Appreciation


Katie H., San Francisco, CA, 2012

Wow! I can’t imagine a better way to experience the “real Africa” than with the Open Heart group. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, definitely exceeded expectations. I have so many good things to say about the safari – I’m not quite sure where to start.

It’s such a crazy experience to see a wild leopard just a few feet from your jeep – it was so magnificent & moving, I almost cried. And spending a day in a slum in the capital & seeing the way the people lived & really feeling like we made a contribution & connecting with local people there – that was also very moving. It’s hard to know what to do with feelings like that – it’s so much more intense than my daily life here. So having a close group that I could process that stuff with & talk it over & share how we each experienced things & how we were feeling made a HUGE difference in my time there.

I loved the Open Heart activities (yoga, meditation, reflection, sharing, etc.) – they helped me feel more present & connected. I was able to experience Africa on a deeper, more meaningful level.  It was so valuable to be able to process & share our experiences. From day 1 our group really opened up to one another and experienced a heartfelt connection, which Tom was instrumental in initiating. So often on the trip I thought how grateful I was to be with this group and that I wouldn’t want it any other way.

The itinerary was a great mix of spending time with spectacular wildlife in beautiful national parks, and then spending time with local people in various settings. The food & the lodging were both over & above what I expected. The food was incredible. I’m a vegetarian & my dad’s a meat eater & we both were really happy with the food choices.

Tom and Laura did a wonderful job leading the group.  Tom is incredibly knowledgeable about Africa and the animals we were seeing (and the guides in the national parks were exceptional too).  Laura did a great job leading the group in yoga & expressive movement sessions, which really made a difference in feeling embodied in the experience. The two of them make a great team.

This really is a once in a lifetime experience, and I really think going with Tom and Laura is the best way to do it.


David M., Philadelphia, PA, 2012

I had never considered doing a safari before I heard about the Open Heart Safari. Something about Tom’s passion in describing the trip, the prospect of stunning wildlife with intentional personal and spiritual connection, and a desire to do something special for myself motivated me to sign up. This was a very big commitment for me in terms of time and money. But once the trip started, I never once doubted that I’d made a good decision. By the end of the 2 weeks, it felt as if the entire trip had been designed and executed specifically for my personal benefit. The heart-opening activities (sharing our intentions and reactions with the group, poems, meditations, and movement) were powerfully effective in opening my heart to a deep impactful experience of the wildlife, wilderness, and local communities we visited. I started the trip hoping to get some clarity on my career direction. Now at the end of the trip I feel a major transformation in my life has been catalyzed.

Here’s a (no doubt incomplete) list of highlights of the trip for me:

  • Nature: The majesty of the beautiful animals, the calm, peaceful beauty of the African bush, the expansive starry night sky, and experiencing the natural order of diverse types of animals, each with its own niche in the ecosystem, co-existing and playing their role, all helped me feel part of an amazing unified tapestry.
  • The people: It was striking how in the rural village of Kawaza, with no plumbing or electricity and few possessions, the people seemed so full of life and joy.  I saw more happy people in one morning in Kawaza than I see in a year in Philadelphia.
  • Zebra meditation:  Sitting down to meditate, and after a few minutes discovering a zebra peering at me from inches away.  The alternating terror and accepting calm I experienced felt symbolic of changes coming in my life that will offer me the chance to get beyond fear to experience benign beautiful opportunity.
  • The close bonds and open hearted sharing among the group helped me experience the wildlife and communities we met in a deep way.

With gratitude and love.


Jean B., Elmhurst, IL, 2013

Open Heart Safari will change your life in subtle and profound ways.

There were three things I hoped for in a trip to Africa.  Open Heart Safari offered me the chance to experience all of them:  1) the thrill of seeing lots of wild animals in the bush, 2) the enjoyment of meeting local people and learning about their culture, and 3) the satisfaction of being of service to the continent in some way other than spending my money there.

Through Tom’s planning and connections and Laura’s compassion and energy, the trip fully met my expectations – and more.  It’s the “more” that has me daydreaming of Africa over a month after my return to the U.S.

An unexpected highlight of the trip for me was the frequent circles, or debriefs, our group enjoyed.  Lucky for us, Tom is a masterful group facilitator.  He modeled openness and sensitivity and allowed each group member the space to express ourselves safely.   There is something so affirming and yet astonishing about sharing your perspective with a group of people who have spent the day in the same activities as you but each taking away a surprisingly different experience.  It enriched me.

