Isaiah 58:10 - " … if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday."
Officially the Republic of Rwanda, by African standards Rwanda is a very small country. However, with a population of over 11 million people, Rwanda has one of the highest population densities in Africa. Located in east-central Africa, Rwanda is bordered by Uganda to the north, Congo to the west, Burundi to the south, and Tanzania to the east. It is not rich in minerals, so the economy is mostly based on subsistence agriculture.
Unfortunately most people know of Rwanda as a result of the genocide that occurred there in 1994. During a 100-day period in 1994, estimates as high as 1 million Tutsi and moderate Hutu were murdered. The genocide was ended by the victory of the Tutsi-led army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), led by Paul Kagame.
When the war ended, approximately 2 million Hutu fled the country, fearing retribution for their actions. Since the genocide ended, Paul Kagame has heavily influenced government policy. He assumed the office of President in 2000, and was twice since elected as President. Instead of seeking revenge, he pursued an aggressive policy of reconciliation and healing. Under his leadership, the country has prospered, and the resulting security has led to an increase in tourism, now the leading foreign exchange earner. Most of the Hutu exiles were eventually repatriated back to Rwanda.
To avoid future ethnic flare-ups, President Kagame made it illegal to identify anyone by their ethnic origin. There are no ethnic groups or tribes … only Rwandans. He also cracked down on corruption, which was rampant prior to the genocide. Rwanda now has some of the lowest corruption ratings in Africa.
Though the electrical and transportation infrastructure still lags that of more developed countries, Rwanda has a business-friendly climate and is making aggressive efforts to attract new businesses. Only lingering violence near the western border with the Congo threatens Rwandan security. This violence is less ethnically motivated, and is more due to the fact that the eastern Congo is rich in minerals.
Largely forgotten, and unknown to much of the world, are the Batwa (the plural name, Twa is singular). The Batwa of Rwanda are pygmies, and are part of a larger group known as the Great Lakes Twa, who once ranged over a large part of central Africa. Generally thought to be the original inhabitants of Rwanda, the Batwa now represent a minority of less than 0.5%. In the days when the country was ruled by Tutsi kings, Batwa were favored and were often present in the royal courts.
Traditionally the Batwa were hunter gatherers in the forested mountains. They traded meat and fruit from the forests for other food grown by the farmers, and other items they needed. They claimed no land as their own, and moved their villages from place to place, as dictated by the conditions and their needs, much like the Native American Indians. Because of this, they had no legal claim to territory as other ethnic groups gradually cut down the forests and converted the land to agricultural use. During the 1980's and 1990's, due to the publicity given to the mountain gorillas, most mountainous areas became protected gorilla reserves, and the Batwa were forced to leave the forests.
From Land Rights and the Forest Peoples of Africa, published in 2009:
So with the land deforested in favor of agriculture, and the remaining forests off-limits to the Batwa, most families were relocated to small villages scattered around the country. Those with land had no training or experience in growing crops. Many families took up pottery making, an ancestral tradition of the Batwa. However, when industrialized pottery became cheaply available, the prices they could realize for their pottery were much reduced.
Then came the genocide. Perhaps because of their previous association with the Tutsi monarchs, but more than likely just because they were caught up in the bloodbath, it is estimated that 30% of the Batwa were killed during the genocide. However, the Batwa are rarely mentioned in discussions of the genocide, nor are they included in reconciliation discussions.
Due to their pygmy ancestry, the Batwa continue to suffer ethnic prejudice, discrimination, violence, and general exclusion from society. They are facing a cultural collapse, as men can no longer carry out their traditional role as family providers. Progress in the rest of the country has not benefited the Batwa. On the contrary, they have suffered many unintended consequences of otherwise progressive policies.
Overall, the Batwa, with a population in Rwanda now estimated at 25,000-30,000, form an isolated and marginalized group in Rwandan society and often face discrimination. They have little access to representation in government, they are marginalized in education and health care, and are discriminated against in the job market.
As is evident in this 2011 UNPO Study, and in this earlier 2007 Utrecht University study, in a country where nearly 45% of the population still lives in poverty, the Batwa are clearly the neediest of the needy, as evident in the following statistics:
The Batwa people themselves are not asking for special treatment. They desire just to be considered Rwandans, as government policy promotes for all ethnic groups in Rwanda, with the same rights and priviledges as everyone else. When considered as a group, most prefer to be called "potters", which is a trade they have traditionally been involved with, and most villages actively practice at present. This is also the politically correct term used by the government, when there is a need to refer to the Batwa as a group.
