When she stepped onto the stage at Melrose Arch to accept !Xaus Lodge’s Imvelo Award for Responsible Tourism (Best Practice economic impact category for independent operations), Ellen Bok represented the community owners of this extraordinary success story.

Ellen is head Chef at !Xaus Lodge, which is a private concession in the Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park. Jointly owned by the ‡Khomani San and Mier communities, the Lodge is a positive example of what can be achieved in community-based tourism with public-private partnerships.  Since opening in 2007, and with just 24 beds, !Xaus Lodge has generated more than R5,1 million turnover in the Gordonia area.

Ellen’s story also reflects a life of taking the few opportunities available, and making the best of them through hard work and not giving up when times are tough. One of 9 children, she was brought up in nearby Rietfontein, and spent her younger years in Namibia, before returning to Rietfontein in 1993. For the next 14 years this mother of three scrapped an income from cooking take-aways and catered meals. The opportunity of formal employment at !Xaus Lodge was the first she had had in the area.

“Ellen’s employment was one of the many good things that came together when we opened !Xaus Lodge”, says Glynn O’Leary,  CEO of Transfrontier Parks Destinations, the commercial managers of the Lodge. “She’s a lady who understands that opportunity alone has little value unless you are prepared to work hard to make it develop into something bigger”.  A self-taught chef she has created a menu of “Kalahari Cuisine” that is a favourite with local and international Lodge guests.

‘!Xaus’ means ‘heart’ in the local nama language, and Ellen has a big one.  When asked what the best part of the trip to the awards was (which included her first ever plane trip and visit to Johannesburg, as well as four days mentorship in the Boulders Beach Restaurant) she said that “I am so happy because I see that those of us who believe and work hard to make a success, can teach others that there is always an opportunity.”