March 21, 2016

PROLASA Pygmy Project

PROLASA Development Department Launches a Project to Improve the Lives of the Indigenous People of the Island of Idjwi

The Pygmies (Batwa) are the original inhabitants of the island of Idjwi and indeed of the entire equatorial forest zone of Central Africa.  They are a hunter-gatherer people who have traditionally lived a nomadic life in the forests of the Democratic Republic of Congo and surrounding countries.  

The Pygmies have been treated as inferiors and even as non-humans by other people groups who have come in contact with them.  As late as the early 1900s, Pygmies were rounded up and sent to various zoos around the world where they were displayed in cages.  At the World's Fair in the United States in 1907 it is reported that there were Pygmy children on exhibit in a cage.  

There are about 500,000 Pygmies liviing in the equatorial forests of Central Africa.  There land is being used for various mining and commercial interest and they are slowly being chased out of the forests.  They are being threatened with extinction.  On the Island of Idjwi, there are between 1000 and 2000 Pygmies.  

Since the population of the island has increased from 50,000 people in 1986 to almost 300,000 in 2016, the entire island has been deforested.  Now these people have no place to call home and they have been forced to become squatters wherever they can put up their temporary homes.  They are often beaten and chased off the land where they have put up their homes, usually in the middle of the night.  They have no land on which to grow food and since there are no more forests, their ability to hunt and gather food is virtually gone.  They have no income, few possessions, no security, no opportunity to improve their lives.  Their children do not go to school because they have no money to pay for their school fees, buy uniforms and school supplies.  They have no health care because once again they cannot afford to pay for it.  

Their housing is simple and temporary.  It is usually built with bamboo and mud and the roof is made of leaves that they collect.  There are usually just two rooms in the houses -- one with a three-stone fire where they cook what little food they have and another small room where they sleep on the ground.  They do not have any blankets.  They put ferns on the ground and they cover themselves with their simple clothes.  

 

Pygmy Couple in front of their home on Idjwi Pygmy Couple in front of their home on Idjwi
Pygmy People of Idjwi Pygmy People of Idjwi

PROLASA Pygmy Project -- Phase I

The first phase of the PROLASA Pygmy Project is not complete.  We have created the Association of the Indigenous Peoples of Idjwi.  This non-profit organization will be the official organization for the Pygmy People.  We have received ministerial approval from all of the various ministries concerned and we have developed a constitution and bylaws which outline how this organization will function.

PROLASA Pygmy Project -- Phase II

The second phase of the PROLASA Pygmy Project is now underway.  We are collecting the necessary funds to buy three plots of land -- one in the northern part of Idjwi, one in the central part and a third plot in the southern part of Idjwi.  This land will belong to the Indigenous Peoples of Idjwi Association and it will allow these people to build better, more permanent homes without the fear of being chased away, beaten and marginalized.  We are looking at three plots of land and during the first two weeks of May, we will take photographs of these plots of land and post the asking price for this land.  We currently have $10,000 CAD raised towards a total cost of about $125,000 CAD.  As soon as we have raised the amount for the first plot, it will be purchased.  If anyone would like to donate to this project and help save the Pygmy Population of Idjwi, Canadian donations can be made to PROLASA Canada by cheque, PayPal, credit card or e-transfer.  A CRA receipt will be issued for these donations.  US donations can be made to International Children's Care -- www.forhiskids.org.  The donation should be marked as PROLASA Pygmy Project and an IRS receipt will be issued by ICC for these donations.  

PROLASA Pygmy Project -- Phase III

Once the three plots of land have been purchased, we will move on to Phase III.  This phase will be the construction of a Community Centre on each of the plots of land.  This community centre will serve as a school, a health centre, an adult literacy training centre and it will be the focal point of the Pygmy People in that area.  

Students from the University of Idjwi's Faculty of Engineering and Construction will work with the Pygmy People and help them construct homes that will be more solid and protect them from the elements.  Around each of these homes there will be the space to cultivate vegetables, plant fruit trees such as avocadoes, bananas, papayas, and grow a variety of vegetables.

PROLASA Pygmy Project -- Phase IV

Once the Community Centres are constructed, schools for the children will be opening in conjunction with the University Faculty of Education, health clinics will begin in conjunction with the Faculty of Public Health, Medicine and Nursing and these services will be provided to the Pygmy People.

PROLASA Pygmy Project -- Phase V

Phase V will include the development of trades, commercial activities such as:  brick making, fishing, agriculture, bee-keeping, animal husbandry etc.  These will give the Pygmy People an opportunity to generate income and in that way to better integrate into the local population.  These will be done in cooperation with the PROLASA Industrial Campus and the Faculty of Agronomy at the University.