The Batwa forest pygmy tribe were evicted from their forest home so recently -- just in 1991 when Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks were established in SW Uganda, Africa. They were given no land or money in compensation and have struggled to thrive ever since. While many churches and charities have helped, they are facing an uphill battle to gain some dignity and a better way of life.
I visited the region in January 2014 as a journalist (wendeenicole.com) and was so moved by the poverty and their plight that I sold my house in the U.S., and moved to Uganda to start a nonprofit charity/ministry to help the Batwa help themselves (redemptionsongfoundation.org). The Kalehe Batwa were the "forgotten" village that no one felt could be helped. They drank too much, they said. They were lazy, they said. They won't work together, they said. They also face discrimination and abuse at the hands of locals, at times. The women are raped because some locals believe raping a Batwa (Mutwa) woman cures HIV (or backache). HIV rates here are higher than average, there is prostitution, single motherhood, child and spousal abuse, kids dropping from school by 1st or 3rd grade. We've begun to turn their world around in just 10 months and need your help to keep going.
I'm raising funds for the Dignity Project: getting the people of Kalehe (and after that, neighboring Batwa settlements) the basic necessities of life - food, clothing, healthcare, and the self-sustaining income-generating of basket weaving. When I arrived they were sleeping on dirt floors with rats running over them at night without mosquito nets and risk death from a preventable disease, malaria; eating from banana leaves because they have no dishes; drinking unboiled river water that contains feces and parasites; and kids were wearing their only t-shirt with no underwear or pants for months at a time. We've provided clothing, got them enrolled in health care programs (including HIV treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings), created an artisan co-op that sells their baskets in the U.S., and facilitated the community to build their own bedframes so they're off the dirt, and to build drying racks for their pots they cook in so they don't dry on the ground. We just spent our last funds on Lifewater drinking water kits so they have clean water, and on mattresses with waterproof pads and sheets for each family. We need more help to keep going.
Help me raise the money to buy more mattresses, sheets, dishes and utensils, washing basins, "jerry cans" to keep clean water in from our Lifewater kits, and other basic items. But more importantly, our work - which I believe is inspired by the calling of Jesus Christ on my life and to serve here - is truly helping the community help themselves. Despite the community's reputation (and continued problems), they have come together to do these development projects. To get mattresses, they all had to improve their homes with "mud" as well as help at least one other family. They all helped build a new home for a single mom with HIV. They built a bridge across the River Munyaga so the kids wouldn't risk drowning. And they have put themselves into certain healthcare programs, but our work is far from finished. Some women here struggle with escaping prostitution, excess drinking, spousal abuse, child abuse, and daily struggles of life caring for children when there's not enough food to go around. Just out of the forest 2 decades ago, they are only newly learning agriculture.
The Karehe Batwa have become my family. Let's improve lives and spread God's love.
"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me." -Matthew 25:35-36