We are extremely interested in helping the Batwa people, by empowering them with socio-economic activities to improve their livelihood and engage them actively in conservation efforts.

The Batwa are forest pygmies, and the original inhabitants of Bwindi Impenetrable forest and other rain forests. While their livelihood depended on the forest, they lived in relative balance with the forest and shared the forest with the wildlife for millenia. They would never kill an animal unnecessarily. If they wanted, they could have eradicated the mountain gorillas centuries ago, but fortunately they never did that, which we are grateful for.

In 1991, their homeland was designated as a protected area for endangered Mountain Gorillas. The Batwa people were evicted and have been forced to live the edge of society, marginalized, struggling to survive, to feed their children, and to maintain their culture. While funds from gorilla tourism help the community as a whole (such as hospitals, some schools), and some NGOs stepped in to help the Batwa specifically, there was not enough support to truly help them create a new sustainable way of life.

Even today, the indigenous Batwa are still a marginalized and undermined group at Bwindi. They are honestly proven as the most vulnerable and poorest members of the community, with in general no personal sources of income for survival . Many have not been able to get school education, and  therefore they struggle to find suitable jobs. Their physical appearance is also a hinderance to them as well; short height, small in size and most of them not muscular, they can’t compete against the taller regular people for jobs that require hard physical labor.

Survival has been often from entertainment for visitors but this is not as reliable as before COVID; in addition, many organizations that set up Batwa experiences for tourists pocket themselves most of the funds that the tourists pay to do such tours with little going to the Batwa people who provide entertainment. Even if at the end of the visit a tip is given to the tour organizer, often little of it is given to the Batwa. The only reason the Batwa often still perform is because financially,  “something is better than nothing”.

Besides fake organizations, there are a few reliable grassroots organizations that work with the Batwa people, by giving them a sustainable livelihood that also leads to conservation of nature and wildlife. This includes vocational training and agriculture.  and programs to get them more involved with the tourism activities. But these organizations struggle to find funds to run the programs. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we collaborate with such partner organizations and local leaders and provide a way for donors to support these activities. Here are some of the ways you can help:

  • Support the education of Batwa children via our  Batwa Education program.
  • Support our Batwa farming project at Matanda (near Kihihi), where we purchased a 10-acre land to train and empower the Batwa people, with proceeds directly benefiting the Batwa communities. This program is overseen by Robert Tweheyo and Bwindi Batwa Farms.
  • Support housing for Batwa who live further away from the park via our Batwa Housing program (webpage under construction) and make a donation towards that program via our donation webpage.

We will continue to post updates here.

Visit of parents to the school
Batwa farming project

Below is a recent news story by PBS that highlights the situation of the Batwa people in a different area than where we operate, but that gives a good general understanding of their dire situation:

An old Batwa story, that was told to us by one of the Batwa elders, Geoffrey Bukyebe. As Batwa did not have a written language, stories were passed verbally to the next generation.

A man, Kihanga * some pronounce the name as *(Gahanga/Ruhanga) had three sons named Katutsi, Kahutu and Katwa also pronounced as (Gatutsi, Gahutu and Gatwa) One day he called his three sons and gave each of them a gourd full of milk. On the next day, in the early morning, he asked them to give him back the gourds for him to place inside a shrine. Katutsi brought back his gourd and it was still full of milk; Kahutu’s receptacle was only half full while Katwa’s container was completely empty. He had drunk all the milk in the night. Their father then blessed each of his three sons based on how responsible they had been with the gourds of milk. Katutsi was blessed with all his father’s cows which would help him and his children to prosper for generations. Kahutu was blessed with a hoe and seeds which would help him to grow food in his lifetime and for generations to come after him. Katwa was given the forest and all that was in it; he was to survive by hunting and gathering.

Many generations passed and their descendants multiplied. The descendants of Katutsi and Kahutu became so many that they could no longer be satisfied with what they had and ended up encroaching on Katwa’s forest. In the end, they chased Katwa’s descendants from the forest and made them live as beggars and landless people.

“The fate of Katwa’s descendants (the present indigenous Batwa here) in the legend mirrors their situation in real life.”

In 1991, the Batwa in Uganda were evicted from the forests they had lived on since time immemorial.  As a result, most were left landless and impoverished and, to survive, resorted to begging and life as labourers on other people’s land.

All pictures in this album below are credited to Ian Markham (follow him on instagram at @ianwildhope, or @wildhopecollective). They were taken on his recent visit to this program in September 2021. Click on a picture to see a larger version.

Below are pictures provided by Mushamba and other partners; Click on each picture to see an enlarged version.