How Sustainable Tourism Can Change the Face of Africa
Get cozy for our more in-depth interview to date with the incredible founder and CEO of Justice Tourism Foundation, a GivingWay NGO leveraging the power of tourism to empower local communities in Uganda.
Hi James! It’s great to have this chat with you. Let’s start by you telling us a bit more about yourself.
Hi! Sure! So my name is James Nadiope. I am a passion-driven social entrepreneur with a commitment to unlocking potential among young people and women. I am the founder and CEO at Justice Tourism Foundation.
I was born in a polygamous family. My father a medical surgeon had two wives and my mother was the second wife. When I was in high school, my father passed away. I was left as an orphan and I could not continue at that time with my schooling. Plunged into the world of a vagabond, I became a jack of all trades to survive.
Through some good Samaritans, who sponsored my education, I managed to enter through the doors of the university where I came out armed with a Bachelor of Theology Degree coupled with a strong Christian zeal and passion about helping orphans and widows overcome hopelessness. I understand the agony and the struggles which many single mothers and widows go through daily to fend and feed their children because I witnessed what my mother went through while taking care of me and my four siblings. My personal story is one of grief, healing, and faith that God has used me to impact many lives across the globe.
Froom 1998 to 2004, I worked in the nonprofit industry, especially taking care of vulnerable children. With that experience in social work and community development, I decided to venture into tourism, but with a different approach to leverage the power of tourism to empower, inspire and connect people while creating new opportunities and livelihoods within communities. I have been in the tourism industry ever since!
You’re the Founder and CEO of Justice Tourism Foundation, what is it all about?
Based on my ambition to leverage the power of tourism for a good cause, I founded Justice Tourism Foundation (JTF) in 2017. It’s a social impact travel grassroots tourism nonprofit focusing on socially responsible travel. To sum up, we provide socially and environmentally conscious travelers with opportunities to give back to the local communities they visit in Uganda.
Our main goals are providing immersive experiences for travelers and a sustainable income for local people via tourism, hence the name “justice tourism”.
What is “justice tourism” in your eyes?
Tourism that holds as its central goals the creation of economic opportunities for the local community, positive cultural exchange between host and guest through one-on-one interaction, the protection of the environment and encourage the conservation of cultural and natural heritage.
The mission of Justice Tourism Foundation is to build a global community of impact-minded travelers who want to move beyond traditional tourism to engage in genuine cross-cultural connection and learning opportunities – inspiring compassion towards fellow human beings.
Our main objective is to promote conservation of biodiversity and development of rural Uganda communities in high tourism potential areas with the inspiration of empowering indigenous rural and marginalized communities and entrepreneurs around the “tourism focal districts” of Uganda.
Tourists and locals both benefit from Justice Tourism sustainable tourism projects
What a great initiative! How did it all start, back in 2017?
At the beginning of 2017 we started working with the villagers in Kahangi village to provide practical solutions to the challenge of human-wildlife conflict. We conducted a study to better understand the origins and consequences of this human-wildlife conflict on both the villagers and the animals. Kahangi village is located in the Sebitore buffer zone. Because there are no fences around Ugandan parks, this area is where wildlife and humans often meet in certain areas that we call buffer zones wildlife management areas. During the study, we also started activities to empower local marginalized communities (women, youth, ethnic people), and encourage the conservation of cultural and natural heritage.
What kind of animals can be found around Kahangi village?
Elephants, Chimpanzees, Baboons and monkeys are fairly regular visitors in the Kahangi community, lured by water, bananas, maize and other food crops which are grown in the area by the villagers. This situation has caused intensive crop damage and frequent animal attacks on both human and their cattle, which made the villagers less and less tolerant towards wildlife. They eventually resorted to poisoning them. There is little value placed on preserving wildlife because community members could not benefit financially from the effort needed to protect the animals compared to the damage they were causing.
