Written by: Carrie Hampton
James Fernie is a dynamic social entrepreneur focused on success; but success to him is measured on how much he can do for other people. He’s a philanthropic man with a huge heart, whose altruism is realised through his non-profit tourism business Uthando.
I was instantly endeared to James when he signed off his business emails, Love James. Who else but a man so comfortable with himself can bare his soul using such a small word while making such a large statement?
James is the founder of Uthando – meaning ‘love’ in Xhosa (there’s a whole lotta love in James’ world!) – which has shaped a new model of travelling philanthropy, with all profits raised from scheduled or tailor-made tours visiting township projects going towards practical assistance for community initiatives in Cape Town’s poorest settlements.
Uthando was a perfect fit for Fair Trade Tourism with their mutual objectives of sustainable and responsible tourism and James took Uthando through the rigorous accreditation process in 2011. “It’s important to me to be part of a family of like-minded businesses,” he says.
Uthando is township tourism without a trace of voyeurism. Guests interact with a whole host of rewarding projects in a respectful, dignified and authentic manner. The visit that left the most indelible mark on me was meeting ex-convict Sihle Tsabalala. Sihle spent 11 years imprisoned for armed robbery. He was, however, smart enough to realise there could be a life without crime, so he learned the sought-after skill of computer coding. He now shares his IT expertise, along with some judicious life lessons, to ex-offenders and at-risk youth who come to the Brothers For All computer lab. Sihle’s mission is not as simple as it sounds, but if anyone knows how to overcome obstacles, he does; “I want to empower young minds, rather than repair broken adults.”
There’s a group of 16 seniors whose life experiences during and after apartheid could have broken them. But instead, these elderly men and women, who were for so long denied a voice, offer a message of love, peace and healing in a book called Abantu Abadala “Conversations with the Elders”. It’s an Uthando initiative with a foreword by Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
He and Mahatma Gandhi’s grandson, Arun Gandhi, visited the senior citizens, after which Tutu penned his reflections; “May the power, dignity and beauty of these seniors’ lives touch you as they have touched me.” The e-book and hardcover can be purchased through Uthando and proceeds help support the Masibathande “let’s love them” Seniors Project and Neighbourhood Old Age Home (NOAH), assisting more than 200 pensioners in Cape Town’s largest township of Khayelitsha.
It’s hard not to feel the love after touring with Uthando, so any time your heart needs topping up with some feel-good, or you want to activate the philanthropist in you, take a ride with them.
For more information on Uthando and other Fair Trade Tourism estabishments, visit www.fairtrade.travel.