“Reaching the Batwa (pygmy) for Christ in the Great Lakes region of Africa is deep on my heart, writes Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of Global Mission and Service. “The formerly forest-dwelling hunter-gatherers suffer profound discrimination, marginalization and violence and because of the depletion of their historic forests and access restrictions by government, the Batwa are being forced to acculturate to the modern, agrarian world–it is not going well.”
Working through a nascent Brethren church in the region, the Church of the Brethren sponsored a capacity-building conference to bring Batwa together from Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The following is excerpted from a report by Dr. David Niyonzima, detailing the conference and some of the learnings gained from the interaction:
Report of the Capacity Building Conference of the Twa of the Great Lakes Region of Africa
The Twa of Rwanda, Congo and Burundi, being the most affected of all other communities, are still marginalized, discriminated, and locked into a poverty that needs serous initiatives from both themselves and the concerned supporters.
It is with this concern that the representatives of the Brethren of Rwanda, the Shalom Ministries of Congo, and the Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Services in Burundi joined efforts to facilitate a capacity building and an exchange of experience among the Twa of the Great Lakes Region of Africa, that was held in Burundi on Aug. 15-19, at the THARS Center at Gitega, with the support of the Church of the Brethren.
Seeing that the objective was to build the capacity of participants through an exchange of experience, the conference was facilitated with a participatory approach. There was a session that was organized in a “get to know each other” format where each country shared their way of life with questions and answers.
This was so interesting. For example we heard the Burundi Twa asking the Twa from Congo if truly they ate other human beings as rumors had spread. The answer was, “No, we do not eat our fellow human beings.” The Twa from Congo were shocked to learn that some of the Twa in Rwanda and in Burundi were out on the streets begging, instead of getting into the forest to hunt animals for food and for sale. The Twa of Rwanda were impressed to learn that the Twa of Burundi were going to church and they said they were going to try it as well. Twa of Congo and Burundi, empathized with the Twa of Rwanda when they heard that the government had put a law prohibiting them to go into the forest to get honey to sell.
The learning from each other and practical exchange of experience was prioritized through group sharing and group presentation, questions and answers after brief presentations by the facilitators, as well as an exposure visit at Taba, one of the Twa communities in the Gitega province.
Participants were put in groups to discuss fully on the topics on their own and express themselves in an effort to establish an ownership of the issues being raised during the presentation. Those who were not able to speak found opportunities to do so, with the support of the group members. Groups were mixed ethnically and internationally for discussion on presented topics:
1. Improving the Twa’s wellbeing, facilitated by Ron Lubungo.
2. Counteracting the Twa’s discrimination, facilitated by David Niyonzima.
3. Increasing the Twa’s self-esteem, facilitated by Etienne Nsanzimana.
4. Overcoming the Twa’s economic indigence which was facilitated by Nelson Alaki, from Congo since Joseph Kalegamire (Congo World Relief) was not able to attend the conference due to other commitments.
The climax of the conference was time when the participants were boarded in minibuses to go to Taba to visit a Twa Community. Upon arrival in the village, the hosts broke into dancing and singing, welcoming the visitors with whom they knew they had a lot in common. The hosts proceeded to show the visitors where they lived, taking them right inside their houses. The language barrier particularly for Congo Twas and Burundi Twas did not seem to be a handicap for understanding each other’s living conditions. According to the participants’ report, the Twa from Congo and Rwanda were shocked to realize the dire poverty of the Taba Twa.
Recommendations: The last day was concentrated on proposing some recommendations, which were worked out in groups. Some of the main points, voiced with hope that their cry would reach the supporters, were the following (we have translated the statements in the Twa’s own wording):
1. Please help us so that this conference may be organized in Congo and in Rwanda for more capacity building.
2. We need schools in our Twa villages and parents must get sensitized to send children to school.
3. We Twa communities should develop our own self-esteem before seeking it from others.
4. We Twa communities must break the habit of begging on the streets and develop a working mentality on income-generating activities.
5. We agreed that we are lazy but this mindset should change because we are as capable as other ethnic communities, except that our governments have discriminated us for so long.
6. We need help for more advocacy and lobbying for our economic and social situation to improve
With all gender and ethnic groups represented, there was a total of 39 participants including 25 Twa, 4 Hutu, 4 Tutsi, 3 facilitators who were at the same time representatives of the three sponsoring organizations, 1 expert in community development from Congo, and 2 THARS staff for logistics, beside the kitchen staff.
We wholeheartedly thank the Church of the Brethren for supporting this important conference.
— This report was provided to Newsline by Jay Wittmeyer, executive director of the Church of the Brethren Global Mission and Service. For more information about the ministries of Global Mission and Service, go to www.brethren.org/global .