Trip Leaders

Enthusiasm and Heart

Tom and Laura really care about Africa and they care about you having an authentic experience of it.  Every game drive, every meeting, every encounter is infused with their enthusiasm and heart.

— Jean B., 2013

TOM BENNIGSON: Tom has been excited about wild animals all his life.  As a child he was known to all the zookeepers at the Central Park Zoo for his unceasing questions about the animals, while he dreamed of some day traveling to Africa to see them wild in their natural habitat.  Although his childhood dreams of becoming a zookeeper have not yet materialized (nor have his later dreams of becoming the male Jane Goodall), Tom has spent time as a volunteer researching chimpanzees in Uganda and elephants and monkeys in Kenya.  He currently works with a foundation making grants to African grassroots community groups, as well as working as a public interest attorney.  Tom has also worked as a philosophy professor, specializing in the epistemology of cross-cultural differences. He took most of the photos on this site.

Smart, Loving, and Caring

Who Laura and Tom are is crucial to the experience. They are both smart, loving, and caring, and were both really nurturing to us.

– Eleanor D., 2014

LAURA PARADISE: Laura is a life coach and nonprofit development consultant (specializing in environmental issues).  She has a degree in international development, and has worked extensively in rural development.  Her skills as a certified life coach and certified yoga teacher, along with her training in expressive arts and movement therapy, as well as her creativity, authenticity and capacity to acknowledge and encourage help make the trip truly a heart-opening experience for all participants.  Laura’s other experience includes many years of environmental advocacy, as well as work for youth development and literacy organizations.  Throughout her life, she has pursued dance, movement, writing and art.


Our Philosophy

Insights, Guidance, Connections

It’s hard for me to imagine that we could have had as rich and full an experience without the insights, guidance, connections and organization offered by Tom and Laura… Tom has had close contacts in Zambia for many years, which afforded us the opportunity to meet and interact with local villagers, community organizers, and local conservation activists.

– Liz B., 2014

We believe that close encounters with wildlife and the African experience more generally can have a profound transformative impact if we open to it. We seek to help facilitate that opening. We approach the magnificent animals and their habitats in a spirit of reverence, and approach the people and their culture with respect and interest. We hope that Open Heart Safari participants will not only enjoy a great trip, but also be deeply moved and lastingly affected.

We care about the context of national parks as well. We learn about African wildlife conservation from inspirational leaders, who can tell us about uplifting successes and present dangers. We also learn about the troubling shadow side of conservation – native peoples driven from their lands and livelihoods – as well as more hopeful approaches that empower local communities.