Tags: East & Central African Association for Indigeous Rights, Education
I’ve been thinking a lot about the diversity of human behavior. How people can be so decent and kind, and how they can be equally selfish and not so kind. I’ve been struck by some of the differences in behavior here in Kampala lately because my senses have been on particularly high alert. Of course there is great diversity in behavior anywhere you go, but I’ve noticed, for example, how some (rare) drivers here, in the mayhem of traffic that is ubiquitous, will stop and make a gesture for me to go ahead and cross the street, while others won’t even let off the accelerator. It’s run or get hit. I’m struck by how there are no real lines here, so one can stand waiting one’s turn, while numerous men (sorry guys) walk up 5, 10, 15 minutes after you’ve been waiting, move right up to the front, and get taken care of instantly (I realize this is probably just cultural too). How some “boda” (motorbike) drivers here clearly charge me a fair fee and happily take me on a tortuous ride, dodging pot holes and maneuvering crazy traffic, only to wish me well with a warm smile when it’s over. Yet others will overcharge for what turns out to be a relatively short and straightforward trip that I could have easily walked had I known better (granted, some people might call this kind of behavior merely “savvy”). I realize these are all rather minor phenomena. On a much more substantive scale, I’m struck, in all my readings on pygmies, at how deep the discrimination against them goes, which only puts into starker contrast the incredible love, empathy, and support Freddy tirelessly offers to them.
The other day Freddy cc’d me on an e-mail he’d received from a pygmy boy named Gad who was struggling to pay his school fees. Among other things, and like so many others in his position, Gad indicated he’d been repeatedly chased from school. This is a phenomenon I’ve been reading about in the research I’ve been doing as well. In an excellent Minority Rights Group International report titled, The Right to Learn: Batwa Education in the Great Lakes Region of Africa, author Fay Warrilow, states, “Even when Batwa children do access school, they experience direct and indirect discrimination. Many suffer verbal abuse and Batwa women and girls report being sexually harassed by male teachers and pupils at school, and being ambushed on the way home from school. This may result in unwanted pregnancies, poor performance at school and dropping out of school entirely.” The author further states, “Batwa identity has been historically misrepresented in school curricula in the region, and this continues today. Teaching materials reportedly still used in some Francophone Rwandan schools portray Batwa as greedy, ready to work with diabolical forces and poor through their own misdeeds. Batwa children in Burundi report being told by teachers that because they are Batwa, they are ‘worth nothing’.” And yet, as the article underscores, education is one of the keys to getting out of the intense oppression pygmies endure. But, yet again, this is an area rife with obstacles for pygmies. And the struggle is multi-layered because it is not just about pygmies gaining access to education. Warrilow writes, “Access to education is not just about whether it is possible to go to school; it is about whether education is appropriate, nurturing a community’s own sense of identity as well as encouraging a sense of belonging and integration on the wider local, national and international stage. For minorities all over the world, education has been far from appropriate in this respect.” Clearly the road is long.
But, to get back to my other point, what especially struck me about the e-mail was Freddy’s response. Despite the fact that Freddy is presently supporting other children and is of modest means, he offered to help pay Gad’s school fees. And in he wrote, “What other communities continue to take for granted is what is to date our far distanced dream and that is what we are still looking for: Peace, Justice and Human rights. No matter how diverse our voices are, the way we hear ourselves makes a sound with one voice.” For some reason, these lines were like a slap across the face. For a brief moment, I internalized, in a very new and visceral way, just how for granted I sometimes take my human rights to be. Peace and justice are things that are inconsistent the world around, yes, but they are things I experience to larger and smaller degrees on a daily basis. They are threads that are woven through the fabric of my life, and are regular features of the society I live in. Yet, for the pygmies, things like peace and justice are truly a far distanced dream. And progress toward that dream has been slow going.
Freddy closed his e-mail to Gad with a few lines that brought tears to my eyes. He wrote, “Please be strong and remain at school. Education will help us raise our voices more than ever before. I am just standing here in your shadow near you.”
The incredible decency and kindness that Freddy holds in his heart, and his unrelenting determination to see a world in which pygmies and other indigenous communities are treated with the fairness and respect they deserve is inspirational to me, to say the least. And with efforts from Freddy, and others like him, it is difficult to imagine that one day this vision won’t become a reality. And when I’m feeling down and out, and see the world as an ugly place, I know I will, at times, think of Freddy’s comment to Gad – that he is standing there, in his shadow just near him. That kind of love and selflessness in this sometimes very difficult world is, for me, one of the most beautiful things I could ever have the honor to witness.
Posted By DINA BUCK
Posted Jul 9th, 2010