Today the Batwa people are scattered around the country in small villages. Some of these are located near areas frequented by visitors. A few, very few, of these villages have attracted the attention of humanitarian organizations, both Christian and secular, and have received some help. By providing support to these organizations, which have developed good relations with the local governments and have trusted staff in Rwanda, we can most effectively make a difference.
Transforming the lives of the Batwa people cannot be done quickly. It requires organization, education, and training. But when the Batwa are given a hand up, their natural enthusiasm, optimism, and energy is restored. They are a resilient people, and soon begin taking responsibility for their own lives. The goal of all these programs is to restore self-sustainability, and to allow the Batwa an opportunity for a brighter future.
In searching for organizations to support, I established 5 criteria:
Via my research to-date, I have identified only two organizations that meet these criteria: Rwanda Sustainable Families and howFar Foundation, partnering with Crimson Foundation.
On the north shore of Lake Kivu, lies the city of Gisenyi, the largest city within the Rubavu District. Gisenyi borders the D.R. Congo city of Goma to its west. Fighting and disputes have been ongoing for many years in the eastern Congo , and have resulted in some border unrest in the Gisenyi area in 2013 which has somewhat restricted travel to the area recently.
East of Gisenyi, beyond the hill, is Rugerero village, built by the government for genocide survivors. The needs of the families in Rugerero have drawn the attention of many humanitarian NGOs over the years. On such a trip with Arts in Medicine (AIM) in 2010, Nancy Lasseter met a young Rwandan boy by the name of Uwacu, who captured her heart. Her quest to help Uwacu led to the creation of Rwanda Sustainable Families, which was finally granted 501(c)(3) status in 2013.
The heart of the work of RSF when they first started was to provide micro-loans to needy families so they could start small businesses, such as raising rabbits, chickens, or goats, and growing and selling produce. Dozens of heads-of-households have started small businesses with these loans. As the loans were paid back, the funds were used to make additional loans. RSF's goal was that families would become self sustaining, and the micro-loan program itself would eventually become self-sustaining.
RSF also started two artisan co-ops, Komera and Umugisha, where women members could sew and craft articles for sale.
AIM for Africa also had worked in the nearby Batwa village of Nyantomvu. Along with a team of nurses, they offered wound care to the children suffering from leg and foot infections from waterborne disease. The team interviewed each family and recorded basic health, education and living conditions of each. The results of this survey were shocking. Few in this group lived past the age of 40.
Struck by the many health issues related to lack of clean water, in 2012 RSF undertook and executed a plan to help the Batwa of Nyantomvu. Working through Jessica McElroy, a U of Florida student and RSF staff member, via a grant from Davis Projects for Peace a highly successful project provided the village with cisterns for capturing rain water, and with clay Batwa-made bio-sand filters for the individual homes. Every Batwa villager now has access to clean water.
Their work with the Batwa of Nyantomvu revealed that decades of neglect and discrimination had left the them in such a depressed state that it was unlikely the model of awarding loans to families to start sustainable businesses would succeed without first dealing with educational and social issues.
Upon the recommendation of their Program Manager in Rwanda, Felix Rudasingwa, in May 2013, RSF opened a preschool in Nyantomvu in a building offered to them for this use by the local government. This preschool was named Mucyo (meaning "light"), and in 2013 Mucyo was attended by 28 Batwa children and 39 other children from the neighboring community. RSF hired two teachers, so there were 30+ children in each class. Attendence at Mucyo is free. All costs, including providing shoes and uniforms to all students, are covered by the school via donations from supporters. Early on it was evident that many of the children were listless and couldn't concentrate learning because they were hungry and malnourished. Therefore it was decided to provide a meal before school starts each day. As chronic hunger was also pervasive among the other children of Nyantomvu, a meal is now also provided to primary school children from Nyantomvu before they head off to school each day. The staff consisted of the two teachers, a cook, a security guard, and a part-time custodian. The cook, guard, and custodian are all Batwa from Nyantomvu.
Mucyo serves many purposes:
RSF has made much progress since its founding. The micro-loan program has been a success, and as of 2015 is now self-funded, and is administered by Rwandans. RSF continues to advise, and participates in meetings and training. One objective of this training and consulting is to advise the men in the families as to how they can participate and support the family businesses.
