The Basua Pygmies
For those of you unaware, pygmies are essentially an ancient and traditional tribe of people who are, as the name suggests very small in stature. This tribe of small hunter gatherers tend to be no taller than 150cm.
The pygmy story is a sad one at that. This proud and traditional group of Ugandans, wish to be just that, proud and traditional. However due to political reasons they were evicted from their forest where they lived in their traditional huts, hunted for their meals, and lived peacefully among themselves. An NFP managed to acquire some land in their name, build some basic but culturally insensitive structures, and exploit the remainder of their assigned donation money into their own back pockets.
This community has been abandoned by their government, exploited by their ‘rescuers’ and victim to all forms of abuse living on the fringe of the village slum they currently now reside in. In 2012, Jo and family originally went to see the pygmy tribe as some tourists often do. Upon approaching the community, our jaws slowly began to drop. Not because of the size of these little people, but at the conditions they were living in, and the condition of their health and wellbeing. We were shocked. Greeting the King, a very humble and wise man, it was saddening to see this man in rags. The heartbreak he was experiencing at the current state of his community was infectious. The understanding upon entering this community was that the pygmies would perform a song and dance for us and we would compensate their efforts and purchase some of their artefacts. Upon hearing of their experience, let downs and living conditions we asked them not to perform for us, they weren’t a side show, they are people.
The pygmy project is a conundrum to say the least. We are trying to balance traditional values and practices with modern wishes and standards of living. We are also dealing with a community that has learnt to trust nobody outside their own community. It is only within recent trips that Jo has finally gained their respect and their trust. The King is working with Jo. We are listening to their needs, not telling them what their needs are. Slowly but surely, their lives are beginning to improve.
Read more….an article from 2012 – The Basua are Close to Extinction
Sponsorship of Education
As usual, it starts with education. It is important to highlight that we did not tell these people they need education. They had been peacefully living their traditional lifestyle without the need or desire for education in the form that we know it. But the forward thinking King identified their inability to return to the forest, and the necessity to have the knowledge and skills in line with the rest of Uganda.
So we start with the kids. We sponsor 24 Pygmy children in primary school and to avoid tension with the neighbouring community, we also sponsor 24 of the local village kids at the same school. This is a start. A chance. We don’t know where it will lead, but the King is very grateful and no longer sees us as curious white people, as now he knows that we are serious in our attempts to help.
We generally shy away from major building works, but if you saw first hand, how these proud people are now living, well maybe you would change your mind as well.
This is where it gets depressing and confronting. On her last visit to Uganda, accompanied by her daughter Vanessa, the two met with King Nzito and his community. Sitting among them as friends we asked them what their primary need was. Rather than listing the usuals such as food, more rooms, toilets, etc., they very quietly asked for a fence. A fence? Of all things, why do they need a fence… we weren’t prepared for their answer. “Because our women are being raped every Thursday and Saturday.” Naturally we were shocked. Not only by the nature of the problem, but also that the men knew, down to the exact day, when their women would be raped.
As it stands, there is an extraordinarily unfortunate belief that having sex with a pygmy woman will cure back ache and worst of all HIV/AIDS. The pygmy men being no taller than 150cm can obviously do minimal to stop this happening, therefore a fence will clearly assist in keeping out unwelcome intruders.
Regardless of the reason for building the fence, our general principal still stands. If we pay for it, you build it. Never has this been more important for a community to do than in the Pygmy community. Not only has this helped the men feel as though they are finally able to protect their women, but it has also given the King a chance to problem solve for his people. Needless to say we organised the materials for the fence ASAP after leaving the community. The day we got an email from Lic our Pygmy project manager, Vanessa was coincidentally in the office with Jo. The two of them were beaming with pride from the photos that were sent through. The sense of purpose, commitment and pride in the community was evident. And like any good leader, King Nzito was right in there helping his community move these big logs between them.
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