It takes vision to look at a used tea bag and see a work of art. It takes intuition to recognize that an impoverished South African single mother of four has artistic talent waiting to blossom. And it takes audacity and commitment to build an organization providing employment for persons like that mother, by focusing their creativity on—who would believe it?—emptied, dried, and ironed tea bags. Original T-Bag Designs, whose artists now produce a growing number of elegant items including note cards, notebooks, decoupaged boxes, coasters, placemats, and wrapping paper, is one of 33 organizations receiving support from Uthando (“love” in Zulu) -- an extraordinary South African non-profit based in Cape Town that raises funds through their Responsible Tourism Initiative.
The sweet faces that motivate the work. ©Uthando
Let’s say that you’ve had an incredible week in the midst of wildlife at Singita Boulders Lodge in eastern South Africa, and you follow up with another five days hiking the wilderness trails of Table Mountain National Park at the Twelve Apostles Lodge near Cape Town. These experiences have left you wanting to know more about people you only rarely hear of, those who live in the townships surrounding South Africa’s urban centers. Fortunately, Uthando is there to arrange for you to visit some of the projects whose work they support, all based on your particular interests.
Construction of Zizamele Educare in Khayelitsha. ©Uthando
If you want to know more about efforts to combat poverty in Cape Town’s urban townships by growing food sustainably, both at home and in community gardens, then a visit to Abalimi Bezekhaya (the Planters of the Home) would go on your list of preferred destinations. You would be surprised and delighted by the vitality and competence of students at Dance for All and Jikeleza Dance Project, both of which promote youth development through dance training. Then there’s Mdzananda Animal Clinic, which provides basic veterinary services to the one million—no exaggeration—pets in Cape Town’s Khayelitsha township. And if you are wondering what your interest means to these and the other 27 projects that Uthando supports, read what Dee Wills, the programme manager of NOAH (Neighbourhood Old Age Homes) has said: “The grannies get very excited to meet people from overseas and feel valued to have visitors who are interested in them and their welfare.”
So, you see, it’s not like watching a documentary—Uthando’s tours are interactive. You meet people as individuals, they meet the one and only you. You learn about their work and how they live, and it’s reciprocal. And because there is a modest charge for the half- or full-day tours, you are contributing to the wellbeing and optimism of many, many people.