In 2015, the artisan co-ops merged into just one (Komera). They are self-sufficient except for a few business training workshops that RSF has sponsored. RSF's goals for both the loan program and artisan co-ops have been met in that they are considered self-sustaining at this point.
Mucyo pre-school is now the focus of RSF. Each year roughly 90 children attend the school, with approximately the same number of students of each age, from 4 to 6, in each classroom. They consist of both Twa and and non-Twa village children. There are 3 teachers, a full time security guard, a cook and a cleaner. The children are fed one meal a day, plus RFS still feeds and provide uniforms for a several primary school children as well. (For many this may be the only meal they eat most days!) This year RSF started a "Hen Program" that was proposed by Bridgette, their head teacher. Two hen houses were built on the school grounds and 9 hens were purchased. Most of the eggs are added to the food for the students. Some are allowed to hatch, with the goal of giving three chicks to each graduate to help the families finance their primary school uniforms and other primary school costs. The plan is that this goal will be met by the 2017 school year.
In addition, RSF built two large "kitchen gardens" on the school grounds. These were built using materials which were readily available locally. The garden resembles a tiered wedding cake with largest layers on the bottom, and the smallest layers on the top. Refuse/compost is placed inside the middle to create the nutrients needed for the garden. They have been growing carrots and tomatoes with great success. RSF also has financed three such gardens ($45 each) for women in their loan program, which were constructed at their homes.
If and when funding is available, RSF also plans to start an adult education class, whereby those adults from Nyantomvu deemed most likely to benefit from it will be taught reading, writing, and math, as a prerequisite to taking the training required to help them succeed in running RSF-sponsored small businesses.
The howFar Foundation is a 501(c)(3) faith-based public charity and international humanitarian aid agency founded in 2005 by Mark & Renee Maynard. Its mission is to combat starvation, malnutrition, illiteracy, poverty, and disease in underprivileged and in-crisis communities, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa. The foundation partners with howFar Ministries to share the gospel message in the least-reached places of the world.
howFar has built over a dozen churches in Kenya, the Congo (DRC), Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi, and in many of these sites has also done pastoral training, executed clean water projects, established orphanages, and/or established medical clinics. With a special commitment to helping the Batwa people, four of the communities in which howFar is working are Batwa villages.
Working hand in hand with howFar is Crimson Foundation, founded by Phillip Haynes in 2008. The mission of the Crimson Foundation is "to inspire, uplift and educate the youth around the world". The first project undertaken was to build the Crimson Academy primary school in Kagina, Rwanda, in one of the Batwa communities in which howFar was working. Opened in 2011 with classrooms for only grades P1-P3, an additional classroom was added to Crimson Academy each year until, in 2013, the first class graduated from P6, the final year of primary school in Rwanda.
Roughly half the children attending Crimson Academy are Batwa, the others coming from neighboring communities. The school is educating over 150 Batwa children in the six primary grades. For the Batwa, this is a monumental moment. Very few children from their entire village of over 1500 ever attended primary school prior to Crimson Academy, and there are only two known Batwa from this region who made it into secondary school. Crimson Academy is the highest rated school in the area, noted for having the best teachers, and for teaching English starting in P1. Crimson Foundation is gradually moving towards having the parents of the community cover the school operating expenses, though assistance is given to the most needy, including most of the Batwa families.
Partnerships formed with various schools and other organizations in the U.S. have greatly contributed to the success of the school. Partners include:
Crimson Academy is giving consideration to opening a Secondary School on the existing campus. This has already been approved by the government of the Kamonyi District. Thought is also being given as to how best to introduce a micro-enterprise loan program for the community, allowing families to start small businesses, so they will be better able to provide for their families.
Crimson Foundation has already started their next project, and has recently opened another Crimson Academy in Mnynigwa, Tanzania.
There are many ways whereby you can get involved to help the Batwa:
If you would like to get involved, even if you can't contribute anything right away, let me know! We'll form a loose association of Batwa supporters, and I'll keep you abreast of progress and future opportunities.
