Rwanda’s First Female Tour Guide Driver Finds Success Against All Odds
Twenty-seven-year-old Annie Uwase has found passion and success, against the odds, in Rwanda’s tourism sector.
Laying claim to being the first-ever female tour guide driver in the country, Annie is working to change perceptions that hinder women’s advancement and attainment of meaningful work in the hospitality and tourism sector. She recalls a time when she would receive all manner of comments from visitors, friends, and fellow guides about her ‘unconventional’ choice of career.
“I would go to pick up visitors at the airport or wherever they stayed for a trip and their reaction would either be one of surprise, skepticism, or questioning,” says Annie.
Annie’s choice of career was similarly not well received by her family. Annie’s parents wanted her to study economics in university, instead, enrolled for tourism studies. This created a lot of family conflict because they associated young women working in the tourism sector with sexual immorality, specifically prostitution. This negative view is one Annie has had to grapple with over the years, coming from her friends, clients, family, and even colleagues.
“I have no time for discouragement and so I choose to remain positive irrespective of the negativity,” Annie says. “I made a decision from the start that my unique career choice would not become a hindrance in my life, but rather, it would be an opportunity to create awareness about how capable, skilled, and knowledgeable women can be in any field.”
Annie’s passion for the industry is derived from the fact that she can generate income from doing things she enjoys and still call it ‘work’.
“My work is like a constant all-paid-for vacation every day, all day,” she says.
Being a tour guide requires a mix of interpersonal, intellectual, and hands-on knowledge. Because tourists’ interests vary and their questions about the region range from nature and landscapes, to culture and history, to economics and current affairs, Annie has had to become an avid reader and learner. In addition, she requires technical and mechanical skills to operate as a driver on her tours.
“I enjoy learning new things and, for me, this meant I had to invest in learning a lot about the histories of places, and also different plants and animals and their botanical names so that I was knowledgeable when tourists asked questions,” she explains.
Inspiring Rwandan youth
Annie has continued to inspire other Rwandan youth looking for work. Through her talks at youth events organized by Harambee Rwanda as part of the Mastercard Foundation Hanga Ahazaza initiative, she has changed the perceptions of of the tourism and hospitality industry with hundreds of her peers.
“I share my story to inspire young minds to overcome the negative perceptions that have been ingrained by society and culture about the industry,” she says. “I also encourage young girls to avoid accepting limiting mindsets and instead do what they love.”
Annie emphasizes that there is a definite need to have more young women working in the tourism and hospitality sector, so that they can not only transform their own lives, but also shift the narrative.
“The lack of understanding of what the tourism industry entails needs to be addressed with informed research,” says Annie. “Young people need to hear the success stories of women who have started businesses, become mothers, and advanced their careers while retaining their commitment and passion to stay in the industry.”
The Hanga Ahazaza initiative will set in motion a series of events that are particularly aimed at supporting the employability of young women in the tourism and hospitality sector. While men are not excluded, the challenges that have hindered the advancement of the sector are a result of the limited engagement and empowerment of women working in tourism.
Therefore, a shift in the negative gender lens that hinders women from joining the sector will lead to more women committing to stay and grow their careers in the industry. The more the tourism and hospitality sector creates opportunities for women like Annie, the more they can be part of the solution.
Gloria Iribagiza is a freelance writer based in Kigali, Rwanda. For over 12 years, she has written for print media and contributed to various digital publications. She holds to the view that storytelling has the power to change people’s lives because ‘stories are the currency of the soul.’ Gloria believes writing provides endless discoveries for those who choose to view the world through the diverse perspectives of shared stories.