I’m just back from a really productive trip to Uganda with work. It was my first trip to Uganda but I would thoroughly recommend a trip there for anyone. What lovely gentle people they are – I’ve spent a fair bit of time in Kenya and find them to be gentler folk than Kenya. And funny. Very funny.
My trip was to evaluate projects funded by the British Government in Uganda that support both biodiversity conservation and poverty. I visited 3 projects, 2 of which were based around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park which is where the moutain gorillas are. Sadly my budget didn’t stretch to a gorilla walk but I did get to spend a bit of time in the forest.
In fact, while it is an objective of these projects is to support important biodiversity such as the gorillas, the subject matter of these projects is the human populations living just on the edge of this park. This is one of the densest populated areas of Uganda and there are a number of underlining issues including significant poverty, the incredibly steep hillsides on which they farm, and marginalised people like the Batwa who have suffered major hardship in the name of conservation.
The Batwa are also known as the pygmies and originate in DRC, Rwanda and Uganda. They are forest people who once spent their whole life in the forest only venturing out occasionally to trade for things they couldn’t get from the forest. Their whole lives were tied to the forest – the forest has a strong spiritual and cultural role in the lives of the Batwa.
All that changed in 1992 with the gazettement of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park when they were removed from the park. They weren’t compensated with any land and so were landless, had no form of livelihood, had no skills that were of value in this alien society and couldn’t practice their spiritual and cultural worship.
The good news is 2 of the projects i was evaluated are seeking to change this and help the Batwa become part of park management and once again get access to their forests. Its slow progress but they are definitely appreciative of the changes that are happening.
So aside from the forests these projects have been supporting the Batwa to learn skills that will improve their livelihoods such as farming and handicraft making.
Batiks – these aren’t Batwa but I bought them from a village perched right on the edge of Bwindi at 1500m up. It was a crazy £1.25 a metre. Considering i was on Petticoat Lane in London in December where this stuff sells for £25-75!
Sewing magazine. I won this in a fabby giveaway by Steely Seamstress. Thank you so much – i never win anything and this is particularly good since it came with a free pattern that includes a top, a dress, a kimono top, a pair of trousers. Fabby!