Tags: Forest Peoples Programme, Kisoro, Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, United Organization for Batwa Development, Virunga Volcanoes
So, events this summer made it difficult to actually meet or interact with any pygmies whom, in this blog, I am calling “Batwa.” Thus, last week, in a desperate attempt to have some tangible interaction with the Batwa before my fellowship ends, I opted to take a ten hour bus ride, followed by a 1.5 hour “special hire” taxi ride from Kampala to Kisoro to do the United Organisation for Batwa Development in Uganda’s (UOBDU) Batwa Trail walk. Thankfully, my husband, who was visiting (both me and Rwanda) for a couple of weeks, was a willing companion, so I had good company for the long journey.
Now, as some might point out, doing this walk is certainly different from having a “genuine” interaction with the Batwa. My husband and I paid US $80 each for the walk, which included four Batwa guides, plus an interpreter. We went on a 5 hour walk through the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park, nestled at the base of the stunning Virunga volcanoes. We were treated to various explanations of Batwa traditions including: medicinal plant usage; “play-acts” demonstrating how the Batwa hunt and trap animals, greet guests, give offerings, hunt for honey; and some singing and dancing (the best part by far). The walk was enjoyable, educational, and the scenery was stunning. And though the US $160 may seem a bit steep initially, when one learns that the fees help the evicted Batwa have decent lives, it’s money well spent.
This list of ways in which the Batwa Trail Walk fees assist the Batwa is lifted, verbatim, from the UOBDU brochure:
Land: UOBDU is working to resolve the Batwa land crisis by lobbying government to provide land, and using funds from donors and the Batwa Trail to obtain land.
Education: UOBDU promotes and encourages education, training and literacy for Batwa children, youth, and adults.
Income generation: UOBDU assists the Batwa to establish income generating projects including bee keeping, agriculture, and cultural tourism (including the Batwa Trail, dance/music performance and craft sales).
Health: UOBDU operates mobile clinics for the benefit of Batwa communities, and provides health education programmes covering general aspects of health care as well as the causes, prevention, and treatment of HIV/AIDS.
The other thing Kisoro has to offer is the energetic, super smart, and incredibly hospitable Dr. Chris Kidd. Dr. Kidd, who works as a Project Officer for the Forest Peoples Programme, has been working with the Batwa around Kisoro for a decade now. One of the things he discussed with me was the importance of acting as a “background” person, letting the Batwa take the lead in the decisions and actions they undertake to procure their rights for a decent life. This is necessary, not only because Dr. Kidd will not be living in Kisoro for the rest of his life but, also, and more importantly, because it is important the Batwa have independence, agency, and the capacity to ultimately be the driving force behind their own liberation.
Sounds very good to me.
Posted By DINA BUCK
Posted Aug 16th, 2010