James Fernie, the director of Uthando South Africa, grew up with a deep sense of compassion for the people victimized by the cruel system of Apartheid. This compassion would later lead to his work with Uthando, a unique and innovative Non-Profit and Fair Trade in Tourism accredited company whose aim is to raise funds and other forms of assistance for community development projects in South Africa. Under Fernie’s leadership, Uthando (which means love) became an important organization in the South African community with one of the best models for helping travelers to better understand local issues in a responsible way.
Growing up in a highly politicized home in the Eastern Cape of South Africa during a time of great social unrest and political turmoil inspired Fernie’s desire to become a change agent. This particular region of South Africa was, and still remains, one of the more impoverished areas in South Africa where people live in dire conditions with significant social problems. It was Fernie’s parents who instilled in him compassion for victims of Apartheid and a desire to help the oppressed. During his teenage years in the 1980’s, his quest to make a difference took the form of political activism and resistance to the Apartheid policies.
Upon completing his law degree in 1994, Fernie was awarded the Abe Bailey Travel Bursary which took him to the United Kingdom. There he worked for a corporate law firm for two years before deciding to move to Brussels to do a traineeship at the European Commission Humanitarian Office. Upon returning to South Africa he worked in the legal field for a while and later joined the very reputable company Inspirational Places, where he did the international marketing for a portfolio of very exclusive hotels and safari lodges in Southern and East Africa. Through Inspirational Places, he developed excellent relationships with some of the most reputable high-end tour operators both locally and internationally, who promoted and sold Africa to some of the wealthiest people in the world.
In 2001 in Cape Town, Fernie followed a strong intuition to get involved at the grass-roots level with a charitable organization where he wanted to do more than simply leave a check. His desire was to get involved on a very real and human side in order to work with the most marginalized and disadvantaged groups of people. So he started doing volunteer work at Nazareth House, an orphanage for children (some of whom are living with HIV/AIDS), and has been involved with them ever since.
Fernie says that spending time with the children has brought such love, joy and contentment to his life over the years. “It occurred to me in 2007 that an amazing plan for my life was staring right at me; to combine my passion for helping the underdog, my life’s experiences and the vast and incredible network of amazing people around the world who love South Africa and its people, and want to make a very real and significant difference.”
Fernie has continued making a difference in the lives of people through his work with Uthando SA. His organization helps to support and develop community programs in many different areas including abused women and children, domestic violence, agriculture, arts and culture, drug and alcohol abuse, education, housing, nutrition and health, unemployment, prison rehabilitation, elderly care and many others.
Uthando SA also offers authentic, uplifting, fun and inspirational interactive experiences and tours of townships in South Africa. The tours are tailor-made, unique and authentic philanthropic cultural tours, visiting the projects that receive funding and other forms of assistance from Uthando and its benefactors. Field trip participants have an insight into the remarkable stories that make life in South Africa so interesting, dynamic and very importantly, inspiring. The tours are interactive, meeting the people at the projects, learning about their work and way of life, firsthand. By booking a tour with Uthando, clients are also automatically assisting the projects on a financial level. For more information, visit www.Uthandosa.org.
In his Own Words
There is a wonderful quote in the book “The Monk who Sold his Ferrari” by Robin Sharma, which goes as follows: “when all is said and done, no matter what you have achieved, no matter how many summer homes you own, no matter how many cars sit in your driveway, the quality of your life will come down to the quality of your contribution.” I invite everyone and anyone to join me on this most exhilarating, exciting and incredible journey of genuine love, compassion and contribution.
On the 1995 and 2011 Rugby World Cups
The 1995 Rugby World Cup victory for South Africa was one of the absolute highlights of my life. I just cannot imagine that in my life I will ever match the kind of emotional exhilaration that I felt during that period, and especially on the day of the final. Now when I watch the original footage I get totally chocked up and overwhelmed with emotion. Having grown up in a deeply divided and violent society in the 1980’s, it was incomprehensible to see Mr. Mandela wearing a Springbok rugby jersey. South Africa had been the polecat of the world for so long, and then during the 1995 tournament we could truly be proud of who we were and what we had accomplished as a nation.
We go into this tournament as the Rugby World Cup champions as South Africa won the last world cup in France. Our participation is already uniting the country, but not in the same way as in 1995. Like many other countries around the world the gap between the rich and poor has widened since 1995 and our political landscape is fraught with deep divisions, racial tensions and rising levels of discontent amongst the most impoverished communities in South Africa. In 2011 we are 17 years into democracy and still many people do not see the economic liberation that was promised by the ANC government. Our global icon Mandela is now 93 years old and kept out of the public eye. The political leadership in SA has, in my view degenerated significantly since the Mandela days and it certainly appears that many of our politicians are more concerned about self-enrichment and personal gain than sacrifice for the greater good. I suppose South Africa is not unique in this sense.
The current Rugby World Cup tournament will offer some relief and distraction for many South Africans, from the hardships and deluge of bad news which seems to dominate our daily lives. However, there is no way it could match up to the tournament of 1995, that event was truly once in a lifetime experience, and I will be eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to experience it.
James Fernie, Director - Uthando South Africa