By Annah Nafula
At the outskirts of Bwindi Impenetrable forest is a struggling ethnic group; the Batwa, Primitive, yet very sociable people, the Batwa are a only a small tribe of approximately 600 people with about 80 living in Ruhinja, Kanungu district .
Learning to cope with the outside world has not come easy for this group as their previous lifestyle was heavily dependent on the forest. It is upon this background that Tinah Katushabe , project manager of Change A Life Bwindi has worked with a Community Conservation Partners (CCP) to rescue this small community.
Katushabe says the Batwa people are very loving and hospitable; the only challenge is communities around still isolate them. The people in surrounding communities especially the Bakiga still look down on the Batwa because they have no assets like land and still have an a primitive lifestyle.
Surviving in the wild was easier for this group because everything was available in the forest without money. Today, the Batwa have to survive in a world where money is a basic. As such, they have had to trade labor on the farms of the Bakiga to survive. Most Batwa men work on tea plantations and plough farms to earn a living on farms largely owned by the Bakiga. The money they earn from these farms is basically for food.
Katushabe says since the men would offer labor for survival, the women had get something to do. That is how she introduced them to basket weaving. The baskets are symbolic of the environment in which the Batwa live. One type of baskets shows patterns of terraces which defines their agricultural style, while the other baskets signify the Kigezi hills.
Katushabe says this venture is manageable as all the raw materials are in their vicinity, cheap and accessible. The finished baskets are taken to the Change A Life shop and other lodges around the area so that they can be sold to majorly tourists. The women are paid per basket handed in.
Katushabe however said that inclusion of men these projects have been difficult. Pointing at a failed Mushroom house, she narrates that it was hard to work with the men since they didn’t give as much attention to the like the women did to the baskets.
The basket weaving and tailoring projects have saved teenage girls from early marriage and teenage pregnancies as they spend much of their time working. The tailoring project dubbed” my hands my future”, is also helping especially the Bakiga communities around Bwindi to take care of their families. Change A life Bwindi has also benefitted Bakiga women around the Bwindi area.
Katushabe says that money collected from the basket and clothes sale which is about UGX One million five hundred thousand a month is used to pay the women but also run the organization. She states that CCP majorly pays trainers and a few employees. “It would be much better if other organizations join the cause to improve the lifestyles of these people.” Katushabe adds.
NOTE: All photos are taken by Lovati Emmanuel Mugabi