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Uthando - Helping Tourism To REALLY Make a Difference

Every road trip should be like the road trip I’ve just enjoyed. We walked, we talked, we laughed, we drove, we went all intellectual (and a whole lot cultural) at the Cape Town Book Fair... and we went on a township tour.

What? Martin Hatchuel, anti-human-zoo-campaigner, went on a township tour?

Yes. But this was no usual township tour.

I’ve always argued against the kind of cultural tourism which purports to show ‘real people’ living ‘real lives’ in ‘real cultural villages’ and I’ve always felt uneasy about going on township tours because somehow I’ve always felt that the tour operators saw the townships as ready-made cultural villages (which goes to my new-found exploration of the concept of colonial tourism, in which the operator becomes the new colonialist).

I would prefer, I said, to see culture in a gallery or to watch it in a choreographed show, something like the Tango shows they advertise in Buenos Aires or the Flamenco evening I once went to in Madrid. I even once wrote the script for a show of my own which fused African story telling into western music - and it worked! (if only as a piece of art - commercial success eluded us).

So what made this tour different?

Well, see, it was unlike anything I’d expected - and it had a purpose beyond charity. It sought sustainability.

I’m just reading A Billion Bootstraps: Microcredit, Barefoot Banking, and the Business Solution for Ending Poverty by Phil Smith and Eric Thurman and it’s really struck a chord with me because the thing that’s always worried me about charity was that it seems so unsustainable: if I gave a woman a hundred to feed her family and I never saw her again - who would give her the next hundred?

Mr. Smith and Mr. Thurman agree - and they’ve found that by loaning people small amounts of money, you can help them build businesses for themselves - and when they repay their loans, you can recycle the money to help the next person. It’s a concept that won Professor Muhammad Yunus and the Grameen Bank the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize.

Even though it isn’t in the barefoot banking business, I confidently expect that Uthando - the company with whom we visited the townships - will garner just as many accolades.

Uthando is the brain child of James Fernie, a qualified lawyer who’s also a volunteer at Nazareth House in Cape Town. As a direct result of his work there, he says in his on-line biography, “It occurred to me in 2007 that an amazing plan for my life was staring right at me; to combine my passion for helping the underdog, my life’s experiences and the vast and incredible network of amazing people around the world who love South Africa and its people, and want to make a very real and significant difference.”
The plan he came up with is simple and elegant: he’s created a trust to which companies contribute on an ongoing basis - but there’s nothing new in that: the difference is that contributions are calculated according to sales. It’s kind of a voluntary tax. So contracted tour operators (inbound, outbound, foreign or domestic) would, for example, contribute R100.00 for every tour sold and guest houses would contribute, say, a percentage of every bed night.

Uthando’s job, then, is to distribute this funding to its targeted grassroots projects in the most effective way - and this is where their tours (they call them interactive field trips ) make so much sense from a management point of view. Because they’re visiting the projects they support on an on-going basis, they’re able to keep abreast of what they need and so they can react quickly and appropriately. It cuts out the ‘overhead’ which is normally the killer that removes great swathes of donor funding from the actual task at hand.

The secret behind what I believe will be the success of Uthando’s field trips is the kind of projects they’ve chosen to visit - and the interaction they offer at the projects’ bases (and this was important for me - we went into community halls and school rooms and not into anyone’s private, family homes. I couldn’t have done that. I couldn’t easily come into your home, either - unless we were friends beforehand, of course. Too invasive. Too uncomfortable).

Each of the projects is genuine about upliftment (not one of them has interest in creating showcases for tourists) and the tour itineraries differ according to day of the week and time of the day - because these are projects that are part of people’s lives and you have to fit in with their schedules. Arts and culture groups, for example - when you visit them, you’re actually being invited to watch them in regular rehearsal (with all rehearsal’s bloopses and triumphs). And groups only rehearse at particular times on particular days.

On our lightning-fast tour (it was an educational, so we went to more projects than the average afternoon field trip would normally accommodate), we visited Beauty for Ashes in Observatory, a half-way house under the directorship of Stephanie van Wyk which offers rehabilitation and support for female prisoners; the Ingqayi Educational Theatre Project, which concentrates on theatre development in poor communities under director Thembile Nazo; the Hout Bay Music Project where we heard the amazing kids from the disadvantaged communities of Hangberg and Imizamo Yetho playing - get this - western orchestral music under the directorship of Leanne Dollman (and to think that they played like angels - and yet they only get to practice once or twice a week; they can’t take their basses, violins, violas - or djembes or marimbas - home with them); the James House Child and Youth Care Centre, which will soon be moving into a smart new home, and where I was bowled over (literally - I landed on my ass) by S’fiso, the skate-boarding 4-year-old who wanted to see every page of my notebook and play with every button on my camera; the Jikeleza dance project , where Edmund Thwaites and Atholl Hay work at empowering, uplifting and improving the quality of life of young people from impoverished communities through dance and music; and T-Bag Designs (I couldn’t get over this one) where Jill Hayes has created an economic empowerment project in which participants paint unique designs onto dried, used tea bags (yes, tea bags) - which are then used to decorate everything from coasters to handbags.

