The Batwa people were traditionally hunter-gatherers. In Eastern Congo, they lived off what the forest provided, until prolonged warfare and the creation of national parks ended their way of life. Neglected by the government, shunned by other ethnic groups, the Batwa live on the margins of Congolese society. They have no knowledge of agriculture or animal husbandry. They have never participated in a cash economy. They live in temporary villages in constant fear of being driven out by real estate developers or the government. They build their houses out of sticks and leaves and die of things like too much rain. There are about 3,000 living in the area around Goma. They want dignity, they want a way to live as others live, but how? No one can simply give that to them.
In August, I met an American girl in Kigali with a friend named Morgan, a student at the Université de Goma. On a whim, I went to eastern Congo, ostensibly to climb a volcano and see some gorillas, all because Morgan knew a guy who knew a guy who could get me a good rate. Morgan also happened to be one of the most extraordinary individuals I've ever met--a law student, an eldest son, the founder of his own NGO, and a good guy to have around the next time Mt. Nyiragongo erupts--and so on a second whim, I made a promise I intend to keep to Morgan and 3,000+ people. Needless to say, I never did get to see the gorillas.
In a series of posts, learn about the Batwa, the support Morgan's NGO needs to help them, and how I hope to mobilize that support while avoiding all those pitfalls of aid I love to critique, but to which I can offer no easy solutions.