May 04, 2005

Batwa: First Ever School Built for the Pygmies

On 7 April 2005, buoyant Batwa children, their parents and residents witnessed the official launch of the first ever school built for the pygmies
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By Raphael Okello

Originally, the Batwa pygmies migrants from Congo's Ituri forest were bushmen whose lives depended chiefly on hunting and gathering in Semliki forest. Living in modern shelters was an unwelcome fairy tale and education was unknown to them.

They were uncivilised, hostile and lived within the wide root divisions of huge trees. They resisted contact with the outside world when Yonasani Wabumundo, a Seventh Day Adventist Pastor, stumbled onto them in the 1970s.

After years of persuasion, they moved closer to civilised societies. The breakthrough came in 1992 when Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) in collaboration with Bundibugyo Local government successfully struggled to resettle them out of Semliki forest, which was to be gazetted as a national park.

Part of the resettlement programme was to encourage the Batwa children attain basic education. Consequently, ADRA laid a foundation for the school.

However, in 1995 construction stalled at window level when there was a change in the ADRA-Uganda leadership. The project suffered inadequate funding.

"Pastor Thu Pederson, who was directly involved in resettling the pygmies during his four-year stay in Bundibugyo, returned to Australia. Barry Chapman, then ADRA country Director also left and as a result, interest in the project died," Ben Kibbimbo, head of construction ADRA-Uganda, said.

But Pederson's revisit to Bundibugyo in 1999 renewed hope of the pygmies, whose affinity to acquire basic education had been awakened by the prospect of having their own school.

Construction resumed. Another block of two classes and an office was added to the originally incomplete three-classroom block.

So, on April 7, 2005, buoyant Batwa children, their parents and residents gathered at Ntandi SDA Integrated Primary School in Bundibugyo to witness a landmark event-the official launch of the first ever school built for the pygmies.

Christian Rassmussen, ADRA country representative, handed over the school to the pygmies through ADRA's Education Director South Western Uganda, Pastor Ezekiel Mutwanga.

"It is a joy to be here and see this building complete. I just hope that the building will be full of students," Rassmussen said.

Geoffrey Nzitto, the current chief of the Batwa, echoed their desire to acquire the tool that will help them survive in a modern society.

"I want to thank you because you have constructed a school for us. We are happy because our children are going to acquire knowledge to help them live in a civilised society," said Nzitto in Kusua through an interpreter.

Bundibugyo's inspector of schools, Peter Bamwitirebye, spoke in high praise of the sh58m school and promised that the local government will help maintain the school's standard.

"Constructing a school like this one is the undertaking of Bundibugyo and the Government. We shall always be there to give necessary support. The most important thing is that you should provide the necessary data to make it possible for us to help."

The two-block school has five classrooms, two office rooms, two pit latrines, one staff house and over 80 teachers and pupils' furniture with five teaching staff. Pedersen is to cover the salaries of the headteacher and one of the four teachers.

Unfortunately, since this is the only school in the area, it has attracted an overwhelming number of children from the local community.

Out of 210 pupils, 22 are Batwa pygmies. The Batwa receive free scholastic materials from UPHOLD, an international Non Governmental Organisation.

Edireda Dingola, secretary for the pygmy women, requested ADRA to construct for them permanent houses near the school since their mud and wattle houses are located about three kilometres away and during rainy seasons their children's books get wet.

Although the future looks rosy for the Batwa, Ntandi Primary School needs at least four more classrooms and staff quarters. The highest level of class is still Primary Four.

Source: AllAfrica