Women in Guiding!
To become a guide, no less a female guide. You need to have a sense of purpose to educate and inspire your guest’s well as have a passion for nature.
As a Field guide, you would need to be dynamic, passionate, great with people and very knowledgeable. You need to provide a unique guided safari experience to your guests and contribute towards their overall visit. In a traditionally male dominated industry, as a women, you would be expected to go beyond expectations, because I can assure you that your guests probably did not expect a female guide in the first place!
Sophie Niemann, is a perfect example of how guiding can pave the way to other wildlife based careers. Starting off as a guide and now a Director of Bushwise, her story is inspiring and shows that Field Guiding is not one dimensional and can lead to many other possibilities.
I was a ‘farm girl’ and grew up in the UK countryside known as the midlands near Worcester. I went on to study zoology at Swansea University and always planned to come to Africa. I had a friend that lived in Zimbabwe and told me about a position available at a lodge outside Harare, so I naively jumped on a plane and came over. Thankfully it all worked out fine. I was then given the opportunity to be interview by CC Africa through a contact and was offered to come on their selection course to become a Field Guide. I was then trained as a guide and placed at Makalali Lodge which was operated by CC Africa at that time. My aim was to get into research but the right path started off with guiding to order to gain experience and for people to take me seriously. There were very few females guides around that time in the 90’s and CC Africa were one of the pioneers in giving females an opportunity in guiding.
After guiding I assisted with the set up the Makalali Land and Wildlife Trust with the aim to do research. I was then given the opportunity to do Lion research in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. I was then asked to assist with the setup of GVI Karongwe doing predator research.
Through my time at GVI I realised there so many passionate young students wanting to get into the guiding and research careers but were struggling to get the qualifications and the training involved. This is how the idea of starting a Field Guiding training school came about. I wanted to provide a comprehensive course that would give them all the necessary skills to become a guide and to follow it up with working experience after the course.
Back in the 90’s, there were many challenges I faced as a female guide – one was that the perception was that I was not able to carry the guests luggage. Others were that I was not capable of using a firearm or being able to change a flat tyre. Many male guests would challenge me and test me before I eventually proved myself to them. It was also a challenge to be in charge of fellow male colleagues because culturally they do not respond female authority.
Advice I would offer to future female guides is that they need to be prepared that many perceptions have still not changed. I truly feel that female guides give a different experience to guests from a female perception which I think is more appreciated now then it was in the past. Respect your fellow male colleagues but do not believe for a moment that you are any less capable as a guide.
Other Inspiring stories from past students – Adeline Lobbes, student in 2011
‘I was 34 years old when I first came to South Africa after I had completed 3 years studying tourism. I had already worked for few months in Kenya and Canada, as well as few years in as a Travel agent and then a further 2 years in a Tour operator company based in Paris Called Objectif Nature. They specialized in creating safaris across Africa for wildlife photographers.
After a trip in South Africa in May 2010 with my TO Objectif Nature I felt in love with the country. I met an amazing Field Guideon Djuma Private Game Reserve and decided this was the work I wanted to do. When I came back to France I started doing research on the internet and looked into different field guiding schools. I chose Bushwise because it seems that it was the one closer to all my different wishes and never regretted it.
After the course I went to do my work placements for 6 months at Mopaya Safari Lodge. This lodge specialised in French speaking guests. Thereafter then went in Nepal to guide in a Lodge in Bardia National Park where you can see Tigers, Rhinos and Asian bears. I then went back to Africa,my biggest Love is Africa, and started to work in Kenya for a company called East African Eagle were I created special tours which takes them across Kenya and Tanzania. I have been involved with this for the last 2 years. After this I was also lucky enough to guide in Senegal for 2 years
The biggest challenge I faced as a female Field Guide were mainly to be taken seriouslyfrom the beginning when you first are introduced to your clients. Although some expect you to be a ‘Tom Boy’ I love being feminine and showing it. Most people believe that being feminine and being a good guide is something that doesn’t fit together. The big challenge is that you always have to prove to people that you know how to do the job, that they can trust you, and to remain professional. Knowing how to react in any type of situation is also very important. After a few days with the guests, and you have been able to give them a beautiful guiding experience, they forget their doubts about you and they appreciate you as a Professional Field guide rather than focus on your gender.
I have now established myself as a free-lance guide. I am creating special trips for small groups across Africa (Mainly Senegal, East and Southern Africa)
The best advice I can give to future female guides is don’t be afraid of anything, do the best you can and don’t think for a minute of failure. Just take one step after the other, and in the end you will find success. There is a quote that I would love to share and that is: “People will throw stones at you, don’t throw them back, collect them all and build an empire”
Don’t be afraid to you create your own opportunities and be tenacious. Aim to be the best in your field so that nobody can question your ability, regardless of the fact that you a female. Never complain and always remain humble and sincere. You will have to work far harder and prove to be far more competent in order to be treated as an equal and gain the respect from fellow male guides and trackers. If you show determination, initiative and not let challenges define you then you can be a sort after guide and leader in the industry and inspire other young women wanting to pursue this Field Guiding as a career!’
Times have changed though and over the last few years more and more female guides can be seen working on some of the best Game Lodges throughout Africa. Over the years at Bushwise Field Guides, more and more female students are applying and then going on the have successful careers in the bush.
More than 150 females have participated in the Bushwise Field Guide course since 2012.
Here are some other links to inspiring stories:
Blog by Kim van Greunen