As part of our Working Women series, we spoke to the editor of Nyayo magazine, Gemma D’Souza. Gemma provides the perfect paradigm of young female success, and her story is all the more heartening after hearing about the sexism she’s overcome to establish herself. The word ‘Nyayo’ in Swahili directly translates to footprints. Gemma’s magazine follows the footprints of local safari guides — whose infectious passion has shaped her career — in order to share breath-taking imagery, unparalleled insight and a fiery passion for protecting wildlife with the rest of world. She’s now imprinting her own lasting mark on the rich ground of the storytelling industry, and she’s only looking skywards. Here’s Gemma’s tale.
What was it about the safari guides that inspired you to share their stories?
“It’s almost impossible to communicate just how inspiring the guides are — many of whom have become some of my closest friends. I’ve been extremely fortunate in that my line of work has allowed me to head out on safari many times across East and Southern Africa. Each time, the wildlife and immersive experience out in the savannah has been breath-taking but ultimately, it’s the knowledge and know-how of the safari guides that makes any safari experience so spectacular. They’re the people who will bring it all to life, tell you in detail about the animals and the parts they play in the ecosystem, and they’ll never fail to make you laugh throughout the day.
“The guides are dedicated and diligent about protecting the wildlife in Africa. They’re paragons of protecting the local environment, which makes them excellent at their jobs, but it’s their personalities and stories that are truly captivating — their gobsmacking anecdotes put them in an entirely different realm to any tale we may have of local British wildlife. I’m eternally grateful to the safari guides for the wisdom they impart. It’s in that spirit of gratitude that I’ve created Nyayo magazine, a publication for which the stories of such safari guides are its central beating heart. I wanted to share the aspects that are often overlooked — their contagious concern for conservation, their inspiring enthusiasm and their boundless knowledge.”
How have you found time to set up Nyayo? For young women in starting on such a project themselves, have you ever had moments where you have found it trying?
“I currently work for a company which plans bespoke luxury safaris in Africa but, as the two are very similar in nature – both working with the guides, the camps and the conservation projects across Africa – they intertwine nicely. I would like to eventually make the writing, producing and distribution of Nyayo magazine a full time job. I’m exploring different avenues which may open up doors for expanding the publication in order to do so.
“I certainly wasn’t sitting on a gold mine when I first started Nyayo magazine, but I believed so much in the concept that I realised I didn’t need much money to start it off. I wrote all of the content for Volume 1 — the stories are about the guides and I obviously used their input for some of the details that are in there, but the articles are all written by myself. Once the content was done (the writing and design), it was only a case of printing the magazine and setting up some online presence. Like everything, you can do things relatively cheaply or you can pay over the odds and go ‘professional’. I was just starting out so I set up a simple website (which has since been upgraded), an Instagram and Facebook account and an e-mail and domain name. With all this in mind, I trusted myself with the budget and funds I had put aside for the magazine. Since its growth, more money, time and resources have been allocated in and I’m very confident in myself in managing it all. It may seem like you’re taking a huge risk, but if you truly believe in what you’re doing the excitement often outweighs the fear.”
Was there any single experience that motivated you to make a start on this dream?
“Yes! I actually got told, on numerous occasions, that my dream was unachievable. My gender and age (I was 24 at the time) were both used against me and I was told that I wasn’t ‘cut out’ for the business industry. This infuriated me and, tears aside, pushed me to make it even more of a success. I would never dream of putting someone down like that, but I’ve never been able to let it go. So, I channelled all that criticism and sexism into hard work and determination, my skin thickening by the inch as I dodged each disparaging remark. I’m so proud of what I’ve achieved, and actually feel even more impressed with myself for having accomplished what I have at a young age — I don’t see it as a weakness but a strength.”
Do you feel like women in the travel industry are treated fairly, particularly the female safari guides that you work with?
“I actually wrote an article in Volume 1 about being a female safari guide. This is the opening of the article:
‘It is the lionesses, not the male lions, who do the majority of hunting for their prides. They are extremely hard workers. The same can be said for female safari guides. Lionesses hunt gazelles, impala and baby wildebeest. Female safari guides hunt and strive for acceptance and success in the safari industry.’
