Award-winning author Suzy Zail talks about her new book I am Change, which inspired Executive Edge Travel’s Co-Founder and Head of Leisure Yvonne Verstandig’s upcoming Travel My Way journey to Uganda. Suzy and Yvonne illuminate the impetus for the inaugural Travel My Way tour in November which is focused upon empowering women in Uganda and reveal their goals for this life altering adventure tour which could affect real change in Africa. Kimberly Rosbe reports.
“Yvonne cares deeply about the people and places she visits and has become as invested as I am in creating an itinerary to gain a deeper understanding of the lives of women in developing countries and engage with the communities we visit, whether it be participating in girls empowerment club training or spending time with remote tribes.” ~ Suzy Zail, (author, I am Change)
Empowering women in Uganda
Q: An expert on experiential travel for Africa, Suzy’s book about empowering women in Uganda must have resonated with your social conscience and aligned with your goals for a Travel My Way tour. Tell us how I am Change formed the creation of Travel My Way Uganda.
Yvonne: What can I say… I absolutely LOVE Africa and will return time and time again. Suzy is a dear friend of mine and I’ve known about the evolution of her book I am Change for years now. I was touched by her commitment to learn about the plight of young Ugandan girls and to share it with the world. In particular, I was intrigued to learn more about the organisations in Uganda whose key focus is to make a difference to these girls. I had a deep desire to go back to Uganda, this time, with Suzy to meet the girls, the organisations and to explore parts of Uganda I have yet to visit. My intent with this tour is to inspire other women, like I was inspired by Suzy, to make a difference. With Suzy’s contacts on the ground, along with my contacts through the luxury travel industry, we have been able to curate an incredible journey – a Travel My Way tour to ignite passion, inspire and challenge like-minded women with a key focus on giving back.
Q: Explain to the the readers of The Departure Lounge what it means to Travel My Way and what defines your tours.
Yvonne: Travel ignites a flame in me. No matter where in the world I am, I am exploring. I am free. I am elated. When I travel, the more I want to delve deeper, understand where I am, feel the culture, feel the people, scratch beneath the surface and get off that well trodden tourist route. The more remote, the more unique, the more undiscovered, the better. As the cliche goes, the older one gets, the less risks they take… not me! With age, I am becoming more adventurous, seeking more of that travel adrenaline fix. Obviously, all of this is very apparent to my friends, colleagues, clients and strangers, as too often I am told that others wish to literally travel like I do. It made me realise that there are many people out there, like me, who want to explore each destination deeper, with more passion, pushing that one step further. Hence, fittingly, I’ve labelled my tour brand Travel My Way. I am actually working on a new genre of travel based on this concept… but more to follow on that later!
The inspiration for I am Change
Q: Suzy, after your critically acclaimed books The Tattooed Flower, The Wrong Boy and Alexander Altmann A10567, your new book I am Change is on the verge of release in August. What inspired you to write a novel about girls’ rights, set in Uganda?
Suzy: I was driven to write I am Change after the 2014 terrorist abduction of more than 200 girls from their boarding school in Nigeria. The kidnapping haunted me. I wondered what I could do, not just for those 200 terrified girls held at gunpoint, but for the 200 million girls around the globe who were being denied an education. And then, by chance, I met a 29-year-old Ugandan woman visiting Australia. We spent an afternoon together and as soon as she told me her story about growing up in a small impoverished village, desperate for an education, I knew the heart of my next novel. But Lilian’s story was only one story, one voice. I needed to learn more so I flew to Uganda. I didn’t know what it felt like to be a poor African girl without shoes or schoolbooks, so I spoke to young Ugandan girls. None of the girls I interviewed had both their parents. They lived without running water or electricity, trading their bodies for schoolbooks and missing meals to pay for school fees. I gave them flour, exercise books and pencils, but it wasn’t enough. I returned to Australia inspired to create a character who might incite an army for change; a girl to stir readers to speak out for those who have been silenced by their fathers, religion and culture.
Your novel deals with some very intimate and personal issues affecting poverty-stricken Ugandan girls. How did the girls and women you interviewed handle revealing such private and heartbreaking moments to a stranger?
Suzy: With remarkable openness and generosity. I couldn’t have written a truthful story without their willingness to share their lives with me and bare their most intimate secrets. Before I went to Uganda I did a lot of research about the issues affecting girls in developing countries, but to tell a truly authentic story I needed to meet the girls who lived those issues. I needed to know what they dreamed about when they imagined their future and what obstacles they had to overcome to achieve those dreams. It couldn’t have been easy letting me into their lives. I asked hard questions and mined their most private and intimate moments and they forgave my ignorance and shared their heartbreak with such warmth and generosity. I feel so privileged to have been entrusted with their stories. I hope I have told their truth.
