Women in tourism - Josephine Awares

Josephine Awares was born in Sesfontein to a mother who was unable to produce breast milk and a father who wasn’t around a lot and didn’t seem to care much either way. Still a baby, she was sent off to a place quite far away, at least in walking terms, called Khowarib. She lived with her grandmother who raised her mostly on goat’s milk. “We still live together…she is 85 years now… When she dies maybe I will also die, I feel like she’s my mother.”

The long, sombre silence that followed was sharply broken by someone a few feet away yelping a swearword after puncturing a hole in a water jug. Looking up Josephine started to giggle and as if the silence had never existed and went chattering on, unprompted, to speak about her own two children. They are 14 and 16, currently in school and according to her, though said with a faint look of bemused surprise on her face, “they are doing quite well”. When she was younger Josephine went to two different schools before failing grade 10 and leaving. Although she wanted to go back  and repeat the year the government would not allow her to do so because she was 20, and the law did not allow her to repeat a grade unless she was under 18 or could pay herself (which she could not).

Josephine began to teach at a private kindergarten, but her salary was only N$300 a year which was hardly enough to support herself, let alone her family. She left her job, and looking back on that time in her life said that it was a very  hard because she had nothing, not even a way to clothe herself or to feed her children. Josephine went to Opuwo where IRDNC (Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation) was offering training opportunities, and since then has worked her way up to become the manager of the Hoada Campsite in Damaraland. Her official job is to keep the financial records, but when asked if her job entailed anything else she raised her eyebrows, laughed and said “Everything. Cleaning, Maintenance…Everything” In addition to “Everything”, she also sells jewellery and other craft items that local people have made and left with her. All of the profits made from these sales go directly back to the people. Josephine is the only woman working at the campsite among all the men, but watching her lug heavy loads of firewood back and forth alone, though still smiling, it seemed on that day all the men were either on holiday or invisible.

Josephine, attempting to be tactful and failing, simply explained that she was better at her job than a man would be because men were always stealing money. “Some men… they are using the money in wrong ways, but when women work with money we know how to do it…we are afraid to use the money in wrong ways, but the men are not afraid. Women are more trustworthy.”

Since she has started working many other women have gone out to get jobs for themselves as well, but she is not claiming any responsibility for this. When asked whether she thought she was, she was quick to reply with a simple statement that says it all. “Women want to work.” It is not because of a lack of desire that women are unemployed, it is because of a lack of opportunity.

In 2010 a lodge opened nearby providing work and training opportunities, and she says that since that time there are only a few local women without jobs, and that is mostly because of illiteracy and lack of education.  Other women who had access to higher levels of education and were eager to work seized any and all job opportunities as soon as they become available. Before this lodge opened she said that some women went to work at a lodge over 100 kilometres away which is at least an hour and a half’s drive away (if you can get a lift) many leaving their families behind.

Josephine is proud to say that she is a source of inspiration to her children, and now that they see the difference that working and generating an income can make in their lives they want to work as well. “They are very grateful. When I started working to give them things they said: Thank you to God that you were able to get a job and support us.”

Josephine says that her favourite part about her job is working with tourists and learning how to communicate with them better. Her favourite part of the campsite is “Site 1”, because of the view. She says that she is saving up money so that she can pay to go back to school herself and finish where she left off. She is very positive about her future. “I will still be working, but I want to finish school. I want to continue to support my family. I want to learn computers and be trained more in environment and tourism.”

Zara Beard
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