“The article goes on to discuss one guide’s path to a becoming a professional safari guide — a journey which wasn’t an easy one to traverse. There’s a strong ‘macho bushman’ stigma in the safari industry and I would say 9 out of 10 safari guides are male, but that’s slowly changing. There are a couple of safari camps and companies trying to encourage more women to train to become safari guides. There is actually a camp in the Serengeti National Park (Tanzania) which is run entirely by women — the safari guides, chefs, rangers and housekeepers are all female. This is so beautiful to see and I hope the industry’s stigma will slowly diminish in order to make female guides feel more welcome.”
How important do you think safari is for the education of people about conserving habitats and protecting African wildlife?
“So important! I really feel that the future of Africa’s conservation, endangered species and ecosystem is balancing on the building blocks of education — the faster we build these foundations the more stable the future will be, both on a local and global scale. Globally, the world needs to understand the detrimental effects of climate change and the efforts we can make to become more sustainable. This level of understanding has improved over the last few years with environmental advocates like David Attenborough producing heartfelt educational programmes, but we can’t be complacent.
“Locally, things are a bit more challenging. Unfortunately, if the children in local and remote villages aren’t educated about the importance of conservation, they’ll continue bad habits. The financial lure of poaching is too attractive for some local people, especially those for whom money is in short supply. Many locals haven’t been taught that if they can protect the wildlife, they can in turn gain greater financial rewards from tourism.”
The travel industry is obviously taking a bit of a hit right now. Do you have any advice for anyone wanting to support it, but scared about their own financial stability?
“I’ve spoken to a few guides about the effects that Covid-19 is having on their industry out in Africa. Of course, the camps and lodges are suffering because everyone has altered their travel plans so they have empty beds. Because of this, they’re having to send some of their guides and rangers home because of financial difficulty. This not only is devastating for the guides (who may have to support their families and children), but also creates issues with poaching. As there are fewer rangers and staff protecting the wildlife, potential poachers will take this as an opportunity to do what they have to do. We haven’t seen the effects of this fully manifest yet but we’re praying they don’t materialise.
“If you’d like to help those in the industry, postpone your trip rather than cancelling. If everyone cancels their holiday entirely, the travel industry may never recover. Like so many other things right now in the world (sport, work, socialising, celebrations etc.), please postpone your trip to later in the year or even next year. A world without travel is a very sad one but this will pass, and we will get through it.”
The images and photography in your magazine are stunning, how do you go about sourcing them and how important do you think the imagery is for your publication?
“Thank you! The photography in Volume 1 was all from professional or amateur photographers who had spent time out in Africa. A lot of their work is on a website called Unsplash which is a free platform for photographers to put their work on, but I contacted them further and asked to use their photographs. From there, a lot of photographers sent me their collection of work and were happy for it to be featured in the magazine. Volume 2 has a lot of photography taken from the guides themselves or local photographers we worked with out in Kenya. Imagery in any publication is a pivotal component, but for a wildlife magazine it’s essential! So many photographers come to Africa: wildlife photographers, landscape photographers and portrait photographers alike are drawn to the expansive lands. Strong photography is a fundamental allure of the magazine and ultimately brings it to life.”
In a world where hunting is rife and we’re all waking up to the part that we’ve collectively played in exacerbating global warming, what advice would you give to people who’d like to help?
“Principally I’d say keep educating others. Whether that means sharing stories or articles you’ve read about how you can help, or guiding people to a charitable fund that they can donate to. The more educational information, compassion and empathy we can spread around the world, the better. Try to support African tourism and wildlife as much as you can. The guides and rangers are so incredibly dedicated to their jobs, but their livelihoods rest upon the influx of tourism that the stunning vistas and awe-inspiring wildlife of Africa elicits. Without the tourism industry many locals see poaching as their only viable financial stability.”
— Gemma is the Editor and owner of Nyayo magazine, available here.