We have been exploring the impact of COVID-19 on entrepreneurs in our communities. It has been a privilege to speak with entrepreneurs and in various formats and we will be bringing you these conversations over the next month.
I am called to share this :
“Empathy is remembering that everybody has a story. Multiple stories. And remembering to make space to hear someone else’s story before immediately telling your own.”
― Kae Tempest, On Connection
My husband and I moved onto a plot about 7 years ago to start a rustic unique backpackers. With years of tourism experience behind us from running B&B’s, lodges, campsites including to help develop and building them, doing overlanding tours ( through South Africa all the way to Kenya ) and being river and field guides we were ready and excited to start our own. It took us 2 years to build up our hectare plot from scratch by hand and with a small budget to evolve in a beautiful little rustic paradise. It didn’t bring us loads of money but we formed a happy little community and interesting beautiful tourists, travellers and people from all walks of life came around for an affordable place to sleep and an outdoor experience.
Being animal lovers and having space we helped an animal rescue fostering puppies and took in all kinds of animals that needed taking care of (birds, cows, pig, goats, meerkats, squirrels, antelope etc.) and the animals we couldn’t keep we found a good home for and any wild animal that we fostered we made sure got rehabilitated and released happily into the wild. Animals have always been our passion.
Once Covid hit the backpackers didn’t survive the pandemic. The last group that left us as lockdown started also caused major damages they refused to cover. We used the time to clean the plot and got to all the things we never had time for, even though we struggled we were positive that we will be able to open again. After lockdown got extended again we had to make the hard choice to close down and sell off most parts of the backpackers to get by since we also did not qualify for the governments relief funding and being forced to close with zero income. Where the Backpackers was our primary income and losing it in such short notice we struggled but we were just as worried about our animals. The first month was the worst where we were sadly forced to slaughter a lot of our free range chickens, ducks and luckily had a lot of spinach growing to add for food cooked on a fire with the wood scrapes on the plot to also safe on gas and power. I scraped by with feeding the animals rice with my parents help. We were in survival mode.
The number of rescues increased dramatically also because a lot of people were under the impression that animals carry the virus and the shelters became full of dogs getting dropped off from good homes and in return there were less space for the rescues. More and more animal shelters could not make it as the lockdown continued because some of the businesses that used to be a big part of their sponsors had to close down and the funding became too little to support them. We focused on helping the NPO as much as we can, in return they helped to cover our dogs’ and rescues food. I love helping animals with a passion and I am helping 24/7 feeding puppies that has almost zero chance of survival. We take vet trips sometimes up to 4 times a week. I would not have been able to do this much for the rescues when we still had the backpackers since now I have more time to do so and even though I do not know where my next meal will come from, I know that I might not change the world, but I am changing the world for the little body in my care. We hang on for dear life to enable us to help wherever we can! I am also, with my animal background, applying for jobs at animal centres to earn an extra income to be able to help support our lifestyle, animals and is always keen to learn more.
Having one room left a beautiful couple came across our path and very happily rented it from us. This in return gave us a bit of money every month, lifelong friends and my husband earned a little extra money helping in their small business. Things looked a little brighter. They fell pregnant in the first few months of living here and therefore are forced to leave us founding a place more suitable for raising a new born baby. We are ecstatic for them on their new journey. They will be saying their goodbye at the end of January. We might have a good replacement for renting their space, but like all things time will tell.
My husband started studying a course just before the lockdown and had 3 more days to finish since we needed an extra income even before the lockdown. It has already been almost a year and he is still not able to finish his exams to qualify for the jobs he wanted to apply for. We are desperately trying to scrape funds together now to build up another small business since my husband is extremely gifted in making and building anything and want to build up his line in dog accessories, clothing line for adults and kids and his passion for tactical gear. He is already helping a security company fixing bulletproof vests, bags, gear and etc since we really need an income! Through this my husband and his instructor started to build a relationship and became friends. His instructor of the course that he was taken, is also the head of the security company that he does work for. Desperately also trying to help he came up with an offer that will help us. As part of a bikers club who just lost their club house, we are now busy re-inventing the backpackers area that used to be the kitchen to accommodate the bikers club that they will be renting from us per month. Another small victory and small income once a month! The construction is a big project and we hope to be finished by February.
Even though we are covered in debt and stressing for survival we are definitely more focused on our passion in life. We are beginning again after selling off the rooms to utilize the plot’s space. Yes we do EVERYTHING ourselves! Braking our backs, digging holes, cutting grass, cleaning and redesigning. Yes, living on a plot takes a lot of hard labour. Also focusing on cultivating plants from our big garden where we planted every plant ourselves for a little nursery and fruit trees including redoing a better veggie patch. We have also made better enclosures for the rescues. Having made areas for the bottle babies and a bigger enclosure for the bigger pups ready to get adopted.
We were also privilege to have had two weddings here for our close friends whom is also struggling with money where we offered our place free of charge to have a place for them to have their special reunion. It was truly beautiful!
We are also helping to look after my parents that also live on the plot.. My parents are on pension and with my father’s heart condition he is unable to work and my mother needs to help care for him. There is also a small family of a husband, wife and son and another father and son that live on the plot with us that fell on hard times and needed a small affordable place to live and have been living here for about 3 years. The husband of one family also lost his job because of covid and therefore we are also only receiving half the rent that we are relying on from them.
So there you have it in a nutshell. My life turned upside down but never a dull moment! It also made me realize caring and helping others do come back to you. If it wasn’t for old and new friends and neighbours that helped us emotionally and financially we would definitely not have made it this far. The fight is still not over and stress is piling up, but it does force us to think outside the box and make us realize what to be thankful for. We are willing to do what it takes to keep going!
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