The Batwa known as “pygmies” are an Indigenous tribe in Western Uganda, Eastern Dr. Congo, North Eastern Rwanda and Burundi.
Originally, Batwa were forest-dwelling hunter- gatherers based in the great lakes region of Central Africa and are widely accepted as the original inhabitants of the region. The Batwa lived in harmony in the jungle with all creatures including the mountain gorillas. The Batwa were regarded as people of the forest.
Some anthropologists say that most pygmy tribes such as the Batwa/the Twa have existed for more than 10,000 years in the equatorial forests. The Batwa lived a lifestyle of gathering fruits, herbs and hunting game in the forest using bows and arrows. This was mainly for both medical and food purposes. They lived a happy life in the forests, they never practiced farming, no charcoal making or deforestation, not even the shelters they had could destroy the environment.
The Forceful Eviction of Batwa.
However, in 1991, due to conservation projects to protect mountain gorillas, the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda was created in the south of the country (15 kilometers south of Kisoro town) and Uganda’s big number of Batwa were forcefully evicted from the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest where they had lived for centuries.
According to National Population and Housing Census (2002), Batwa population in Uganda was 3500 and its currently 86,000 to 110,000 people.The forest is now a world heritage center which attracts a lot of tourists from America, Europe, Asia, Africa and tourists from within Uganda. Forced from their traditional homeland and lacking resources, the Batwa are now dependent on NGOs and donors for survival.
The Batwa in Uganda (today) experience systematic and pervasive discrimination from the government and other sectors of society. Their rights as indigenous people are neither recognized nor respected. Because of this great marginalization, their culture, identity and language are under increasing threat.
Their traditional hunting ground and home for this community comprised of Bwindi forested areas in Southwestern Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
A watershed in lives of Batwa.
Without access to education, clean water, healthcare or sanitation they are forced to live in shacks made from old pieces of cardboard, small tree branches and plastic bags at the edges of national parks. Many of the Batwa work as guards against pests and wild animals in gardens of native Bakiga and Bafumbira in exchange for a temporally space to construct a small hut.
At night, each family in their respective huts, light a fire to scare away wild animals from the bush that could attack them while they are asleep. Their households are scattered in various settlements in villages adjacent to Bwindi forest. They include: Murubindi, Kashasha, Kinyamahene,Gitebe- Kanaba, Biizi and Mukasaayi that comprises of two settlements thus Karengyere- Rwamahano and Kinyarushengye.
Land accessibility and ownership
A few Batwa own very little agricultural land, and the least productive (less than half an acre per household), in designated locations in hard to reach hilly terrain near the forest. The land was obtained from development agencies like African International Christian Ministry (AICM). Up to now, some illegal activities such as wild hunting, collection of honey, mushrooms, water, bamboo for basket making and building huts as houses, building poles, making of bee hives and firewood are being carried out by Batwa.
Batwa illegally hunt in the forest due to lack of alternative source of basic needs since they just roam around every day looking for survival and not sure of tomorrow.
They have become landless with extreme poverty and have been reduced to a life of destitution, living on non-Batwa’s land as squatters. Batwa have been forced to resort to begging, providing cheap manual labor, prostitution and stealing for survival and therefore referred to as environmental refugees.
State of Employment.
Employment opportunities are few and far between. Over 20 Batwa are working for the BATWA TRAIL a program within the National Parks that was set up in 2006 by the Ugandan Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the local government with the help of USAID.
The Batwa sing and dance for tourists, as they used to do for themselves while in the forest. Each of them only earns around US$2 to 3 per day. The rest of their earnings are split between the three parties.
Most of them work as casual labourers in tea and potato gardens of native Bakiga and Bafumbira gardens especially for ploughing, weeding and harvesting in exchange for food and some little pay which cannot buy their basic needs.
Other Batwa are not allowed to enter the park, as Ugandan authorities are concerned they may hurt the gorillas.
The biggest reason why Batwa are not employed is because they lack formal education. “They need to have a certain level of education and be able to speak English, so they can work as guides for tourists.”
The Batwa also suffer from discrimination because of their appearance, being short, wearing torn clothes and other factors. Imagine! Many women are raped and 57 per cent of Batwa women have been victims of sexual abuse. There are many people who believe that having sex with a Batwa woman can cure AIDS and back pain.”
Those women who become infected with HIV have limited access to health care because they don’t have the money and they stay in hard to reach communities where there are no hospitals at all, some even face discrimination by hospital staff and other patients.
Those who manage to get treatment don’t always have enough food, thus rendering the drugs (ARVs) ineffective. Faced with such hopelessness, the only thing left for Batwa women is to either beg for money or to become waste pickers.
Cherie Wilshire Foundation has designed and we are implementing interventions geared towards the promotion of access to education, Basic Health and economic empowerment.Through our Child sponsorship program we let you choose a child of your interest for sponsorship. We believe that through such interventions will the poor, vulnerable and marginalized communities of Batwa will be transformed.
Since 2018, we have recruited and sponsored over 40 out-of school (OOSC) pupils and school going age children from Batwa communities. we have partnered with St.Joseph’s Rubuguri primary school in Kisoro district and Buremba Primary school in Kanungu district where we currently have 110 children and expect more. We are providing them with scholastic materials like books, pens, pencils and school uniforms.
This is giving us the capacity to even replicate or extend these interventions to other districts of great need. As a highly professional organization, we are not interfering with the schools administration or the workings and cultural ways of the communities we are serving. We are also strongly respecting both the rights of Parents and the child in all our workings.