For my first Disney Parks Blog post, I’d like to share a story on a topic that may be surprising coming from a veterinarian and Director of Animal Health because it’s not about animal care or medicine. In fact, it’s not even directly about animals. It’s about Mrs. Nomusa Zikhali, the principal of a school in rural South Africa, who started her school with a handful of students under a tree. Today, thanks to her leadership and perseverance, Nkomo Primary School provides hope and education to more than 800 children, many of whom have been orphaned by HIV. She is an amazing example of the impact one person can have.
I had the honor of meeting Mrs. Zikhali several years ago during a trip to Africa for work on an elephant conservation project that I will tell you more about in a future post. In the years since then, Disney and a local Central Florida school, Palm Lake Elementary, have helped with school improvement projects, wildlife conservation education enhancements and a hot meal program sponsored by the Disney Worldwide Conservation Fund.
Last month, we worked with The Africa Foundation to help sponsor a visit by Mrs. Zikhali to the Walt Disney World Resort. What an incredible experience for her and for us! Imagine a woman from the heartland of Zululand, traveling to Orlando in the middle of our busy holiday season. During her visit, she shared her inspirational story with Disney Cast Members, including African Cultural Representatives at Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge, and students and teachers from Palm Lake Elementary. We also surprised Mrs. Zikhali with a $10,000 donation from the Walt Disney World Resort which she hopes to use for two additional classrooms.
The Nkomo school kids live in an incredible area just next to the Phinda Game Reserve with elephants, zebras and rhinos right in their backyard. Even though I noted at the start of this post that it is not directly about animals, helping the people who live side by side with endangered wildlife is an essential part of conservation. Our next step will focus on building on our initial efforts in conservation education through enhanced programs and teacher training that incorporate learning about wildlife and nature into the school curriculum. Our goal is to take care of the kids and to teach them to care about and value wildlife and nature. By supporting Mrs. Zikhali and her school, we hope to do just that.