Women still face daily challenges in the workplace and society around the world in 2022. However, thanks to the sheer resilience, strength and determination of women throughout history we have continued to #BreakTheBias and move the conversation forward to create positive changes for gender equality.
As a business, one of the ways we aim to improve life in hard-to-reach places is through our Exodus Travels Foundation’s community empowerment initiatives in the destinations we visit. To celebrate International Women’s Day, we wanted to shine a spotlight on some of our key projects that focus on increasing employment, income generation and education opportunities for women through tourism. We got in touch with four remarkable women who’ve been involved in our community empowerment initiatives over the years so they could share their stories.
Meet Subita – a local staff member who volunteered to train for our Freedom Kit Bag Project
Since 2017, Exodus has worked with Freedom Kit Bags helping to donate to the cause and distribute their Freedom Kit Bags in our destination communities. The Freedom Kit Bag Project offers women an eco-friendly, hygienic sanitary kit that helps to empower them to overcome the cultural and physical constraints of menstruation while also enhancing their overall health and well-being.
Sadly, in Nepal, there is still a cultural stigma surrounding menstruation. Some rural villages in Nepal still practice the ancient tradition of “Chhaupadi” where they banish women and young girls to mud huts or sheds during their period, as menstruation is believed to bring their family bad luck, or ill-health. ‘Chhaupadi’, literally translates to ‘untouchable being’.
This has not only resulted in low-self-image among teenagers and young women, but it has also deterred women from coming forward to seek medical attention for infections that can be detrimental to their health. The Freedom Kit Bags provide everything a woman needs to stay healthy including, washable pads, pad holders, pants, a carrying case, soap, washing line and a colourful holder bag. Training is also provided, where taking care of the kit, period health management and sexual health are discussed.
In 2021, between lockdowns, the Freedom Kit Bags Project funded a training and distribution course for 4 Exodus local staff. Subita, who works as an operations manager in our office in Kathmandu, kindly volunteered to help distribute over 400 Freedom Kit Bags to local villages and train the women who live there how to use them safely.
Subita explained, “Exodus wanted to run a training course so local staff could become ambassadors for Freedom Kit Bags. Valerie Parkinson, who has worked on many incredible Himalayan Community Projects asked me if I would be interested in doing the training course. As a woman working in a mainly male office, Valerie has always encouraged me to do whatever training I can to be confident in what I do. So, when the opportunity to become an ambassador for Freedom Kit Bags arose, I thought it was important to get involved as this is a challenging issue for women in our society.”
Subita continued, “In Nepalese society, women don’t talk openly about menstruation. They hide all their pain, sufferings, and experiences until they get sick and need emergency medical attention. The Freedom Kit Bag training and distributions are great support, and they give women the confidence to speak out and be heard.”
Subita said the women were, “Shy at first, but then they started to share stories of how the women in their family handled menstruation. Many of them came to thank me and said they saw me as their role model.”
When asked what it was like working with her male colleagues to distribute and train local women, Subita smiled and said, “My male colleagues have always been encouraged by Valerie to be open to new ideas. The men not only saw how much the Freedom Kit Bags helped the women in their villages but also how much their training helped to educate and change male attitudes towards women and their health.”
Meet Naomi Nasha Musukut – participant of our Maasai Women’s Empowerment Workshop
Since the global pandemic began, the lack of tourism has resulted in a sharp rise in unemployment in Kenya’s Mara region. With increased financial uncertainty, women have found themselves on the receiving end of socio-economic and emotional challenges in society and at home.
To help empower women in the Maasai community during this extremely challenging time, we gave our incredible operator partners in Kenya funding through our Community Kickstart Project so they could establish the Maasai Women’s Empowerment Workshop. Working together with women in the local community, our operating partners equipped them with the skills needed to build financial, social and emotional resilience so that they could manage their stress levels and emotional well-being during the pandemic.
The group of women also joined training sessions on knitting and soap making, which provided new ideas for income generation that have the potential to boost their household budgets. Not only did the workshop help to equip the group with the essential skills of managing stress levels and offer opportunities for creating income, but it also introduced them to a community of empowered women who are willing to listen and support each other.
We got the chance to speak to Naomi Nasha Musukut about her experience. “I’ve previously been involved in women empowerment programmes run by the Kicheche Community Trust a couple of years back. In 2018, other women in the community and I decided to come together to create a women’s group – the Noonduat Women’s Group. Comprising of 20 women, I lead this group and tackle empowerment issues, which include training and projects. This is how I got involved with the Maasai Women’s Empowerment Workshop.”
“Tourism is our major source of income here and when the pandemic hit, it affected us badly. From the monthly land leases and fees that we get from the conservancy to our beading business – we couldn’t sell anything as there weren’t any tourists.” She continued, “Our children were also at home for months, unemployed, as the camps and lodges were closed due to lack of business. It was tough.”
When asked what she learnt from the Maasai Women’s Empowerment Workshop during this difficult time, Naomi was quick to comment, “I learnt many things that were different from the usual common beadwork we do in Maasai. In fact, I’ve learnt a new skill which has now become an alternative source of income for me. I’ve made it into a small business, which has helped to improve my family’s financial situation.” She also mentioned, “Thanks to the workshop, I now have a much better understanding of women’s rights and how to handle problems arising.”
Meet Faith and Kitaba our graduate lionesses from our Mountain Lioness Scholarship
Extending the reach of our long-standing Kilimanjaro Porter Project that offered guides the opportunity to further their education with three-month scholarships during the rainy seasons, we introduced our Mountain Lioness Scholarship to support women in the local community.
Back in 2020, the Exodus Travels Foundation partnered with Robertson Outdoor Bursary and committed to sponsoring 30 women over the following three years so they could complete their guide training through our Mountain Lioness Scholarship. Over time, these incredible women not only trained to become female porters on Kilimanjaro throughout the pandemic but also overcame the challenges of portage being seen in the community as a male-dominated profession.
21-year-old, Faith Kaanaeli NNko, who was born and raised in Arusha City Tanzania, successfully obtained her professional guide license back in October 2021. Since, she has worked as a guide taking people to the “Roof of Africa” for the African Zoom and Kilimanjaro Expert Company. She explained, “Becoming a female mountain guide, enabled me to support my children. I am really proud that I have made my dream come true.” She continued, “One day I met a ‘sister’ who told me about a sponsorship programme to become a guide on the mountain. I was very interested, to go to the college of Mweka for training, to move up from a position of porter to a guide.”
“I learned a lot from the programme. The training will continue to change my life. I say to other women, move around and don’t sit at home. If I had stayed at home, I wouldn’t have met the ‘sister’ who told me about the sponsorship. Women, let’s work hard, there is a world out there waiting for us!”
Kitaba Wadia Kapanya, is now working as a professional guide for the Kilimanjaro Expert Company, after being chosen for the scholarship. Before she began training, she was a porter for 3 years and was looking for a new, challenging opportunity on the mountain. “Immediately after the course, I was able to work with Karibu Kili Experts Company, as an assistant guide. I am also currently working with Mweka college as an assistant guide on training their student guides! This course was instrumental in making this all happen. It’s extremely helpful for females who want to make big changes in their lives.”
To find out more about our Exodus Travels Foundation and how you can help incredible women like Naomi, lionesses like Faith and Kitaba and women in Subita’s village in Nepal, click here.