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Hope for Batwa with Change A Life Bwindi project

Batwa entertaining guests at the launch of Change a Life Bwindi project on March 7. PHOTO BY PAMELA AMIA

This unique community can now fend for itself with newly acquired survival skills

Kampala, Uganda | IAN KATUSIIME | The Batwa, a community that originally lived in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, have a better shot at life with the Change A Life Bwindi project where Batwa are learning weaving and other survival skills.

When Bwindi Impenetrable National Park was gazetted two decades ago, the Batwa who lived there faced an uncertain future- they had lived all their life there and their ways of living had something to do with forest nature such as worshipping trees.

“The government did not get us any land, only a few donor organisations came to our rescue but even the land they acquired for us was not enough,” says David Kakuru, head of the Batwa community in Mpungu, Kanungu district which is just next to the park.

Kakuru, aged 63, says there are 57 members of their community in Mpungu although Batwa are a large community spread out in other districts of Uganda.

Kakuru, a father of eight says the biggest setback they have encountered as a community is their inability to access medicine which is located in the park. This medicine is vital for their growth and well-being particularly for the young Batwa children who need coping mechanisms.

The Batwa are also in Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo. This group of people are known for their unique culture and every year attract hundreds of tourists who flock to Bwindi to marvel at their ways of live. There is an upcoming Batwa night in September where tourists will witness an exhibition of this community’s culture and attributes.

Tina Katushabe is one of those who have decided to make life better for the Batwa. Katushabe, who was then working in the areas of conservation and tourism, was on a trip to Bwindi when she saw the Batwa products.

They approached her and she vowed she could do something to get better market for their products to improve their life.  She founded a centre where she taught Batwa weaving and other modern life skills under the Change A Life Bwindi project.

She talks about the Batwa with so much passion. “When you touch one Mutwa, you touch all of them. When you take one Mutwa to another in a different community, you would think they are brothers,” Katushabe told journalists who had travelled to Bwindi for the launch of the Change a Life Bwindi project on March 7.

The Batwa originated in Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and are generally short in stature but they are known for their creativity and adaptability. Katushabe re-echoes Kakuru’s concern about the need for medicinal plants needed by the Batwa but the plants are located in the forest which is in the park. The Batwa are constantly appealing for help from outside from people of goodwill.

They need land and access to social service since they are a marginalised community.

“I feel very bad that refugees got from other countries are planned for by the government yet the Batwa who are indigenous Ugandans have been neglected,” Katushabe says.

She believes if the Batwa centre is given more marketing and publicity, more well-wishers could come on board and the Batwa can get good education and health services.

Two ladies from the community narrated how they had benefited from the centre.

Santrinah Katusiime said “Tina taught me how to weave. Now I am able to look after my parents.” Another lady identified as Hilda said they thank Tina for the water tank and solar power they have in their community.

Tourism centre

Yaphesi Akampurira, the Community Development Officer of Mpungu sub-county said the government released Shs637million for the construction of a tourism centre which will include a hotel and a camp.

Akampurira hailed the cooperation between Bakiga and Batwa. He said gone are the days when Batwa would be discriminated against.

For now, everything is up to the LC III leaders of Mpungu to ensure the money is put to good use to boost the tourism potential of this community given that Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and National Park is one of the leading tourist attractions in Uganda.


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