Batwa: NGO Undertakes Project to Improve Batwa's Socio-Cultural Image
Italian NGO Cooperazione Internationale (COOPI) has embarked on a project to improve the socio-cultural image of a group of the minority Batwa people in the Central African Republic (CAR), an official told IRIN.
The coordinator of the project, Ilaria Firmian, said on Friday that the EU-funded project was aimed at reinforcing activities to fight discrimination of the Aka - a sub-group of the Batwa community, commonly referred to as "Pygmies" - in the southwestern province of Lobaye.
The Batwa are indigenous hunters-gatherers who mainly inhabit the tropical rain forests of the CAR, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi and Rwanda as well as other central African countries.
"The project has four objectives: to raise awareness and to promote human rights of the Aka; to create a monitoring system of discrimination; to favour participation of Pygmies in public life; and, to promote and spread respect of cultural, linguistic and religious identity of the Pygmies" Firmian said.
She said the project was approved in January and that COOPI was working in partnership with the diocese of Maki, 107 km from the capital, Bangui, and the country's human rights body, the Observatoire Centrafricain des Droits de l'Homme.
COOPI has been operating in Lobaye since 1998 and chose to work for the Aka because they are "highly marginalized" by the other ethnic groups, Firmian added.
"According to a census by COOPI in 1998, the Aka Pygmies are about 16,000," Chiara Caccia, a COOPI official working as a librarian for the project, said.
Firmian said, "They [the Aka] are too dependent on other villagers for whom they work yet they are not paid accordingly."
She added that the project was also aimed at improving living conditions by creating an environment "more respectful" towards the Batwa.
"Within the next three years, we'll conduct awareness raising and training activities throughout the prefecture of Lobaye," Firmian said. "The sensitisation will be done through schools in Lobaye and in Bangui, the capital."
She urged government authorities to facilitate the Batwa's access to public services by issuing birth certificates and registering them in municipal registers to enable them access the judicial system and to send their children to school.
Firmian said COOPI was working through 26 local presenters in order to overcome the language barrier between its officials and the Aka.
Firmian and Caccia called for the creation of a documentation centre that would serve as an intercultural exchange platform to which CAR nationals and expatriates would contribute, and benefit from the activities of the centre and at the same improve the image of the Batwa.