With so much tragedy in Africa yet so much potential for change, what is your hope in publishing this novel?
Suzy: Lilian and the other characters in I am Change are fictional, but their circumstances are real. The long, dangerous walk girls make to school, the bad touches from teachers, the lack of money for school books and forced marriages; every one of the girls I interviewed had experienced a number – sometimes all – of these hurdles before they turned sixteen. And they were the lucky ones, the ones I met through aid organisations that were now helping them achieve their dreams. I saw the difference these organisations made, how they’d saved these girls from unwanted pregnancies and marriages to older men, fed them when they were hungry and sat them at desks. I hope I am Change inspires action in my readers, whether it be supporting one of these amazing aid organisations or speaking out against gender inequality. For those who seek change in their own lives, I hope it empowers them to be the change they seek.
A special collaboration
Your book is the inspiration for Yvonne’s inaugural Travel My Way Uganda tour. You and Yvonne have been friends since childhood and it must have been so special to collaborate on designing an itinerary which affords the opportunity to hear first-hand from the girls who informed I am Change.
Suzy: Travel, like literature, is a fantastic educator; another wonderful way to cultivate a deeper empathy and understanding of people whose lives might be different to our own. So when Yvonne invited me to co-host and curate a trip for women who want to empower women, based on my novel, I jumped at the chance. I would return to Uganda to see the girls who helped shape the characters in my novel, and in turn shape me – as a writer and a person – and spend time with the aid organisations who continue to support them, and do it with one of my oldest friends. It helped that we shared the same focus: to create a positive impact and contribute to the story of female empowerment. Yvonne cares deeply about the people and places she visits and has become as invested as I am in creating an itinerary to gain a deeper understanding of the lives of women in developing countries and engage with the communities we visit, whether it be participating in girls empowerment club training or spending time with remote tribes. If the trip is going to be anywhere near as exciting as the planning of it has been, we’re going to have an amazing 10 days.
Travel My Way Uganda highlights
Q: Yvonne, can you reveal a few of the Travel My Way Uganda highlights?
Yvonne: Naturally, a big focus of the Travel My Way Uganda tour is making a difference and giving back. The first half of our time in Uganda will be spent in Kampala visiting and supporting the aid organisations that are helping Ugandan girls improve their circumstances and achieve their dreams. We will discover the challenges faced by young Ugandan girls and the obstacles preventing them from reaching their potential and then offering support to make a difference. Just a few of the activities that will be dedicated to the improvement of girls in Uganda will be spending time in the Bwaise slums, visiting schools and witnessing girls empowerment training. We have curated such a diverse and rich itinerary with many exciting experiences punctuated throughout our 10 day journey through Uganda such as watching a witch doctor in action, learning about the importance of a Ssenge, spending time with a local artist and a fashion designer. We’ll quite literally learn the beat of African drums, take part in tribal dancing, hike to remote villages in the North, 4WD safari in search of wild cats in the Kidepo National Park and offer a helping hand to build a mud house for the local community. The accommodation is also quite special for the tour featuring boutique luxury lodges and stunning settings that authentically reflect the destination.
Q: Adventure is your passion, so I imagine there is an adventure component to the tour?
Yvonne: You are totally correct, adventure and challenge are passions of mine and hence any Travel My Way tour MUST include an element of adventure and mental or physical challenge. It wouldn’t be the same without this key ingredient. Everyone sees challenge as something different. So for our journey through Uganda, it may be trekking for hours through a dense jungle with machete at hand, in search of the rare mountain gorilla, or coming face to face with a witch doctor in the streets of Kampala, learning a tribal dance or partaking in an African drum session, hiking to remote villages, or getting one’s hands dirty building mud houses. Each experience is unique and each experience may present a challenge to our individual travellers enhancing their journey through Uganda.
A sustainable approach from the heart
Q: Yvonne, you’ve been a leader in the luxury travel industry, even wining ‘Virtuoso’s Most Admired Travel Advisor for Australia/New Zealand’. Is Travel My Way Uganda an opportunity to go beyond booking luxury travel and personally make a real difference?
Yvonne: After working in the luxury travel space for 20 years now, I am craving more. Likewise, savvy travellers are needing more. We are looking for an opportunity to make a difference to those in need, to give back to local communities who need help, and to be more aware of the destination we visit, ensuring sustainability is maintained. Travel My Way Uganda offers our travellers an unique insight into Uganda and an opportunity to ignite the passion to make a difference.