Finding Wellness In The Wild

A Q & A with Deborah Calmeyer, CEO and Founder of Roar Africa on what it means to find balance and inner-peace through nature

Photo by Dan Grinwis 

There is a magic that happens when we spend time in nature. Science is proving it with studies showing the effects on both our mental and physical health and Deborah Calmeyer told me recently how the wilderness changed her life. I was so moved by Deborah’s story that I interviewed her recently on a call from Los Angeles. Calmeyer was born in Zimbabwe and told me how at six she began swimming with a tame hyena named “DJ” in the family pool. At eight she learned to water ski on crocodile-laden Lake Kariba and at twelve her father adopted a 3-month-old lioness who became her touchstone for a lifelong appreciation of African wildlife. “She provided us with a deeper connection to nature. She reminded us of our own animal instincts as we watched her stalking, hunting and playing”, says Calmeyer. This unusual upbringing eventually resulted in Deborah founding ROAR AFRICA in 2005 – one of the top-rated African travel companies in the world and Deborah has since devoted her life’s work to creating life-changing journeys for an international clientele while impacting the vital conservation of wildlife and providing employment on the ground. One of my favorite terms Calmyer brought up was “rewilding” and it was the first question I asked her. Read on to learn more about how the wildest places in the world can heal us, transform us and inspire our lives in incredible ways. 

What does the term rewilding mean to you?

In nature, rewilding is achieved through large-scale conversation that seeks to restore natural processes and habitats of core wilderness areas, but I also think we can all re-wild ourselves. We’ve lost some of our spirit in our fast-paced modern world with our faces in screens all the time. We need to wake up and see what nature can teach us, Through everything we do at Roar Africa, we seek to apply rewilding principles to human nature by offering our guests a deep immersion in nature that empowers change and fosters the discovery of peace, purpose, and a deep connection with oneself. I believe it is our long-lost ‘inner nature,’ characterized by curiosity and not fear; awareness instead of distraction; and passion over apathy; that will unlock our innate wildness that has become long lost through social conditioning.

What led you to found ROAR AFRICA and why is it so unique?

I founded ROAR AFRICA with two goals in mind. First, I saw it as a vehicle to positively effect employment for women in Africa and thus empower them, and I am proud to say that I now have a nearly all women team spread out over the 13 countries we serve. Secondly, I knew that by bringing the right Americans to Africa, I could have an impact on conserving our wildlife. I come from an extraordinary place that so many people were unfamiliar with, and I had witnessed this first hand when planning a few friends’ trips. It frustrated me that people in America thought Africa wasn’t accessible or affordable. In my heart I truly believed that if they experienced it the way I did, it would exceed all of their expectations. And I just knew we could build a bridge of confidence to everyone’s benefit, because as personally fulfilling as this discovery can be for visitors, Africa also needs tourism to support local businesses, communities, conservation, and the environment. As for what makes Roar Africa so unique, it would have to be its centuries-old authenticity. The Huguenot museum in Franschhoek illustrates our family lineage and my place in it as an 11th generation South African. With this deep rooted history, we are able to offer an indelible cultural immersion like no one else.

Can you give an example of a curated adventure that provides an immersion in nature in a profound way and speaks to the vision and mission of Roar Africa?

In April, I will be joined by Pat Mitchell, Curator of TEDWomen and former President of PBS and CEO of CNN, in hosting ROAR and RESTORE. This five-night journey of self-discovery and self- realization is set in the wilds of Kenya’s Segera retreat and will highlight the restorative power of nature and the benefits of travel on the mind and soul. This powerful experience can be likened to TED Talks on Safari, where a small group of guests will engage with a formidable line-up of inspiring speakers designed to stimulate the mind and inspire the spirit in one of the most magical places on earth.

Where did the idea for this concept originate?

Approximately five years ago, I was meeting with Dr. Ian McCallum, a medical doctor, psychiatrist, writer and specialist wilderness guide, who is also one of the speaker participants for ROAR and RESTORE. It was during this magical and inspired conversation that I came to the realization that we are all connected, and our actions and inactions touch people everywhere across the globe. ROAR and RESTORE is really a celebration of this.

What are you hoping to achieve with Roar and Restore?

An experience like this in Africa has the ability to change people’s perceptions, take them outside of themselves, and really help them find their best self. We have created a community of speakers and like-minded thinkers who are affecting change in their fields, and our aim is to create a journey of self-realization based on the principles of rewilding, restoration and healing that resets the body and mind. Now is the time for mankind to step down from our pedestal and explore the evolutionary bonds that still connect life across our planet. By assembling a dynamic group of speakers, thinkers and game-changers who all share that vision across medicine, psychology, art, the environment, finance, media and tourism – we’re creating a platform with which our guests can conceptualize another approach and attitude to life.

What is the future of travel for you?

To continue my drive and desire to create travel experiences that are more intimate and specialized. An integral part of this is understanding not only why we travel, but why who we travel with really matters. Because no matter where we go or what we see, it will always be the people that one meets that make up the fabric and authenticity of a traveler’s experience.

There are more travel experts specializing in trips that offer wellness, education and mindfulness. What truly separates what you do from the others? The specialized space that ROAR AFRICA occupies falls within a seemingly overcrowded market. But this does not automatically translate into the needs of our unique clientele being met. I still see many travel specialists tone deaf to what guests are actually looking for, which I believe are experiences that money cannot buy. I hope that my emotional intelligence enables me to have all the senses firing at the same time, thereby allowing me to anticipate things with a high-touch and delicate hand. The residue of this is receiving the coveted feedback that I most often hear from our guests – ‘I have never traveled like this before.’ And while our guests are only exposed to the highest levels of excellence throughout every aspect of their journey, this is less about levels of tangible luxury. For what is luxury if not the emotional shift experienced by someone truly dialed into Africa who knows how to share its powerful ability to transform peoples’ view of the world.

Deborah Calmeyer 

To learn more about Roar Africa and ROAR and RESTORE:

Follow Deborah: @roarafrica

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