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 – on your behalf.   My long anticipated visit to Africa has not left me checking it off my bucket list but rather verifying that the old saying is true – the trouble with Africa is that it has gotten in my blood.


Red B., Elmhurst, IL, 2013

My expectations were fulfilled and I was astonished by what I saw and learned. I’ve been back home in Chicago for a week now and I am just beginning to realize that it will take a great deal of time for me to fully process my African experience.

Safari is a Swahili word which means journey. For me this safari turned out to be a journey of self discovery as well as a study of the native wild life.

The trip is designed to make sure that the experience is one that will have a significant impact on the participants. You will be cleansed of preconceptions, your values will be challenged and changed, your emotions will be jolted, there will be tears and laughter, and possibly some sheer terror depending upon your reaction to up close and personal encounters with Nile crocodiles, full grown six ton elephants, and a hippo named Lucas who may just sleep outside your door! And believe me, your heart will be opened.

And perhaps best of all, you will become, as I did, close friends with and share some unforgettable experiences with a group of like-minded people who care deeply about the enjoyment of nature and wildlife and the preservation of one of the last truly wild and natural places on our planet.

Don’t miss an Open Heart Safari. Put it at the top of your bucket list! Tom is right. THIS IS NO ORDINARY SAFARI!


Dove R., Philadelphia, PA, 2013

It is very hard to talk about a once in a lifetime trip. This was not a vacation but an adventure and as an adventure it continues to unfold. Each time I tell a story from my OpenHeartSafari I am able to see more of what this trip meant to me.

First, it was not the animals that became the highlight of the trip, even though that was great – it was the group I was with. We had deep conversations about race, privilege and natural selection, though that seems vague at the moment to say. In the face of Africa and what we were seeing and learning from some incredible guides, how did we as humans develop as we have? It was these talks at dinner, in the vehicles, on planes, that were the trip.

Second, seeing Africa was in and of itself amazing! All the pictures of kids or women carrying baskets on their heads, pumping water from wells, kids with beautiful big eyes, was all there. It was not just in National Geographic or Life Magazine. It is real and incredibly alive.

Third, I went with one of my brothers. I had not traveled with him since we were kids. Being with him was a joy and profound. I got to see him shine in ways that I would never have at home. He was fun and funny and had the trip of a life time.

There is so much more. As my time at home evolves I see more and more what this trip meant to me. How I relate to my world has changed. I move slower. I eat differently. I hear more deeply.

I want to thank you Tom and Laura for really putting together a thoughtful interaction with the environment and culture. I want you to know I had an incredible time. GREAT JOB!


Steve H., Naperville, IL, 2012

The safari experience exceeded our lofty expectations. South Luangwa National Park is teeming with incredible animals — so abundant, varied, natural and free, beautiful, graceful, powerful, funny, accessible and exciting, not to mention photogenic! Kafue is remote, wild, scenic and exciting. We missed nothing by passing up Tanzania except the crowds. And we gained a day at Victoria Falls, which is worthy of anyone’s bucket list.

 What sets this safari apart, though, is the human interaction, both with the local people and with our travelling companions. A day and an overnight in a thatched-hut village out in the bush mixing with the people, two days and an evening with young people and adults deeply involved in grass roots community development and conservation. Opportunities almost every day to reflect and share within our group on what we were doing and seeing –always with lots of laughs. Periodic yoga and other movement, skillfully led by Laura and suited to our capabilities.  We had some great conversations and look forward to staying in touch with one another across the country. Who knows, maybe even a reunion somewhere! 


Patti B., Baltimore, MD, 2013

I want to record a testimonial about open hearts and safari and Africa. I want to write, because I am changed and grateful, but I am unsure that I am a sufficiently bubbly person to be quoted.

My testimonial begins by saying that I would follow Tom Bennigson anywhere. He is a very genuine person. He is full of thoughts – some about Africa, some about philosophy, poetry or politics. He has also been studying Africa for many years; his commitment to Africa dating back at least 30 years. Lucky for us, Tom has started taking others on tour with him.

Tom’s wife Laura rounded out our tour with caring and yoga, both of which were essential for our team. She was so sweet and reassuring.

Tom and Laura led us through parts of Africa that were beautiful and remote. The animals, the birds, the landscape and the people were extremely compelling reasons to get up in the wee hours of the morning.

For me the trip was invaluable.


Gary R., Queens, NY, 2013

I had a wonderful time with all of you.  I miss you guys a lot. Still talking about the fun we had. It was a great trip… unbelievable. I tell everybody: “Just go.”