Esilalei Women's Cultural Boma: Promoting Conservation by Empowering Women
In the heart of Tanzania, an innovative and ambitious conservation business venture is built on a simple premise - women are the key to wildlife conservation. Indeed, at the Esilalei Women's Cultural Boma in AWF's Maasai Steppe Heartland, Maasai women are leading the charge for conservation and building their own economic and social capacity through this modern cultural tourism enterprise.
The Esilalei Women's Cultural Boma began in 1999 when AWF, together with local villagers, established the venture with the goal of accessing tourism-related revenue for village development. "Boma" is the Swahili word for the Maasai homestead. A Maasai cultural boma is designed to attract tourists interested in seeing the way that Maasai live and typically features cultural demonstrations and handicrafts. Though Maasai cultural bomas have become a regular stop on many wildlife safaris, few are of high enough quality to be sustainable businesses or authentic enough to do justice to the cultures they represent.
The goal of the Esilalei Women's Cultural Boma is to create a viable small enterprise that combines conservation-based tourism with opportunities for disadvantaged women. Working with an existing cultural tourism boma on Esilalei on the main Arusha to Ngorongoro highway, AWF commissioned the building of a modern concrete display and visitor center adjacent to a more traditional Maasai enclosure. The new building houses the merchandise as well as interpretive displays. AWF also influenced TANROADS to situate a modern toilet block directly adjacent to the cultural boma.
Today, the women of the Boma manage everything from making handicrafts to running the tourism enterprise. The Esilalei Women Cultural Boma has demonstrated not only that empowering women can benefit conservation, but also that conservation can benefit local women. "Wildlife conservation happens when women participate," says Josephine Simon, AWF's Community Conservation Officer for Gender in Tanzania. "Conservation is about the next generation, our children. And, women are the ones who teach the children." The Esilalei Women's Cultural Boma helps Masaai women build confidence, leadership, and business skills and become female role models in the community.
The Esilalei Women's Cultural Boma is one of many projects implemented by AWF in support of the organization's mission of conserving Africa's wildlife and wild lands for the benefit of the people. AWF's success depends on projects like this one that support women's institutional development to enhance conservation and social development at the village level throughout southern and eastern.