Full Testimonials-2014

Katie H., San Francisco, CA, 2012

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. 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.   I was able to experience Africa on a deeper, more meaningful level.

Sheila O., Philadelphia, PA, 2014

No amount of National Geographic specials prepared me for the animals we saw – fabulous animals in great numbers who live in the harsh beautiful landscape of the bush.  I couldn’t believe how close I was to lions, elephants, impala, giraffe, and the list goes on.  I think we saw 38 species, didn’t we?  And the birds – unexpected and spectacular.  All the lodges we stayed at had unassuming elegance, good showers and very good food.  And I liked the hippos walking through at night.

 There were two other components to the trip that made it unique.  First, we met Zambians who weren’t safari guides:  tribal leaders as well as grassroots change agents who are addressing the intense poverty in Zambia.

Second, we created an intentional community.  We did yoga, meditation,
and acupuncture in community. We talked to each other as a group about the complexities of what we were experiencing.  Even the group members who didn’t go for “that stuff” ended up loving the exceptional connection we had created.  (But I also really need alone time and the leaders made sure we had that too.)

A friend who went on Open Heart Safari last year described it as a spiritual journey in Africa, and that turned out to be my experience.


Ling Z., San Francisco, CA, 2014

I’m ready to go back! I miss the land, the people, the animals and most of all, I miss my fellow safari open hearters!

I still have a hard time finding words that are powerful and profound enough to describe my experience, though the phrases “life changing” and “soul touching” appear frequently in my vocabulary.

I’m so very grateful for all that you’ve done for us on this trip.  I can’t imagine myself traveling any other way after this amazing life changing experience.

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.

Personal Note:  I continue to feel huge gratitude for the experience of the trip…. It has had a very profound impact on me.… I am definitely still deeply affected and unusually open to whatever is and whatever comes next…. My heart has been very open….  I’ve been feeling overall very loving…. [My wife is] probably as happy as I am that I went on this trip. … I’d say I’m still a poster child for the transformative experience of the Open Heart Safari…. I’m grateful for your leadership, companionship, and inspiration on our trip that has continued to be with me.

One year later: Remembering our time in Zambia still reliably brings me to a more peaceful, grateful, grounded state.

Rachil W., Santa Barbara, CA, 2014

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for facilitating the trip of a lifetime … an uniquely amazing experience. … No other trip compares. I got to connect with the people and the animals on a level that I couldn’t have anticipated.

Our trip had all these different levels of experiencing Africa–being with community leaders, villagers, women’s groups, activists.  We met as friends throughout the whole trip.  People responded to our openness, we were so welcomed.  I felt so safe, we were ourselves, we learned about the others.

This is my from my journal entry about my amazing first night:

“Up most of the night listening to the sounds of Africa- Hippos mostly–‘laughing,’ ‘yawning,’ or marking their territory, as the guides explained. Woke to a view of the river from the triangular door of our luxurious tent. Renee and I spent the better part of an hour photographing the river, hippos, crocodiles, and birds until the amazing moment the elephant came walking up the path. Oh man my heart was beating so fast and full it sunk to my stomach. … The elephant gracefully walked directly towards us. I was in Awe!”

Thank you Tom and Laura for all your efforts, beautiful dispositions and open hearts!!!



Eleanor D., Glen Ellen, CA, 2014

This trip more than any other is one that I cherish and remember with joy and fullness. … It’s a sacred trip.  You get to know people deeply quickly, and get to know things from the heart.

I wanted to spend time with elephants and was delighted to see large elephant families in Zambia and unbelievably large groups in Botswana.  The dreamy sight of the huge herds of elephants in the watery marshlands and river in Botswana was like being present at the beginning of the world.  Africa is Eden.  The people seemed Edenish as well, their love of living.…  Whenever I revisit the trip, I feel the contentment of the lions sunning themselves by the river as my own full heart.

Our experience with community people and local activists was an unexpected gift—getting to spend time learning about issues that Zambians are working on: conservation, community needs, land rights.  Our experience could only have been made possible by Tom, thanks to all the work he’s done with grassroots organizations in Zambia.

The check-ins were very grounding.  And always from the heart.

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


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.

Personal Note: The best single vacation day I have ever had in my life was the first day at Flatdogs with the afternoon drive and my first experience with African wildlife, especially the elephants.


Renee B., Apex, NC, 2014

Tom has pieced together a magical journey through a majestic land. Each experience built on the last, and was clearly ordered very intentionally to create a deep and rich understanding of the land, the animals, and the people of Zambia. Being in the presence of such diverse and abundant commanding wildlife in their natural setting living their natural lives is an experience like no other. And sharing it with like-minded open-hearted travelers added even more depth and meaning to the adventure. Tom’s connections and history with leaders in the field of conservation and people’s empowerment allowed us all the unique opportunity to meet and talk with fascinating individuals and groups throughout the country. I am forever grateful to Tom for so carefully putting together a journey that surpassed anything I could have imagined!


