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Facebook game 'Safari Challenge' combines gameplay with giving

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Safari Challenge marries social gaming with philanthropy, helping fund initiatives in rural African communities where fresh water wells, school supplies, playgrounds and homes for orphans are desperately needed.Desert River Games

It’s like Farmville in the jungle -- and it’s letting gamers shape the landscape of communities in Africa.

Safari Challenge, the flagship game by Desert River Games, takes social gaming to the jungle, and marries it with philanthropy: The game will fund initiatives in rural African communities where fresh water wells, school supplies, playgrounds and homes for orphans are desperately needed.

During a trip to Africa in 2006, the 35-year-old founder and creator of Desert River Games Jacob Bonnema and his wife Kelly adopted their daughter Covey, short for Covenant. They came back from the trip with something else as well: a desire to give back. It was then that Bonnema had the idea for Desert River Games.

“There’s over 150 million orphans in the world, and only a very small percentage of money is spent on the orphans still there,” Bonnema told FoxNews.com.

'It gives people the ability to give back … they’ll see real evidence of their game play that they can be proud of.'

- Jacob Bonnema, founder and creator of Desert River Games

Bonnema, inspired by games like Farmville that harness Facebook’s huge audience, put together a team of developers and created Desert River Games. As the team developed the concept for Safari Challenge, which launches on Facebook Monday afternoon, the mantra “gaming is giving” was born. Bonnema then contacted charities Warm Blankets and Kids Around the World to partner with.

Though several companies foster donations to charity via online gaming -- WeTopia and GamesThatGive, to name a few -- Safari Challenge is unique in that it allows Facebook users to participate in the actual development of these communities.

How it works: Users just have to have a Facebook account to play the game. Players earn virtual currency called “Impact,” redeemable in the real world, as they build villages, raise animals and take part in wildlife missions. As players gather Impact, they move closer to personal goals set for them in each challenge, unlocking their next mission.

The Impact they earn goes toward helping partner charities on the ground. Gamers pick which projects they want to fund and Safari Challenge keeps tally of the player’s Impact collected to give to charity that day. And while it does not cost to play, users can purchase virtual items as they play.

“The missions are a Facebook first,” Bonnema said. Players go from an isometric game to a 3D experience all without downloading an app. In the 3D world players can drive their safari vehicle, take pictures and navigate using GPS, before returning back to a flatter view.

The other neat aspect of Safari Challenge is that the developers will post pictures, maps and posts of the tangible impact being made in Africa. “It gives people the ability to give back … they’ll see real evidence of their game play that they can be proud of,” Bonnema told FoxNews.com.

While 30 percent of games’ earnings go to Facebook, Bonnema said the ultimate goal is to give the maximum amount while still remaining sustainable.

Christopher Marshals, Regional Vice President of Kids Around the World, said the organization builds about 70 playgrounds a year; Desert River Games’ goal to help fund one playground every month in the first year.

“We take playgrounds from landfills, refurbish them in our warehouses and give them new life,” Marshall told FoxNews.com

A new playground that would have cost about $80,000 in the U.S. will cost Kids Around the World about $15,000 to recycle, Marshals said.

Warm Blankets president and CEO Craig Muller, who has spent time with Bonnema building orphan homes in Africa, told FoxNews.com that the game’s real-time connections are a blessing.

“Really stressful areas [in Africa] wouldn’t get this kind of attention otherwise.”

Follow Natalia Angulo on Twitter @natisangulorico.