On top of that, we found out that besides that human-wildlife conflict, Kahangi village also was faced with other very serious challenges including extreme poverty, malnutrition, limited educational opportunities and disease such as HIV/AIDS and Bilharzias (contracted from contaminated water). A significant number of households are single-parent homes whose providers have little to no marketable skills. Many of these providers are women or widows who struggle to provide not only for their own children, but often for children of extended family or friends who have been orphaned by AIDS.
That sounds like quite a complex situation. What solutions did Justice Tourism Foundation come up with to deal with those challenges?
Since the commencement of our work with the communities around Kahangi village, we’ve been working on various initiatives to reduce the human-wildlife conflict. For example, our beekeeping project has been a real success: On one hand, beehives naturally keep animals away from gardens so crops are protected, and on the other, they also represent a source of income as villagers are able to sell out the bee products such as honey, bee wax and bee venom. To date, more than 20,000 have been hanged around the villagers’ gardens.
In addition, we built several clean water sources for the communities to prevent further contracting of waterborne diseases within the community. We also distribute tree seedling in an effort against climate change. Those new trees are also a source of food, fuel and even medicine for the villagers.
Our most innovative initiative is, without doubt, the Community Tourism Entrepreneurship Training. The goal of this training is to empower people to be more aware of the value of their community assets – their culture, heritage, cuisine and lifestyle. It mobilizes them to convert these into income-generating projects while offering a more diverse and worthwhile experience to visitors.
We assist village communities and entrepreneurs in identifying and analyzing their diverse natural, historical and cultural heritage resources, and to help develop them into appropriate, viable and sustainable new tourism attractions, facilities, services and experiences that will meet the needs and expectations of various market sectors. We are changing traditional perceptions of what constitutes tourism by turning various aspects of rural cultures and livelihoods into tourist attractions and creating income-generating activities for the communities involved.
When the Kahangi village realized its position as a stakeholder in the tourism industry, how wildlife can be an asset, and the overall value of conserving the wildlife and creating harmony between people and animals, things really started to change for the better.
By offering local excursions within communities, we not only bring money directly to the communities but also encourage and help sustain their cultural heritage and local traditions. Also, part of the money gained from tourism from these tourism attractions is donated to develop the infrastructure and services. These initiatives also work as incentives for the communities to promote conservation.
We strongly believe that travel, when done responsibly, can make a positive difference to locals and the destination, and provide for a more authentic experience for the traveler.
How has the Coronavirus crisis affected your work? What are the challenges it creates in the immediate, mid-term and long-term periods?
The COVID-19 outbreak has severely impacted our organization’s activities in several ways:
(i). Immediate losses in our tourism excursions: Tourism is our sole source of income.
(ii). Community Livelihoods: The livelihoods of many of our site guides, village artisan and crafts makers in the rural communities where we work have been severely affected. They are unable to feed their families because they simply don’t have any work at the moment.
Our organization’s overall work performance is currently stagnated. Community project development initiatives might be halted for a longer time if the global tourism industry takes time to take off again.
James distributing food supplies to families affected by the COVID-19 crisis
What consequences of this crisis are you most worried about?
The unforeseen outbreak of COVID-19 and its subsequent escalation into a global pandemic has put a great constraint on our tourism revenue which has resulted in halting our community development initiatives. This crisis has also affect employment and livelihoods for many people in the communities where we work. Many households whose livelihoods depended on economic activities within our Tourism services sector have been affected severely. This entire “prosperous eco-system” that we have been able to create at the Kahangi village and around cannot function without tourists.
We are worried that our efforts towards conservation activities might be destroyed as many youths around the village and reformed poachers in need for food might resort to poaching the wildlife.
We are also worried about the escalation of domestic violence among the families as most men have lost their jobs and cannot provide for their families. We are also concerned about our organization’s operations sustainability if the tourism industry takes longer to regain its global activation.
Those are for sure, very uncertain times for Justice Tourism Foundation and the communities we serve.
Will sustainable tourism be the future of tourism post-COVID-19? We surely hope so. Check out Justice Tourism’s COVID-19 Relief Fund on GivingWay if you wish to support Jame’s vision of a tourism that does good! It’s already 74% funded!!
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