Yesterday was one of those days that made me sure that we are not wasting our time here. The day started early on the road from Kigali to the border of Rwanda and Uganda. It is a breathtaking drive, which I know I have described in blogs of years past, but it is equally as surprising and pleasing each time, as if it were the first. We were met at the border by our partners on the Batwa Project from AICM, to begin the long, winding dirt road ride into the steep mountains of Uganda. This area is often referred to as the Food Basket of Uganda. There is not one spot of land where something is not growing in terraced fields.
We visited with three of the four Batwa groups we are working with (see the PLF Batwa Project page for explanation of who are the Batwa), located miles apart in hilly settlements. Two of our groups are not doing the work needed to be successful, but the other two groups are doing very well and I was thrilled to see the improvements in the quality of living that are the direct result of the work we are doing with them.
Working with the Batwa is different than the other groups we work with, as they have been so badly marginalized that we have to do a more comprehensive program and cannot just do income generating activities with them. They first need to have better shelter, food security and the practice of responsibilities and community. The first phase of the the project was giving them goats and teaching how to tend them and the nutritional value of goat milk. The second phase was giving them seeds to plant fields, as they do not have food security and then helping them to improve their houses. We asked them to level the land and collect materials and we gave them iron sheets for their roofs and poles to build the structure. The third phase was helping them form Savings Groups that gives out small loans. When all of these phases are complete and running well, we will begin the income generating activities with them.
When I went to the village that was the first Batwa group I ever visited two years ago, I could not believe the difference in the village. There are cabbage, beans and potatoes growing abundantly. The village is a mix of the new houses and the old primitive shacks (we are working to replace all of them eventually). The hygiene of the children is improved. Even the goats have a proper, safe pen. The land is kept more clean and orderly. More children are in school. We are encouraging all of the groups to send more, if not all the children to school.
The project is not an easy one and we are experiencing difficulty with two of the groups, as I mentioned, such as the fact that some of the people ate some of the seeds instead of planting them and others are still learning to understand the concept of the Savings groups. However, we are seeing real progress and that is very encouraging. It was a day of joyful singing and dancing and celebration. That is one thing that I love about Africa. The people, no matter how poor, really know how to show joy and never fail to be thankful for what they have. I will be posting great photos on Facebook of these celebrations today and will be posting them on the PLF website as soon as possible. I also got some great video, but I cannot upload them until I am back at home. Today is Sunday and we are working on proposals and budgets today and will have a follow up meeting this afternoon with our partners here. Tomorrow, we are off to look at a new project…