What was refreshing was James’s insistence that he wanted no money to change hands during his tours (except, of course, where you actually bought something - like a painted T-bag. Go visit the web site - you’ll see that I’m not being facetious). Personal interaction, he said, is the most important thing.

I like what James and his team are doing at Uthando, and I was inspired by the people I met last Tuesday in Gugulethu, Langa and Hout Bay - and I think you would be too.

We all talk about responsible tourism all the time, and here’s an easy way of putting our money where our mouths are: a self-imposed tax on sales that directly benefits the people who need it most. And the fact that you're paying as you're selling is what makes it sustainable (although, of course, nobody's stopping anyone from making individual donations!).

If you’re looking to make a difference, you might look at signing up with Uthando. Contact James at

I WISH I Could See This Show!

While I was browsing the Jikeleza site, I found this teaser:

Upcoming Events

Jikeleza Dance Project, Zip Zap Circus School & the Hout Bay Music Project present VOOMA! - a high energy and inspiring collaborative performance in the Artscape Opera House on 28, 29 & 30 June @ 7.00 p.m. (with a matinee performance at 2.00 p.m. on the 30th of June).

Booking at Computicket or Artscape Dial-A-Seat 021 421 7695

If you live in Cape Town or anywhere nearby, do yourself a favour. I’ve seen some of the rehearsals - and I KNOW you’ll be amazed and inspired.

What’s Martin Reading?

Il Viaggio Journeys and Voyages 18 June 2008

Uthando South Africa è un’organizzazione no-profit che associa perfettamente un’iniziativa unica nel suo genere di Turismo Responsabile, con la solidarietà sociale verso le persone più disagiate.
Con sede a Cape Town, Uthando South Africa si pone l’obiettivo di raccogliere fondi provenienti da persone individuali, gruppi ed organizzazioni che si interessano della regione ed operano sul territorio; i soldi raccolti rendono possibile la realizzazione di molti progetti, fondati sulla comunità locale, con grande attenzione all’innovazione ed alla sostenibilità delle fasce più marginali della società sudafricana.
In concomitanza Uthando punta a far conoscere ai turisti una realtà autentica ed i problemi sociali del Sudafrica, in modo innovativo e partecipativo.
L’ispirazione del progetto Uthando è opera di James Fernie, fino a poco tempo fa tra le figure più importanti di Inspirational Places, società di marketing rappresentativa di alcuni dei più esclusivi hotel e lodge in Africa Australe.
James fin da giovane sviluppa un profondo senso di compassione e solidarietà con le persone vittime del crudele sistema dell’Apartheid, essendo nato e cresciuto nell’Eastern Cape, regione che ancor oggi purtroppo concentra un gran numero di persone che vivono in condizioni di estrema povertà.
Dopo la laurea in legge ed uno stage presso la Commissione Umanitaria Europea di Brussel, nonché un’assidua collaborazione presso la Nazareth House di Cape Town con grande attenzione ai bambini orfani o sieropositivi, James concretizza un’intuizione, una vocazione che da tempo culla: la creazione di un’organizzazione caritatevole dall’animo innovativo ed interattivo, che preveda la collaborazione attiva con le persone più svantaggiate.
Nel 2007, grazie alla fitta rete di rapporti personali e lavorativi che negli anni James ha creato il progetto si concretizza con la nascita di Uthando South Africa.
Gli ambiti in cui l’organizzazione opera sono molti e differenti:
• Donne e bambini vittime di violenze domestiche
• Agricoltura
• Salvaguardia degli animali
• Sviluppo umano attraverso le arti, la cultura e lo sport
• Bambini ed educazione
• Disabili
• Abuso di droghe ed alcol
• Anziani e bambini
• Ambiente
• Nutrizione
• Salute della popolazione
• Riabilitazione dei carcerati
• Sviluppo dei diritti umani
• Rifugiati ed immigrati
• Sviluppo delle competenze
• Sviluppo economico sostenibile
• Disoccupazione
Anche Il Viaggio Journeys & Voyages collabora con James ed Uthando per lo sviluppo ed il mantenimento dei progetti, consigliando ai propri clienti che si recano in Sudafrica, di provare in prima persona l’esperienza e la partecipazione ad uno dei progetti. E’ un modo unico di vivere in pieno la realtà sudafricana, contribuendo ad aiutare chi più ne ha bisogno.



