Visiting the Batwa is always an adventure in an otherworldly setting. The last two days have been that and also very encouraging. The Batwa are unique in that they still have retained much of their traditional culture and because they have been so marginalized for decades that they are far behind in development. Because of this, progress has been slower with them than in our other projects.
The first phase of this project has been to build them safe houses, teach them farming skills, provide them with seeds, encourage them to send their children to school, teach hygiene and nutrition to them, prepare them for receiving visitors and start a tourism company and form revolving fund groups. They have finally begun grasping the idea of saving money with the group in order to get small loans for things that will help them to generate income.
Now we are in the second phase of the project. Our goal for the next year is to really push them to increase their incomes by fine tuning their ability to use the savings and loans, fine tuning their tourism program and we have just started simple vocational trainings for the youth to set them on the path to a better lives than their parents have had.
The first training has been in teaching how to make mandazi, which is a very common fried bread. For now, the trainees are working for the man that is training them in his very successful business at a nearby training center. The idea is that more will be trained and will branch out selling mandazi themselves by taking them back to the village and to other locations. Once they are experienced enough, we open small shops that will belong to them in various locations around Lake Bunyonyi where they live. We also plan to train in brick making, construction, as well as other things.
One village we visited today is closer to the main road than others and does get tourists coming through on a weekly basis, the mountain gorillas live very nearby. They treated us to the program they have created for tourists, which is truly incredible and a huge improvement from what they had before. If you visit them you will have the opportunity to walk the “Batwa Trail”, where they will demonstrate how they used to live in the forest before the government forced them out when they formed national parks and gorilla conservation. They will sing and dance for you and play traditional instruments and they are spectacular performers. You will learn about the plants they used for medicinal purposes and see a traditional house. You will have the chance to buy beautiful crafts, such as baskets and all of this with a breathtaking view of the terraced green mountains, the strangely quiet lake and the majestic volcanoes in the distance.