Liz B., Berkeley, CA, 2014

My two-week trip to Zambia was thrilling and fantastic.  Almost immediately upon our arrival, I saw an elephant wandering through the grounds of our lodge.  I was so amazed to realize that we were located right in the middle of the wild animals’ habitat!

There were so many exciting things: the passion of the dedicated wildlife guides; a pride of lionesses stalking some cape buffalo and giving chase right in front of our jeep; stopping to watch a group of giraffes, being mesmerized by the way they move, enjoying their alert eyes and ears; watching a leopard walk right in front us, thrilled to see this beautiful, graceful, somewhat reclusive cat.  I laugh every time I think of the hysterical and endearing warthogs; I was captivated by the zebra and loved looking at their stripes.  I felt privileged to be a part of it all.

All this would have sufficed, but we were also introduced to local people in intimate settings – getting a chance to see how they lived their lives and start to appreciate their reality.  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.

This was such a deep and moving experience for me.  It was enriched and heightened by sharing it so intimately with the group.   We had a lot of fun together, laughed a lot and bonded closely – all enhanced, in turn, by the magnitude of what we were experiencing together.

It’s hard for me to imagine that we could have as rich and full an experience without the insights, guidance, connections and organization offered by Tom and Laura. 

I treasure the fact that I took the chance on this trip. …  I’ve come home feeling fulfilled, peaceful and satiated – and thinking about returning some day.


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! 


Bonnie W., Oakland, CA, 2014

Thank you for convening this amazing experience.  Your open hearts invited us to open our hearts to the people, land and one another – in addition to the beautiful wildlife.  This experience has indelibly changed me.
The trip the two of you convened is, I think, a way of experiencing Africa in a really rare way.   I think about going back, but it’s hard to imagine going back without the two of you and what you convene and create and the people we met there in addition to the amazing animals. …  We will go back.
 Thank you.  It was incredible.


Red B., Elmhurst, IL, 2013

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!

Personal Note:  By the way, did I tell you guys the safari was the most emotionally moving experience I’ve ever had? Well it was.


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!



Jeanne R., Glen Ellen, CA, 2014

It was wonderful to be there…  and actually meet the people and see the animals.  And to start off the trip, waking up to hippo “laughing!” Who would have thought their noises could be so joyful?  Or being scared with lions roaring outside my door!  And traveling with such caring people.  It was more, much more than I anticipated or expected.  Thank you all for experiences to ponder this lifetime.  My heart is overflowing. 


Jeanne T., San Francisco, CA, 2014

A funny thing has happened now that I am back home.  When work gets intense, when the traffic backs up, when my laundry starts to overflow, I go to that special space inside of me that was not there before my Africa experience. I remember the loud lion exhale that Laura taught us with outstretched tongues. I smile. Then I let myself feel the stillness that I have not felt anywhere else on earth, and again hear the cacophony of bird sounds, the faint alarm whistles of the impala and the snorting HA HAs of the hippos that my ears learned to anticipate with relish.  I recall the overnight in the village when spontaneousdancing erupted in the kitchen.  When we visited the community leaders, it felt more like a delegation than being tourists.

This week my refrigerator went out and the shower handle broke off. But it didn’t matter. I’ve been to Africa. I learned to maneuver the unique Zambian handshake. I ate nshima with groundnut stew. I danced down an aisle of clapping hands with community organizers.  And I saw animal creatures of unfathomable beauty and enormous wonder.

Thanks to my trip with Open Heart Safari I’ve felt a connection to the earth and to other fellow earthlings that leaves me with something very, very peaceful and very still.


Scott W., Oakland, CA, 2014

Our sense of community both before and during the trip was profound.  I really appreciated how Tom and Laura organized conference calls in advance of the trip where we got to know each other.  It was a very effective way of starting a community, and that continued throughout the trip.  Our conversations were powerful and helped us integrate our experiences throughout the trip, so that we could enjoy the people and the land in a way that was so much richer.

And then our sense of the communities we were experiencing was really cool.  We got to meet local people and we started off …. wanting to give them our good ideas, … and by the time we were done, we were just sitting back and listening IN AWE to them talk to each other … people who really knew what they were talking about.

The animals were fantastic and the way that the trip was organized helped us to explore that.  I show everyone the video of the time we were sitting in the meditation pavilion and there’s an elephant walking 270 degrees around us, grazing and eating the tree next to us … a few feet beside us as we’re sitting in awe. And this thing is as big as a bus! That’s how close we got to an animal that was wild, wild.

It was amazing to watch the wildlife and meet the people, and to experience that in a community that was a safe container with committed people. It was so satisfying and fulfilling. I was just blown away.


Patti B., Baltimore, MD, 2013

I would follow Tom Bennigson anywhere. He is a very genuine person,  full of thoughts … about Africa, philosophy, poetry or politics. He has also been studying Africa for many years; his commitment to Africa dates 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.  I am changed and grateful.


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.”