Beyond the walls and barbed wire, Tim Walker finds hope for marginalised people in South Africa


19 March 2008

The New Statesman Magazine, United Kingdom

"When all is said and done, no matter what you have achieved, no matter how many summer homes you own, no matter how many cars sit in your driveway, the quality of your life will come down to the quality of your contribution . . ." It was that line from Robin Sharma's The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari that inspired James Fernie, a 36-year-old white South African who in a previous life was a sharp-suited lawyer at Clifford Chance in Canary Wharf, London, to set up an organisation called Uthando.

The word means love, and Fernie is into what he calls its "practical applications". Working in the tourism industry until last month, he came up with the idea of levying roughly £15 on every itinerary to South Africa sold by the top-end tour operators - a number in the UK have already signed up, including Bailey Robinson, Safari Plus and Tana Travel, as well as Travel Focus in Ireland - and then channelling the money into organisations that help the country's destitute and marginalised communities.

It's all done transparently, with the operators drawing their clients' attention to the levy. There's a reputable firm of auditors involved to keep an eye on the books. And, what's more, from the beginning of August Fernie plans to take interested donors to see for themselves how their money is being spent. "We'll be going in small groups and in such a way as to educate, inform and inspire while also respecting the dignity and privacy of the people concerned," he told me. "The places we go to will obviously not be treated as tourist attractions. The aim is to make the people being helped become real to the people who are helping them."

Fernie took me on a pilot visit to Khayelitsha on the outskirts of Cape Town in the Cape Flats. From the Mount Nelson Hotel, where I was staying, it took scarcely half an hour by car, but psychologically the journey was somewhat more substantial. Among the rows and rows of dilapidated shacks that line the dirt tracks to this, reputedly the third-largest township in the country, is the Khumbulani daycare centre.

Gloria Bebeza, a bright, cheerful woman of 46 with an infectious laugh, came out to greet us. She was holding the hand of a child no more than five years old and who is HIV-positive, one of 160 children who attend the centre.

"It is estimated that 40 per cent of the people here have HIV/Aids," said Fernie. "There is no such thing as a traditional family unit in these townships and so families are unable to look after their own." The project had originally been intended as an orphanage but its application was turned down by social services because the official policy is to move towards foster care. Gloria, who co-founded the daycare centre, and her friend Nondomiso have adopted ten children between them.

"They have a need for love, like everyone else," said Gloria. "That is what we provide here, in addition, of course, to advice about this illness, and food. We also grow our own beetroot." She laughed once more: Manto Tshabalala-Msimang, the health minister, had lately scoffed at the idea that antiretroviral drugs were the answer to HIV. Better, the minister had said, that people worried about the virus should eat plenty of garlic and beetroot.

Next stop was Bishop's Court, an exclusive enclave high in the hills above Hout Bay, with thick walls, barbed-wire fences and signs warning potential burglars that "armed guards" were on patrol. We were welcomed to a grand old colonial house where, on the perfectly manicured lawn, we found the old ladies of the Jewish Seniors Society being serenaded over tea and cakes with the music of Cole Porter.

I looked quizzically at Fernie, who had clearly learned about being a guide from A Christmas Carol. He pointed to the black youngsters who were singing. "They are from the Hout Bay Music Project, another organisation that we are supporting. People think of Hout Bay as a beautiful place but they may not be aware that 95 per cent of the land is occupied by the white inhabitants. The black and coloured people are crammed into the remaining 5 per cent of land in shacks and little brick houses. It is from these that the youngsters performing today have come."

As we left, I asked Fernie what would become of the young people who had been singing so beautifully. "It'll be up to them," he replied. "The point is they have been given a chance to develop a talent and they have got to join an organisation that has a good reputation. A lot of them will go on to perform professionally."

The next stop was the Sentinel Primary School in the coloured township of Hangberg, home of the Jikeleza dance project, where 150 children between the ages of six and 18 receive daily classes in classical ballet, contemporary, street, African and Spanish dance. Fernie introduced me to Edmund Thwaites, a professional dancer of some repute in South Africa, who runs the project full-time with his partner, Atholl Hay.

He handed me notes on the dancers. One on the list caught my eye: "Age: 15. Father: Unknown. Mother: Seen him only once. Notes: Severe burn scars on his legs. A born ballet dancer." In the townships, Thwaites said, there is a terrible stigma to young men dancing, but many of them have, along with the girls, gone on to establish themselves professionally. "I try to let them express their problems such as sexual abuse and Aids through dance," he said. "Dancing and movement can often express a child's feelings better than words."

If anyone had thought, as I had, that having got to the top of Table Mountain, sampled the fine wines of Franschhoek and Hermanus, and seen the African penguins and the Big Five in Kruger, they had "done" South Africa, I'd recommend they have a word with James Fernie. "Apartheid is over but its legacy, and the shacks, remain. Nobody can say they understand South Africa until they understand that."

