“I love to travel and have been privileged to work and travel in parts of the world where the boundaries of my humility has been stretched beyond measure.
My first real encounter with responsible and community tourism was been during my work as Head of Communications for Mildmay International, a UK-based NGO focussing on HIV and AIDS education and treatment in the UK but specifically in East Africa and Eastern Europe. It is in East Africa where I met people who made it their lives’ ambition to fight poverty, address the effects of the AIDS pandemic and promote responsible tourism at the same time.
Even though the focus of my work at that stage was health, I came to realise that tourism in countries like Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania plays an exceedingly important role in the well-being and development of especially rural communities. I saw an influx of responsible tourists from all over the world, especially from Western European and the Scandinavian countries supporting local communities through economic development initiatives like arts and craft, story-telling, traditional medicine and wildlife protection. The key to successful initiatives was community involvement – true buy-in from communities and a real sense that tourism enterprises benefited local villagers. An excellent example I witnessed came from the village of Kanyadhiang in Kenya – the birthplace of USA President Barack Obama’s father Barack Hussein Obama snr. The world’s attention turned to Kenya during January 2009 when Barack Obama became the first African American President of the USA. It was a particularly jubilant time in Kenya as Africa celebrated the victory of a descendant of its soil. Community leaders in Kanyadhiang came together and initiated a story-telling tour of the village – introducing travelers to the heritage and traditions of this particular region of Kenya. Young and old participated in and benefitted from story-telling and custom-made theatre shows in the village, jubilantly welcoming hundreds of tourists to their village and into their homes.
A portion of the proceeds went to the local HIV clinic – providing villagers who were affected by the pandemic with much-needed access to HIV testing and counselling and those who needed it with antiretroviral treatment
My life has been touched by the AIDS pandemic in many different ways. I have seen the effects of HIV on the psyche of individuals and communities but I have also seen the direct benefit of community tourism to the lives of the poorest of the poor.
I have experienced first-hand how community tourism projects created a real awareness and understanding of the environment, livelihood and challenges of the local communities.
There are countless examples of successful community and responsible tourism projects in Cape Town and the Western Cape. Personally and professionally I am committed to be a cog in the wheel of promoting responsible travel to both Capetonians and to domestic and international visitors to our city. For more information on responsible tourism in Cape Town, visit http://www.capetown.travel/responsibletourism/
Through my work and travels in Eastern Africa I got to meet incredible people who touched my lives in the most profound manner. Some of them include:
Rosemary works as a volunteer, peer educator and local tour guide in rural Kenya. She loves embroidery and captures the memory of her community members who died of AIDS on this curtain in front of her very modest office. She teaches the local community embroidery and needle working skills, enabling them to sell handcrafts to tourists.
Gregory and Masima from the Kanyadhiang Village in Kenya, birthplace of Barack Obama snr acted in a community theatre production about the history and heritage of Kenya, inciting visitors to their village with realistic accounts of life in rural Kenya.
Grace’s lives with HIV. Her life was turned around by community tourism and access to antiretroviral medication. She weaves and sells grass baskets like this one to tourists on the shores of Lake Victoria in Kenya. She is able to support her family of 8 through the proceeds of teaching young women the art of weaving and selling her goods at the local market.”
PR and Communications Manager, Cape Town Tourism