Meaningful travel is more than exploring the highways and byways of a destination, it’s connecting with and learning from the people who live there that make it truly worthwhile. At least that’s how we feel, and why we love Uthando (Love) South Africa, a tireless non-profit based in Cape Town, which takes travelers on enlightening and inspirational visits to the wide-ranging community programs it supports in various townships around the city.
Mama Zoliswa, founder of Isiseko, and some of the children that benefit from the program. Photo: Uthando
Uthando’s four-hour excursions shine a light on the amazing people and projects that give back to their neighborhoods and provide an open and welcoming atmosphere for visitors to mingle, ask questions or enjoy a good ole fashion chat. Each encounter leads to a deeper and more personal understanding of South African culture.
These outings are offered privately or with a group. During each outing, Uthando visits multiple projects ranging from urban agriculture (including organic farming), animal welfare and youth development programs (such as dance and music), to refugee assistance, prisoner rehabilitation and the care and protection for women, children and the elderly.
Sarah Stern, our Manager at African Dreams, spent a morning with Uthando and was completely blown away. We asked her to tell us a little bit about it:
Uthando was one of the most incredible cultural experiences I’ve ever had and I’ve been working in travel for over a decade. What makes it so special is that the experience didn’t feel scripted or contrived—each stop was as if we were being embraced by new friends. We had time to explore, ask questions and spend time with some of the programs’ recipients. I came away feeling I’d learned so much about the people I met, their communities and the culture in general.
Kids at the Isiseko Educare Center. Photo: Sarah Stern
We started our morning at Isiseko, “The Foundation” Educare Center. Isiseko began in the home of its founder, Mama Zoliswa, and with the help of Uthando has expanded to provide education, meals and after-school programs to more than 100 of the most vulnerable and under-privileged children in the area, from babies to age six. We walked through the classrooms, met teachers and were serenaded by the students with a song or two. What struck me was how happy the children were, every one of them beamed with a big smile and happy face.
Next we visited an amazing community garden called Ihaya-Kulture. Xolisa Bangana, it’s young founder (he must be around 25 to 30 years old), a rapper and poet, fashioned the garden into landscape art in the hopes of making gardening more “fun and cool” while promoting recycling, environmental awareness and a healthy lifestyle. It’s a tranquil oasis in middle of a concreate jungle. Walking through the fruits and vegetables, I was amazed at how Bangana had transformed everyday recyclables, such as old soda bottles and tires, into decorative planters he scattered throughout the space. The locals help him plant and take care of the crops and when harvested, the produce goes to the neighborhood, nearby schools or is sold to pay for the garden’s overhead.
Ihaya-Kulture community garden. Photo: Uthando
Our last stop was the Sinovuyo Old Aged Group, a beautiful senior center that provides meals, activities, and social interaction for its 45 members, aged 60-85. Its mission is simple: to provide a second home that encourages its seniors to keep their minds and bodies active and their spirits high for a greater state of health and well-being.
Sinovuyo Old Age Group. Photo: Uthando
Having lived through the era of apartheid, many of the area’s residents participated in the movement for change led by Nelson Mandela — there was such history in that room. Everyone was incredibly kind and friendly and they really wanted to interact with us. During a question and answer session, we shared our lives with each other and we couldn’t stop laughing! It was so much fun. After only 45 minutes, there were big hugs and nearly tears when we departed.
South Africa is a beautiful and complex country with a diverse and fascinating culture, and for travelers who are interested in learning more than just what the guidebooks say, I can’t recommend Uthando more. It delivers a sincere and enriching experience you’ll never forget.
Cost: Approximately $72.00 (price may vary depending on the exchange rate). A portion of the cost is donated to the projects that Uthando supports.