Meeting Sophie Augustino

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In a country where only 5% of girls finish school, there is one remarkable woman who is succeeding in the tourism industry, empowering others along the way. Dawn Robbins met her.

On our month-long vacation in Tanzania, my husband and I saw hundreds of women hauling firewood, selling vegetables, cleaning rooms or carrying babies. We saw only a single woman safari guide: ours.

Sophie Augustino grew up in a remote Tanzanian village in a culture where ‘girls cannot make a decision’ or ‘a girl cannot be herself’. At 19, she defied her father’s wishes that she marry. Instead, she went to college and became Tanzania’s eighth woman safari guide.

Through her nascent company, Matriarch Hill Safari, the 27-year old wants to show Tanzanians and foreign travellers alike that ‘a girl can make her own decisions, a girl can be herself’.

Inspired by the matriarch elephant, which leads females and their offspring to nurture each other and their babies, Augustino wants to build a company that supports not just herself and her family but also the women in her community. She leads by example, empowering women through training, economic development and emotional support.

Building her workforce one woman at a time, Augustino takes promising women graduates from the local wildlife tourism college on trips, where they learn how to be comfortable and relaxed with clients – “the things we don’t learn in class.” As her business grows, she will hire the most promising among them.

Augustino also offers tours that introduce travellers to young mothers and teens fleeing the threat of genital mutilation, forced marriage and abuse. She arranges volunteer stints with organisations that empower these women through education and employment. She steers tourists who want bracelets, handbags, fabric, soap and other souvenirs to instead become patrons of women-owned enterprises and organisations that support women, including the Network Against Female Genital Mutilation and Give a Heart to Africa.

Give a Heart to Africa offers free classes to Tanzanian women so they can support their families and expand their dreams. The manager invited Augustino to speak to other women about beating the odds in the male-dominated safari industry. She told her story, one of hard work, competing priorities, human predators and the kindness of strangers.

“This is not the end of your life,” she tells the imperiled women. “You are better than what you have.”

After our five-day safari with Sophie, she ties a beaded Matriarch Hill bracelet on my husband and me, crafted by and purchased from women at Give a Heart.

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