man, Eric goes about his day with a smile on his face, his calm demeanour belying his non-stop work to keep the Londolozi dining experience running as smoothly as it does.
What most people don’t know about Eric is the truly remarkable and deeply humbling work he and his wife Merciful do away from the lodge, on their own time and out of the goodness of their hearts.
In 2008 the couple recognised the need for a school for orphaned children and they called it Shalamakane which means “wake up and see the sunrise”. Eric approached Londolozi members Debbie Kane-Berman and Jenny Watson, the CC Africa Foundation, as well as the Good Work Foundation: Kate Groch and Gogo Mo for assistance in raising money to build the school. A couple of years later in 2010, they opened a second orphanage, called Hlayisekani, one that served the needs of young handicapped children in the communities surrounding the Sabi Sand Reserve, at which extra care and facilitated learning could take place. The motivation to provide these children and young adults with care and learning came from Eric’s childhood where he was orphaned from the age of 7. His determination, along with his wife’s, have been truly inspirational. Eric’s monthly salary supports these two schools and Merciful is the principle to both schools.
Today Hlayisekani cares for 24 young people, meeting needs that rural communities generally aren’t geared towards, such as wheelchair-friendly access. The Shalamukani pre-school, which currently looks after 65 small children, providing a safe learning environment for kids who would otherwise need to be at home with organised supervision whilst their parents are at work during the day; something that can be very hard to come by in working households.
Many of you will be familiar with the Secret Santa tradition, in which participants pick a name out of a hat and then gift a Christmas present only to that person. Well this year the Londolozi staff had a much better idea, lead by Christina Fox and Anna Ridgewell, we decided that instead of gifting to each other, we would arrange gifts for the kids at Hlanyisekani.
Executive Chef Anna Ridgewell arranged for a special Christmas meal to be sent out to the centre, and some of the Londolozi suppliers – Plaston, Matumi Fresh Produce and Matumi Distributors – were very generous in their contributions towards the event.
A few days before Christmas some of the Londolozi Staff headed out to Hlayisekani to deliver the gifts and join in the Christmas celebrations:
It was truly inspiring seeing first-hand what Eric and Merciful and everyone involved with Hlayisekani Centre are doing to better the lives of so many that need help.
24 children, their 7 educators and a whole host of volunteers, parents and assorted family were all able to enjoy a beautiful Christmas celebration thanks to the amazing work started by a wonderful couple over 10 years ago. The teachers at Hlayisekane are all volunteers and so Shan and Dave arranged special gifts for each one of them. Londolozi Chef, Connie, also attended the event, where she showed the teachers how to prepare a delicious Christmas feast.
Eric will be back at Londolozi now, helping prepare amazing meals for guests from all around the world. He will be going about his day with his quiet smile, asking for not a word of recognition or thanks for the change he has brought to so many lives in his community.
I think the biggest gift of all this festive season is the inspiration we can – and should – all find in someone like him.