Tim Walker is editor of the Mandrake diary in the Daily and Sunday Telegraphs. He is also the latter paper's theatre critic

Making a Difference

Dominic Chadborn
Go2 Africa
10 May 2008

It seems like a hopeless task: can the crushing poverty of South Africa’s townships be overcome? At first glance, as one whisks past the endless shacks it appears not, but - as Go2Africa writer Dominic Chadbon found out – there is a whiff of optimism in the air.

It’s not easy to get excited about South Africa’s townships: crime and violence saturate the sprawling, litter-strewn wastelands and the vast majority of South Africans either avert their eyes or shrug their shoulders resignedly and say ‘It’s life – what can we do about it?’

But life goes on for those who live there – it’s the tough, raw business of survival – and luckily there are people who are prepared to do something about it.

Gloria Bebeza runs Khumbalani Orphanage Centre, a gaspingly small building on the corner of a sandy, weed-choked scrap of wasteland slap-bang in the middle of Khayalitsha – Cape Town’s biggest township. She, and her 7 staff, gets up before dawn to prepare for a gruelling 12 hour working day providing day care to 165 kids from, to put it into spin speak, ‘distressed backgrounds’ – better known to you and me as poverty.

Children infected with, or affected by, HIV/Aids; toddlers of single working mums; kids from families who just can’t cope – they all land up under the benign care of Gloria and her carers, none of whom are paid. That’s right; they work from 6 to 6 for nothing. And the demand for care keeps growing – 50 of Gloria’s kids are crammed into a 3 X 2 metre hut, spilling out into the scabby front yard. When I visited it was sunny – what it’s like when it rains I can’t even begin to imagine.

But Gloria’s enthusiasm is unflagging; her face creases with smiles she greets us outside the vegetable garden where fresh produce is valiantly tended by proud gardeners, forever battling the leached sand and withering wind of the Cape Flats. Kids look through holes in the wall and wave, passing cars hoot and friendly thumbs-up flash from their windows. There’s no menace here, only the throat-choking realization that some people really do care, and are prepared to sacrifice their time, energy and emotion for the common good.

And there are plenty more projects: the Neighbourhood Old Age Home (NOAH) looks after heart-breakingly poor pensioners (often preyed on for their meagre benefit); the Khayalitsha Special Needs School is the only one of its kind in the township with its million-plus inhabitants; the Animal Welfare Clinic tries urgently to sterilise cats and dogs to reduce the numbers of diseased-ravaged strays.

If the Khayalitsha projects focus on the basics of social support, then the multitude of programmes over in leafy Hout Bay’s township of Imizamo Yethu are driven by the need to create an entrepreneurial spirit and genuine empowerment. “People don’t want handouts,” explained the manager of Mandela Park Mosaics (a small craft business), “they want an opportunity to earn money.” Other programmes such as The Hout Bay Music Project and the Jikeleza ‘Chance to Dance’ project aim at instilling a sense of respect, discipline and culture in a society torn apart by crime, greed and carelessness.

Predictably, it’s a question of money. Funding is, as it always is out here, desperately scarce, and at the same time, desperately needed to keep the projects on their feet. Gloria smiles patiently when I foolishly ask what is needed: food, milk powder, detergents, blankets to keep the kids fed, warm and clean. Electricity and water have to be paid for. More land is required, and then come the buildings. The gardeners need compost, tools, seedlings, even scraps of lintel and board to hold their sandy vegetable beds together. Everything is needed.

And equally predictably, that’s where you come in. We all know about donor fatigue, and we’re all sick and tired of media reports exposing yet more aid fraud, another funding scandal and the wallet-bulging salaries of the charity aristocracy. What we need are grassroots organisations, staffed by selfless individuals, accountable to both their donors and beneficiaries, and transparent in their actions. I was taken to Khumbalani, and many other projects, by James Fernie from an organisation called, appropriately, Uthando – a Xhosa word for love; and he seemed to be on the right track.

“We have a diverse range of projects,” explained James from behind the steering wheel as he expertly navigated the bewildering maze of roads in Khayalitsha, “there is the potential for a great deal of cross-pollination between them. Why not get ex-prisoners on a rehabilitation programme involved in environmental projects? Let’s involve adults on a learning programme in HIV awareness campaigns.” James is big on transparency and accountability; independently compiled annual reports will be sent to participating partners; inquisitive donors taken to the projects and tours offered to generate publicity and further funding.

The funds pooled by Uthando are for use, well, anywhere. From food for the kids at Khumbalani and medicine for the elderly at the NOAH to violins for the kids at the Hout Bay Music Project and medical equipment for Khayalitsha’s Animal Welfare Clinic – the scale of need is tearfully overwhelming, the ascent to the cloudless summit steep and pathed with frustration and hopelessness.

But to do nothing is to somehow pretend the crushing realities of life for countless South Africans do not exist; it’s time to start changing the way we travel – and, our protests or cynicism notwithstanding, making a difference.