During the first few days of our Rivers of Africa trip with Variety Cruises, we were joined onboard the Harmony V by a number of guests, with links to Variety Cares™. As the name implies, this is a foundation established by Variety Cruises to support the communities that share their landscapes, culture and heritage with passengers.
Not only is Constantine Venetopoulos, Variety’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility, he’s the grandson of the company’s founder. As I’d assumed that Variety was a somewhat anonymous conglomerate, it was fascinating to hear Constantine talk movingly about how his grandfather, Diogenis, had begun his journey back in 1949, before explaining how Variety supports the African communities we visited.
Variety Cares™ supports two special projects in The Gambia: the Lamin Koto School and the Kuntaur Film Festival which during our trip, we saw at first hand.
Lamin Koto School
Lamin Koto School, in the rural village of Kuntaur, was founded in 2012. Having seen the state of the building with its dilapidated roof, the foundation began supporting the construction of a new building, with help from passengers. A visit to the school is included in the cruise’s programme, but we were also fortunate to have on board Tony and Tiffany Reima and Marco Maranghello, all from the US who had supported the development of a well, which provided not only the school, but also the village, with fresh running water for the first time. During our visit, the well was officially opened, and it was wonderful to see children excitedly filling their water bottles with fresh drinking water. After a number of short speeches, we were invited to give our school supplies to the head of the school, in our case a lot of Poundland biros, and as usual, money donated by the previous week’s passengers was gratefully received
Kuntaur Film Festival
Kuntaur Film Festival programme funds the provision of popular films in remote villages without electricity and a generator had been provided. Whilst moored up after dinner, we were invited to a screening of the Lion King. The cinema was a disused roofless building with, what looked like a large white sheet as the screen. There were a few plastic chairs which, as VIPs we were allocated to. The ‘doors’ were then opened to the children who ran eagerly to the front and sat on the floor. There were cartoons, and a short play by a handful of teenagers, which although in their local language, appeared to be about a man who only wanted his daughter to marry a rich man. A shortened version of the film began, and the children were enthralled. After a long day, we didn’t stay for the popcorn and soft drinks, but could imagine the excitement.
Inside Out project
One day after lunch, huge posters, bearing black and white head shots of school children, were laid out on the sun deck before a drone was flown over to capture the images. Later that afternoon on our return from our excursion, we found the posters being plastered along one side of the yacht. Similarly, when we visited the Lamin Koto School, the posters were there as well. We discovered this was part of what is known as the Inside Out Project by a French artist known as JR. Whilst he says on his video says it’s not just about “papering black and white images on walls”, I must admit I was somewhat confused about what the posters achieved. However, this didn’t stop me having my photograph taken in front of the distinctive back drop of black and white dots to be part of the Variety project. Having watched me put on my lipstick for the shoot, it wasn’t until afterwards that my partner said, “you do realise you’ll be in black and white”.
Click here to see the Variety Cares™ activities in other countries.
Helen booked her cruise through Seafarer Cruising and Sailing Holidays who also arranged a week at the Kombo Beach Hotel with Silver Travel Advisor Partner – Serenity Holidays – The Gambia Experience.
- Rivers of West Africa with Variety Cruises – Part 1: The Cruise
- Rivers of West Africa with Variety Cruises – Part 2: The Excursions