THE BATWA POULTRY PROJECT – An Exemplary Service Learning Initiative
In May 2017, Khartoum American School (KAS) in the Sudan engaged in a service learning project through In Touch With Nature Education (ITWNE) that will provide lasting benefits to one of the world’s most marginalized peoples – the Batwa ‘Pygmies’ – the oldest surviving tribe in Africa. For countless centuries the Batwa shared the resources of the rainforest with their closest neighbors – mountain gorillas and chimpanzees. When asked what life was like sharing a forest homeland with two of the world’s most powerful apes, Batwa elders will tell you that they kept their distance from the gorillas “because they are so big.” They say that chimpanzees would often climb the same trees as the Batwa for fruits, nuts or honey at which times the Batwa would retreat as the chimps were just too strong and dangerous.
The Batwa were clearly at the bottom of the primate ‘pecking order’ and posed no danger whatsoever to gorillas or chimps. Still, when the ‘Impenetrable Forest’ was declared a national park and UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1991 as the world’s only forest that supported both chimps and gorillas, the Uganda Government expelled the Batwa from their homeland for ‘conservation’ reasons in clear violation of the United Nations Charter on the Rights of Indigenous peoples. With no compensation or alternate land to move to, the Batwa had no choice but to live as squatters on the edge of the village of Bwindi, seeking handouts or stealing corn from fields at night simply to survive. According to Ugandan Law; ‘’People who live a wondering life as nomads who never settle in one place have no land claim” so the government feels it has no legal obligation to compensate the Batwa whatsoever.
Learn more about our Uganda Educational Tour here.
Due to the small stature of their ‘Pygmy’ ancestry, the Batwa continue to suffer ethnic prejudice, systematic discrimination, and violence in all aspects of life. In 1996 a group of local men equipped with spears and machetes hunted a group of Batwa that had refused to leave the forest of Bwindi. Tomas Tumwesigye witnessed the massacre on his way to school one day as an estimated 200 Batwa were beheaded, including young children and women. Some of their bodies were thrown into a river and others into a mass grave.
The Batwa continue to face challenges to survival even now 25-years after their forced eviction and begging is the primary source of livelihood for about 98% of these formerly self-sufficient forest dwellers. The Ugandan Batwa may well be the most vulnerable, voiceless, marginalized and poorest people in the whole world with per-capita income less than half a dollar a day.
Students from KAS first learned about the plight of the Batwa during an ITWNE led trip to Uganda in May of 2016. Deeply touched by the plight of these peoples, they took the message back to their school and started fund raising for a project that would assist the Batwa with their food security needs. A poultry project was soon identified as one of the best ways to improve protein intake for the Batwa in a sustainable and low cost way.
Tomas Tumwesigye, ITWNE’s Ugandan trip leader, was instrumental in setting up the project with the Batwa community… a group of people he has known and supported his entire life.
Despite ethnic prejudice, cultural genocide, poverty and discrimination the Batwa still embrace much of their culture and they sang and danced for the KAS students when they arrived. After a full day of erecting the roof, the roosting poles and digging postholes for the outdoor chicken ‘run’… the birds were delivered to the new hen house and another Batwa dance ensued in celebration. Now, 4-months later, Tomas reports that the Batwa are very happy and enjoying keeping the chickens. Musinguzi, the son of the Batwa headman, is the new poultry manager and the Batwa are said to know almost everything now in relation to rearing poultry for meat and eggs. The answer to the proverbial question ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ is probably, a good idea and students committed to positive change in the world. Well done KAS!