Traveling Philanthropy: Uthando (Love) South Africa

Make it more than just a safari

As you may already know, we’re big on conservation, community, and crafting purposeful safaris here at ATC. While we want you to have that quintessential khaki-and-canvas experience, it’s important to include opportunities that nurture a deep connection to the places you see and the people you meet. 

Through our own travels to Africa, we have forged bonds with remarkable individuals working to preserve the continent’s wild spaces and protect those most vulnerable. And when it comes to supporting well-managed development initiatives, none have left an impression quite like Uthando

Merging the concepts of philanthropy and responsible tourism, Uthando (meaning ‘love’ in Xhosa and Zulu) takes a distinctive approach that enables travelers to respectfully engage with a diverse array of impactful community projects in South Africa. Providing a connection point to local life down on the ground, they invite travelers to venture a little deeper and challenge themselves to break negative perceptions they may have about rural areas and urban townships. 

On our recent trip to South Africa, we were fortunate to connect with Xolani Maseko, a philanthropic guide who gave us an exclusive insider’s look into the inner workings of Uthando. We had the chance to sit down with Founder, James Fernie, who was able to elaborate on their overall mission and values:

In your own words, how did Uthando come about?

With Uthando, we had a vision of how we would like to connect travelers with locals in sincere, authentic, respectful, and mutually beneficial ways. At the time, it wasn’t easy for travelers to connect to local people without it being contrived or voyeuristic. 

In 2006, I was invited to Jikeleza Project, an outreach project running community-based dance, music, and performances in the highly impoverished settlement of Hamburg. I found myself sitting on a couch at Jikeleza immersed in an incredible ballet performance. I felt moved and connected but in a way that was not intrusive. It lit a fire in my belly to link these types of independent community projects with tour operators who could help establish these genuine moments of joy and connection for travelers. 

Uthando supports a long list of community projects similar to Jikeleza. But what makes it so unique?

Uthando is about shining a light on those everyday unsung heroes who create hope for a better future and whose efforts so often go unrecognized. Another significant element of Uthando is about sharing joy. Joy is the experience of possibility. It raises the vibration in times of despair, and it’s no coincidence that many of our partner projects center around sport, song, dance, and self-expression. 

We often get requests from travelers wanting to experience community-based programs without it feeling contrived. How do you manage to strike the right balance?

One thing to remember about Uthando is that the majority of the projects we support run independently of tourism. Performances are not staged. Daily routines run whether visitors are there or not. Take NOAH for example. It’s one of the only places where you can sit at eye level with elderly South Africans and simply talk about life. There are no unnecessary bells and whistles. 

We are also deeply conscious of how we engage with communities and do our utmost to ensure that tours are conducted respectfully. Being Fair Trade certified, we abide by a set of strict standards. We also have a visitor code of conduct as a guideline for travelers. Ultimately, we never want money to become a priority over a person’s right to privacy. Uthando only runs one philanthropic educational excursion per day, from Monday to Thursday. We are not a mass-market company, and booking is subject to availability. We are also extremely transparent about our role in assisting independent projects and how finances are managed.  

We love that there is a strong tie to tourism. How is that so?

If done right, tourism is an extremely powerful industry that offers limitless opportunities for those at a grassroots level. Tourism is also about learning, fostering understanding, and building connection, which ties in perfectly to what we stand for at Uthando. The relationship is mutually beneficial. Through Uthando, we also open the door for individuals who want to help others in need but don’t know how or where to start. Tapping into tourism allows us to bridge this gap.

Moya We Khaya Uthando

Uthando has won several responsible tourism awards and features a long list of partner projects. What is the reality?

Yes, the scope of our work can be deceiving. We are still an NPO and consist of a tiny multi-tasking team: Xolani (Maseko), and myself.  Unfortunately, we do have a limit on the amount of partners we can take so that we can assist everyone constructively. There is always work to be done and there is never enough resources. We rely heavily on generous donations from loyal benefactors and visitors to keep moving forward. Each project we embark on presents its own unique challenges, but we do what we can in the best way possible. 

How can travelers help?

On your next trip to South Africa, come and experience Uthando in action for yourself! If you’d like to help from afar, donations are greatly appreciated no matter how small, and we will ensure that the money goes directly to the project of your choosing. Through the unexpected kindness of ordinary travelers, we have built six schools and nurtured lifelong friendships between our independent project leaders and those who live abroad!

If you’re based in the US, we are closely connected to a fiscal partner by the name of Global Sojourns Giving Circle (GSGC). By donating to Uthando through GSGC, 6% goes towards their successful empowerment and education programs for girls and boys in Zambia, Zimbabwe and Madagascar. 

NOAH Uthando

From animal rights and skills development to early childhood development, and homelessness, here is a comprehensive list of the independent projects Uthando currently partners with:

Abalimi Bezekhaya

Alcardo Andrews Foundation 

Amy Foundation 

Betterchoice Gumboot Dance 

Brave Rock Girl 

Cart Horse Protection Association 

Christel House School 

Dance for All 

Ekhaya Ekasi “Home in the Hood” Centre 

Eziko “Fireplace” Cooking School 

Eyes2Eyes Foundation (The Gift of Sight)

Feed the Kaltsha 

Organic Garden Ghetto Gardeners 

Golden Flowers Museum and Tours 

Great Commission United GCU (Goal50 Edu Hub) 

Greenpop 

Hanover Park Cricket Club 

Home from Home 

Ikhaya “Home” Garden 

Institute for Indigenous Arts and Development (IMAD) 

Isibane Se Afrika “The Light of Africa” 

Isiseko “The Foundation” Centre 

James House 

Jikeleza Dance Project 

Khayelitsha Youth Choir 

Khumbulani “to remember” Centre 

Kiddies Educare 

Kronendal Music Academy (KMA)

Ladles of Love 

Learn to Earn 

Macassar Pottery

Major Voices Choir 

Makukhanye “Let There Be Light” Art Room 

Masibulele “Gratitude” Educare 

Mdzananda Animal Clinic 

Moya we Khaya Spirit of Home Urban Farm 

Neighbourhood Old Age Homes (NOAH) 

Nonceba Family Counselling Centre 

Philisa Abafazi Bethu 

Pride Shelter Trust 

Quirky30 

SEED 

Sibongile Day and Night Care 

Sinovuyo “We are Happy” Seniors Club

Siyathandwe “We are Loved” 

Siyazama “We are Trying” Garden 

Steph’s Ladles of Love 

The Darling Trust 

Thokozani “Rejoice” Together 

Thunariso Organic Garden 

Tjommies Youth Development 

Triangle Project 

Ulwazi Educare 

Unfence SA 

UTurn 

Youth Impact Sustainable Solutions (YISS) 

Zama Dance School 

Zanecebo Foundation 

Zizamele “Just Do It” Educare

Want to experience Uthando’s good work for yourself? Get in touch with our team to arrange an educational excursion during your next trip to South Africa. 

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