Misfortunes of the Conservation Refugees; The Batwa People in Uganda
In the urge to save the iconic mountain gorillas of Uganda from extinction and also boost the country’s tourism, the Batwa people were forced out of their ancient jungle; Bwindi impenetrable forest and this brought a dramatic turn in their lives up to date.
Having left their hereditary home with nothing, they have for since lived with the consequences of being innocently born in a wrong part of the country and literally little has been done to ensure the just resettlement of these less fortunate conservation refugees.
Yes, it is true that the economic situation in Uganda is still bleak and poverty remains rampant all around the country, but the marginalized Batwa seem to live in an enormous magnitude of poverty, facing many challenges, compared to the meagre opportunities from tourism.
Noted among the last groups of short people surviving on earth, the Batwa pygmies are located in the south western forests of Uganda and they are believed to be the first inhabitants of this place. They are one of the most marginalized group of people in Uganda with a population estimated to be only 970 members.
Despite the Batwa living in small numbers, their eviction from the life that they were used to, dramatically disorganized their setting leading them to face many problems, ranging from starvation, illiteracy, abject poverty, discrimination, epidemic diseases and sometimes even death.
From the time of their resettlement from the forests, Batwa communities still lack good quality education services. So far, only a few schools have been constructed in some communities to provide education to the Batwa children, but still there is limited number of skilled and experienced teachers.
Both the school administration and the students lack funding, the students don’t have scholastic materials as well as the school. This has increased the levels of illiteracy among the Batwa with Alice Nyamihanda as the only first Mutwa graduand in 2010 with a diploma in Development studies at Bugema University.
Also the health services in the Batwa resettlements are at their lowest levels. Even today, the Batwa people still die of simple diseases like malaria, headache and cough. It was only Dr. Scott and Carol Kellermans that reached out to the lives of Batwa and constructed for them a hospital to treat them as they transited into their new form of life.
But still this one hospital cannot be enough for over 900 people.
Having been forced to migrate from their ancestral homeland, the Batwa people now live dependent lives on the NGOs and donations from tourists for survival and earn so little from the sale of crafts and agricultural products.
Leaving their traditional land without anything, the Batwa are forced to hopelessly live in houses made from old pieces of cardboard and plastic bags only waiting for the merciful donors and NGOs to provide them with food and other basic needs.
The Batwa conservation refugees also suffer from discrimination leading to the increasing cases of women rape in their communities. 57% of the Batwa women are victims of sexual abuse and they have been infected with HIV/AIDS because of the local myth that having sex with a Batwa woman cures AIDS and back pain.
Most of the victimized women have lost their lives due to the limited access to good health services and poor feeding, leaving behind very young poor orphans who are likely to go hungry for days only depending on the handouts from well-wishers.
It is high time that the whole world put into consideration the wellbeing of the Batwa people in Uganda. It’s barely their fault that they were born in the jungles with the endemic mountain gorillas.
Let’s all get up and support the NGOs that stretch a helping hand to the Batwa people. We can also donate to the school going children scholastic materials like bags, shoes and books. Most importantly, we can donate food to these communities.
Remember we cannot do great things on this earth, only small things with great love. Be the change by volunteering with us.