Economic growth and social development are more likely to flourish where women and girls are empowered to fully participate in paid work. In June 2023 we launched the Steppes Fund for Female Guides, offering bursaries to women looking to gain formal training and education in pursuit of a career in tourism. When given the opportunity, women are effective agents of change in combating the climate crisis at a household, community, national and international level.

These bursaries are available to women of any age in any country in which we currently operate. The travel labour market accounts for 1 in 4 jobs in the world and so we hope our bursary will enable women to gain equal access to the knowledge and skills required to pursue a fulfilling and prosperous career.

We’re also mindful of the difference a good guide can make to the enjoyment of your holiday; and we know that in countries where women are already fulfilling that role, they’re among some of our clients favourite travelling companions.

Zambia

Esther Phiri started her guiding career in Zambia in the late summer of 2023 with African Bush Camps, having successfully applied for financial support through the Steppes Fund for Female Guides. During the early stages of her training, she gained hands-on experience by joining experienced guides in the field, alongside getting valuable driving time transferring clients to and from Victoria Falls. At the end of 2023 Esther sat her guiding exams and did well enough to commence the next stage of her practical training at Thorntree Lodge in Victoria Falls. She is currently at Lolebezi in the Lower Zambezi where she is getting to grips with the outstanding variety of wildlife found in this area.

Botswana

Another apprentice, Maemo Mumsy Monageng, is currently undergoing training in Khwai Camp in Botswana. She is currently revising for her up and coming theory exams, using the extensive knowledge of existing guides to learn about the biodiversity found in the Okavango Delta. We asked her what she has been enjoying about the training so far:

“Learning  animal behaviour, how they communicate, how they mark their territories, how they bond with each other is so exciting… I enjoy birds more, especially having to identify the bird by their call.”

She has a driver’s license so is building up her experience of driving off-road and is preparing for her mokoro exam, which should she pass, will enable her to pole mokoros across the flood plains of the Khwai reserve. She is finding the course challenging but when asked what advice she would give to young girls looking for a career in the tourism industry, she said

“I’d encourage them to focus, when they want something, they need to put their all in so they can achieve it because it won’t be a smooth ride, there will be challenges along the way that they can overcome with the right mindset and the prize in the end is worth it. No one is coming to rescue them but themselves, this means independence in all aspects.”

What this approach we are confident that Maemo will go far and look forward to our clients being guided by her in the future.

Zimbabwe

In January, we gave a bursarship to Silo and Shylet, two women from a very rural part of Zimbabwe, to enable them to take their professional guide license. They spent some time at Somalisa Camp in Hwange and are now in the midst of completing a six month course that covers everything from bird song, tracking and animal behaviour to wildlife law and firearm proficiency.

We are extremely grateful to our partner African Bush Camps, without whom we would not be able to support our aspiring female guides in southern Africa.

Kenya

We are supporting three young Masai women to apply for guide training at the Wildlife Training College of the Masai Mara. These candidates have been recommended by our friend, Jackson Looseyia from Tangulia Mara Camp.

India

In October 2023, we partnered with Tiger Trust to give training to female guides working in national parks across Central India. The first women to occupy official guiding roles were in Kanha approximately ten years ago, but sadly there’s still a cultural taboo which prevents many women from applying for this sort of work. For those women who have taken on the mantel, training has, at best, been sporadic and sadly many will face prejudice in their day to day working lives.

So, in conjunction with our partner in India we provided training to 53 female guides currently working in Bandhavgarh, Pench, Kanha and Satpura, enhancing their knowledge, confidence and guiding techniques to provide a solid footing to their professional aspirations. Steppes’ partner in India, Amit Sankhala was instrumental in organising the training:

“It’s vital for women from the villages neighbouring our parks to be given equal opportunities to benefit from tourism. If their livelihoods depend on wildlife, then they are the best guardians of our forest.”

Bandhavgarh training program curriculum:

  • Understanding sustainable tourism and a guide’s responsibility in conservation.
  • Role of a wildlife guide and what attributes are required to make a good guide.
  • Understanding guests: Culture, gender and sensitivity to special needs.
  • Guiding techniques: Being in control of the safari, handling animal sightings, visual navigation and effective use of binoculars and field guides.
  • Responsible waste management in nature tourism.
  • Women in the Field: A discussion on solutions to issues and challenges facing women in guiding.
  • A brief history of Bandhavgarh.
  • Mammals, birds, reptiles and flora of Bandhavgarh.
  • Tigers of Bandhavgarh.
  • Elephants in Bandhavgarh and the translocation of gaur and barasingha.

Peru

In collaboration with our partners in Peru, we are supporting Liz, a lady from the CCor CCor community near Chinchero, a small town in the Cusco region. Liz regularly welcomes clients to her community, however in Peru it’s obligatory to achieve a degree in tourism guiding to be able to guide anywhere in the country. Through the Steppes Fund for Female Guides, Liz has relocated to Cusco and began her three-year official tourism guide course on 18 March, attending classes weekly. Our partners are in regular contact with Liz who say that she is thriving, achieving high grades and has just began attending field trips.

“In Peru, it is mandatory to get a degree to guide anywhere – you must study the official tourism guide career to obtain a certification which will allow you to offer your services to companies and direct travellers. To complete these studies will completely change and improve Liz´s life.”

Colombia

The small town of San Jose del Guaviare is beginning to feature on the tourist map, however it’s still a zone that suffers from guerilla violence. Fernanda is currently a guide here, but the addition of an English language qualification and experience in an established tourism entity would propel her career to the next level. Thanks to our partners in Colombia who nominated Fernanda, she is due to relocate to Bogota and begin a year-long English course. Alongside her course, Fernanda will be completing an internship with our partners, gaining invaluable experience in operations and logistics, and hopefully accompany client tours.

“I love tourism as a career and want to continue in it. I am currently a tour guide without a second language. With the help of this course, I aim to communicate more effectively with foreign people, knowing that a second language will even improve my quality of life, allow me to take advantage of opportunities, and increase my income.” – Fernanda

Thanks for reading

Jarrod Kyte

Author: Jarrod Kyte