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Woman's mission to promote Tanzania abroad

Saturday October 24 2020
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Curious on Tanzania is a unique cultural company that creates awareness on the traditions, customs and norms of Tanzania through tourism.

The company also offers and caters for tourists’ interest in Tanzania, be it business, philanthropism, you name it.

This magnificent initiative was brought to life by Justa Lujwangana, a Tanzanian residing in the US, who was born in Kibaha, Coast region in the 80s.

Having spent most of her life in the US, Justa who left Tanzania to join her mother in the US as a little girl, was eager to know more about her mother land.

In her quest to learn about her country and culture, she realised that some Tanzanians in the US had detached themselves from their roots. What pained her most was the fact that Mt Kilimanjaro, the nation’s pride was touted as belonging to Kenya. And so was our national language, Kiswahili.

Justa used every opportunity that presented itself to sell Tanzania and its attractions, despite discouragement from some Tanzanians living in the diaspora.

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Some Americans started showing interest in Tanzania and Justa was happy to answer all their questions. She was even ready to bring them to Tanzania to see the country’s beauty. And this is how Curious Tanzania was born.

“We are a remote experiential travel company. We are always on the go to discover the next best experiences. One can say New York is our hub. You come to New York and you mention Tanzania and one out of three people will bring you to us,” says Justa.

How it all started

When Justa was four, her mother, Vicky Rugakingira left for the US in pursuit of the American dream. Coming from a line of royalty, Vicky, whose great grandfather, Omukama Mtetembwa, was the Chief of Kiziba Chiefdom in Bukoba was determined to give her family the best. She for the US in 1989 and soon after, her two eldest children joined her and her new born son in America, leaving behind Justa and her brother.

“My brother and I stayed behind with our late father and our grandmother in Bukoba as our mother settled in New York.” Justa was later sent to boarding school in Uganda.

“Our mother sent for us four years later,” she says.

The siblings could not hold the excitement they had as they left Tanzania to join their mother and other siblings. Justa recalls that they first reached at a relative’s home that was so beautiful. She could not contain the joy of what lay ahead for her. This joy was short-lived. Their mother lived in a single room. Justa’s shocking experience extended to school. Her short hair got her bullied and the second-hand clothes that seemed decent to her added to the bullying nightmare. Their mother had to work three jobs to carter for all her five children. Soon Justa had to learn how to earn her own pocket money.

She worked as a baby sitter and continued to crotchet, a skill she had learned living with her grandmother. At the age of 16, she got a job at a McDonald’s, a worldwide reputable fast-food chain. While in college, Justa crocheted a huge order of dresses and bought her first car.

She credits her mother for always ensuring that they were grounded, humble and working hard in school. She would always communicate to them in Haya language as well as Kiswahili. Justa’s mother used to encourage her children to practice their Tanzanian culture and the family mostly consumed African meals.

This upbringing fuelled Justa’s passion and curiosity for her home country, prompting her to search for Tanzania related activities and events in New York. “I was shocked to realise that a lot of Tanzanians had detached from their roots. Even Mount Kilimanjaro and Kiswahili were touted as belonging to Kenya.”

She came across a Caribbean club in school, which took her in because she was an African. This was her first shot at educating people about Tanzania.

A trip that changed everything

A family friend visited the Lujwanganas in America and invited the family to a 15 days safari in Tanzania.

“The western media always reported terror and calamities on Africa but to my surprise, I experienced a very different Tanzania,” Justa recalls.

Upon returning to the US and with the advice and support from friends, in 2010, the Lujwanganas via EATV shared their lives with Tanzanians at home in a reality show that was called “Growing Up Africa.”

The show was well received although it didn’t last long.

The trip to Tanzania also inspired Justa to research further on the gaps of Tanzania’s representation in the diaspora, especially in New York city. She realised that even when projects about Tanzanians were launched, it was Africans from other countries who were invited to exhibit their culture and not Tanzanians.

Justa strongly started to create awareness especially through dances. She faced backlash from some Tanzanians but she did not give up. She ensured Tanzania was well represented in any event where Tanzania would be involved in the East Coast.

In 2016, she launched her first company, Keys to Safari and Experience Tanzania. The two projects allowed her to research more on Tanzania.

Through her youtube channel, she held interviews with the then minister for tourism, Lazaro Nyalandu who supported her journey. She also learned more about Mwalimu Nyerere.

With Keys to Safari, Justa embarked on an experiential journey to Mikumi National Park and Udzungwa mountains.

“What I loved the most about Mikumi is the animals and the giant baobab tree, which has a lot of history. Udzungwa mountains is a great experience too as I got to hike the mountains and see one of the highest waterfalls in Tanzania,” says Justa. She adds; “The serenity of Udzungwa forests and the birds singing was very relaxing as I come from a crazy busy city of New York to experience nature at its best.”

Upon her return and as she searched for prospective customers for her services; most of her clients demanded for more than just a safari, hence the birth of Curious on Tanzania.

Experience Tanzania is a one day exhibition that takes place in Brooklyn, New York and is a huge part of Curious on Tanzania. The event allows Tanzanians and Americans in New York to come out and experience everything about Tanzania. Some use the opportunity to reunite and reminisce on their experiences while others use the opportunity to plan their safaris.

This year’s Experience Tanzania event was held online and unlike its usual crowd of 300 people, this time it brought together more than 500 people. The event attracted sponsorship from a company in Zanzibar.

“CPS Fumba Town is a property investment project. A new modern town being built in Zanzibar. It also allows foreign investors, people like our curious travelers. That’s how we connected with them. Many Americans especially black Americans are looking to make anywhere in Africa home. I took this opportunity to bring these two people together,” says Justa.

She has hosted so many groups and one of them is TED global in 2017, where they held a workshop in Arusha. After the workshop, the TED global group went on a safari to Ngorongoro Crater and Lake Manyara.

Curious on Tanzania also hosted Georgetown University students in Washington DC who were seeking to understand the workings of microfinances in Tanzania.

The company organised dinner with Tanzania’s successful entrepreneur, Mohamed Dewji who is also an alumnus of the university. Dewji shared his knowledge on the Microfinance field with the interns. Afterwards they embarked on a safari to Tanzania.

Justa now lives in both Tanzania and America where she splits her time twice, six months to each country. Her life is a dream come true. Although she holds a master’s degree as a clinical dietician, Justa has no desire to go back to working. She experienced stigmatization as a black woman working in America.

Justa urges everyone to follow their path despite of how blurry it may seem. She says effort, hard work, patience, perseverance and persistent will eventually make the path clear.