On Friday a few of us stepped out of the Southern Africa Travel office and joined James Fernie and Xolani Maseko from Uthando South Africa for a visit to three truly inspiring community development projects in the informal settlements around Cape Town.
Uthando is an innovative non-government organisation which has done incredible work in helping to support projects in a wide range of sectors including education, drug and alcohol abuse, nutrition and sustainable economic development.
In the words of James, the director of Uthando: “The goal of Uthando South Africa is to create a family of people from all around the world with the aim of generating income and other forms of assistance for innovative grass-roots community projects in the townships of Cape Town as well as other parts of South Africa” .
One of the ways Uthando does this is by taking travellers into the townships to visit some of the projects, meet the people, hear their stories, and see how these development initiatives really are making a positive impact on the surrounding communities.
On our tour we visited Thokozani Brothers, Abalimi Bezekhaya (the Planters of the Home) and Ekhaya eKhasi Art and Education Centre).
Abalimi Bezekhaya: Phenomenal Food Gardens
In Xhosa Abalimi means ‘The Planters’ and this project focuses on urban micro-farming in the townships around Cape Town.
The project began by teaching people subsistence farming: how to create their own gardens and grow vegetables to feed their families, and there are now currently more than 3,000 farmers around Cape Town growing crops on thousands of tiny home plots and community gardens.
Some of these gardens were so successful that the farmers progressed to selling their subsistence crops and hence ‘Harvest of Hope’ was born. Each week the extra crops are packed into boxes and taken distribution points around the Southern Suburbs of Cape Town where customers can come and collect their week’s worth of fresh, organically grown vegetables.
It’s a win-win situation: customers benefit from reasonably priced and locally produced organic vegetables, while the low overheads ensure that the farmers benefit from a secure and fair income.
I really think this is a fantastic initiative, and will certainly be signing up for my weekly ‘Harvest of Hope’ veggie box.
eKhaya eKasi: “Home in the Hood”
What began as a series of literacy workshops has evolved into an incredible multi-purpose centre that is not only a home base for educational and economic development programmes, but also an oasis of support for people dealing with the challenges of life in this impoverished Khayelitsha community.
The eKhaya eKasi “Home in the Hood” Art & Education Centre is an impressive multi-purpose space which was designed by a California architect, R. Steven Lewis, and a group of students from Harvard’s Graduate School of Design. This all began as a weekend-long project and then evolved into a passionate six-month endeavor with the centre opening on December 1, World AIDS Day, 2008.
It’s inspiring to see all the great things going on at eKhaya eKasi: teacher training and literacy workshops, assisting unemployed women develop small business skills, after-school care for children, a soup kitchen for seniors - even a pilot theatre programme!
In order to generate income with the goal of becoming self-sustaining, the centre also houses a unique combination of small businesses including an art boutique where local artists can sell their work, a tea shop and a small B&B upstairs so tourists can spend a night in Khayelitsha.
The Thokozani Brothers Choir
The initial idea for the Thokanzi Brothers Choir came from a group of teenage boys who had nothing to do after school, so the started singing Isicathamiya – a traditional from of music.
Many kids in Khayelitsha spend afternoons on the street, and it’s often hard for them not to get mixed up in gangsterism or drugs. The Thokozani Brothers provides these kids with another alternative by reaching out to them through music and the choir.
Over the past five years, Thokozani Brothers has trained over 300 kids to sing in a choir that has toured both locally and internationally. But it’s not just about the 30-minute daily rehearsal, as Thokozani Brothers also provides counselling, and an open platform for both adults and children to discuss the social challenges and issues they face on a day-to-day basis.
If you’re visiting Cape Town, or even if you live here, I’d highly recommend a township tour with Uthando South Africa, it really shines a light on the good that is happening in South Africa.