The main need associated with the Batwa village of Nyantomvu is to fund Mucyo for the upcoming 2016 school year. As the word has spread that Mucyo offers kids a valuable opportunity to get a head start on learning, the attendence at Mucyo has increased to 90 students, from 67 when it started. To handle the increase, another teacher was added. In 2014 the school was moved to a larger building. As it happened the local government needed the original building, which had been offered rent free, but it would have been hard accommodating the additional students in any case. The rent for the new building is $77 per month.
Start up for the year involves purchase of school uniforms, shoes, and supplies for the new students, at a cost of roughly $25 per student. Combined with teaching aids and supplies, the startup cost for the school year, which starts in January, totals about $2,900.
Operating costs are about $30 per day, or $200 per week.
To make a donation to RSF, you have two options:
There is an immediate need to find sponsors for the 2014 graduates from Crimson Academy, so they can continue their education at a good secondary school. These are boarding schools. With incidental expenses, the cost for a student to attend is $110 per term (3-months). There are 3 terms per school year, so the cost of supporting a student in secondary school for a full school year is $330.
The Rwandan secondary school system is divided into two levels: Ordinary Level (O Level), and Advanced Level (A Level), each level consisting of three years. As in Western school systems, the grade levels are numbered; in Rwanda the grades in secondary school go from Senior 1 (S1) to Senior 6 (S6). Acceptance into Advanced Level is quite competitive, and only the best students are admitted. Therefore it is important that students attend a very good school for their Ordinary Level years. All but one of the 2013 graduates were accepted for admittance into the E.S. Marie Adelaide secondary school, and the remaining student into Mater Dai. Both are excellant schools, both boarding schools. All the 15 2013 graduates were sponsored and ranked in the top 50% of their respective classes in their first term of secondary school, and 5 of them ranked #1-#3 in their classes.
Unfortunately there were no Batwa graduates in 2013, however, there are many graduating in 2014. It is very important that Batwa graduates attract the financial support needed for them to continue their education, so that younger students will have confidence that it really is possible for them to do so also!
With great difficulty, the 2014 graduates were ranked in order below, taking into account both academic performance and the family's need and financial situation. You'll see children much older than what would normally be the case for a P6 graduate. That is because when Crimson Academy first started, many families took the opportunity to enroll older children who hadn't completed school, and they even pulled children out of lower ranked secondary schools, hoping they would thrive in the supportive educational environment of Crimson Academy and be able to qualify for better secondary schools. The oldest graduate in 2013 was 23 years of age! Though the students are ranked, please keep in mind that even the children with the bottom rankings are very deserving, and their families will likely not be able to afford to send them to a good secondary school without your support!
To sponsor one of these children, go to the Crimson Academy donation page and either send a check to the address shown, or click on the "Donate" button, where you will be able to donate via PayPal or one of several credit cards. To be safe, the donations should be sent by the 1st of the month in January, April, and July. Make sure you indicate that the funds are to be used exclusively to cover the school costs of your sponsored child.
As sponsors are being sought by several people, by several means, please note your first, second, and third choice of children, in case others have already committed to sponsor your first choice(s). This website will be kept up to date, and sponsor names will be shown unless the sponsor prefers to remain anonymous.
Please notify me that you have committed to sponsor a child, so I can update this webpage accordingly. Thanks ... and thanks for your heart to help these children!
Though not all 2014 graduates were sponsored and were able to continue their education, more than half of the 2014 graduates were sponsored, and most of the 2013 graduates were sponsored again for the 2015 school year.
One further note, Henry Ngolobe, the Head Master of Crimson Academy, has been working very hard helping with pictures and getting the biographical information regarding all the graduates and their families. He is seeking financial help so his wife can continue with her nursing/midwife education. He is paid the going rate for his position at Crimson Academy, but it isn't enough to cover his cost of living, plus the $300 per term cost of her schooling, her rent while she is away at school, child care expenses for their 3 children while she is in class, along with all the other normal basic family needs. If you would like to consider helping Henry and Jesca, please contact me, and I'll put you in touch with him. Thanks for giving this consideration.
The map below shows Batwa villages. It is many years old, and doesn't provide village names or exact locations. And I know it isn't comprehensive. However, there are about 60 villages shown, just in Rwanda. In addition to Nyantomvu and Kagina, I know of one other village, Bwiza, which has been receiving considerable help (probably because it is only a stone's throw from the capital city of Kigali, and it was an embarrassment to the government). In all my surfing, I've run across anecdotal mention of other efforts to help the Batwa here and there, but clearly there are many, many villages which have received no attention at all!