Asanda Daraza

Inspiring young women with the ‘tourism bug’

Asanda Daraza, co-founder of Khwela Youth Tourism Stars with Kim Whitaker, is the kind of person you could spend hours talking to next to a warm fire.

She literally glows, cocooned in a kaleidoscopic scarf to stave off the winter chill, as she talks enthusiastically about her two passions in life – travel and empowering other women.

Lucky for Asanda she gets to do both in one role, using her skill as a trained social worker and her experience in tourism, to empower young women between 18 and 35 years by getting them involved in the tourism industry.

“Most of our women come from under-resourced communities and have never travelled before. They’ve never done any activities the guests we host have, so we teach them about hospitality. We give them the soft skills to learn how to work in our industry,” says Asanda.

But with theory comes practice and Khwela takes things a step further. “We take our women on a road trip for three weeks all the way from Cape Town to Swaziland. They get a stamp in their passport, but they also get to feel what it’s like to be a tourist and that puts them on the path to their future career in tourism,” explains Asanda.

The inspiration to join tourism already exists

Asanda, who is originally from the Eastern Cape and moved to Cape Town for tourism like so many of us have, is passionate about the role that tourism can play in employing the youth. She believes we just need to harness the inspiration that already exists to recruit and retain the youth in a tourism workforce.

“I see them as inspired already to get into tourism. When you see a group of tourists coming into your township and you see a guide, and they’re from the same township, you wonder how you can actually get into that same space, so that you can showcase your skills or showcase your own community. They’re already inspired by the people in their own communities who are tourist guides” says Asanda.

Describing how these young Khwela women come together, even when the road trip brings the terrifying prospect of bungee jumping into the mix, Asanda speaks enthusiastically about how inspiring it is to see these young women support each other and how rewarding it is to see the growth in them as they proceed along their journey.

Keeping the flame burning

However, with COVID-19, their dreams have to be a halt. “Many of them have been employed and were already working and providing for their families, building homes and also having dreams of wanting to take people out of the community and showing them around because they’ve never had before,” says Asanda.

Asanda talks about one alumni who wanted to expose most of the girls in the community to travelling and trying out new things just to broaden their minds. “Everything just came to a stop and they lost their jobs. Now they’re back to trying to find something to make ends meet during this time.”

Keeping the embers of tourism still burning amongst these young women, Asanda has set up a WhatsApp group with all the cohorts of Khwela.

“There’s this quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: ‘A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until she gets into hot water.’ This is our hot water as women and tourism.

“The only way we can actually get through this is not by just giving up and throwing in the towel, it’s by continuing to do the amazing work that we do,” says Asanda.

“We need to find ways of adapting to this evolving world because this is not the only time that things are going to change. We’re going to continue going through changes. It’s just that we need to find ways of adapting and also trusting the process and that the reward will be bigger than what is currently happening right now.”

A whole new world through tourism

For Asanda, tourism is important because it is has shaped her life in a way she could never have imagined and introduced her to opportunities she thought were completely out of reach.

“I come from a very small town in Cintsa. And it’s hard when you come from a small community to see things beyond what’s happening in your community. So (tourism) exposed me to opportunities that are helping me empower more women and expose them to opportunities that will give them more independence and become who they would like to be.”

“Give power to more women” – that’s the word from Asanda to Government. “Listen to what we have to say. It adds to much value. When you work with a woman, you’re not just working with one woman, you’re working with a million other women out there. Women are not just doing things for themselves, they do stuff for the whole community. So when you empower women, as they say, you empower the whole country.”

For Asanda, tourism gives people an opportunity to become independent and self-reliant. “ I wish that South Africans could open their eyes to that and see that tourism is not just about hosting tourists, but it’s about allowing that South Africans to depend on themselves and not depend on the government, and to showcase their skills.”

Passionate about people and helping someone get from Point A to Point B, Asanda is 110% proud to be in this tourism industry. “It’s just helping me grow as a person and as a professional. I hope that more South Africans get to explore their own country and that also Khwela has a bigger impact on women around South Africa.”

Then, of course, there’s always that tourism bug she admits has bit her hard. “I work the entire week and then the weekend I have time to explore. Yeah!”

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When you work with a woman, you're not just working with one woman, you're working with a million other women out there.