The Batwa communities of the Great Lakes Region are mainly former hunter-gatherers who have been evicted from their forest homes over the course of many decades. They now live as a neglected and marginalized minority, often in remote conflict and post-conflict areas. Though Batwa adults and children across the region have identified education as one of their most important priorities, the vast majority have had little if any chance to go to school. Poverty and hunger, and the long distances they often have to travel to access schooling, prevent children from enjoying what is their fundamental human right.
Batwa communities have experienced almost every kind of abuse imaginable, particularly in times of war. More generally, they are routinely excluded from participation in public life and are denied their share of public resources. There are many interconnected reasons for this, but poor access to education is a central one.
For Batwa, access to education means change at the most basic level, such as being able to read public signs and notices. It allows self-sufficiency and promotes self-esteem; it offers the potential to undertake training in technical skills or to access employment, all of which would help Batwa people combat the poverty they live in. Poverty means that few Batwa can afford proper healthcare. Some Batwa women become sex workers in towns to supplement their low income; they are paid very little, or may be paid in beer. Some Batwa even remain in bonded labour, a form of slavery.
Even when Batwa children do access school, they experience direct and indirect discrimination. Many suffer verbal abuse and Batwa women and girls report being sexually harassed by male teachers and pupils at school, and being ambushed on the way home from school. This may result in unwanted pregnancies, poor performance at school and dropping out of school entirely.
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Persons Belonging to National or Ethnic, Religious and Linguistic Minorities (UNDM) stipulates that UN bodies should encourage conditions for the promotion of minority ethnic identity, and education has a central role to play. However, no UN bodies have dedicated projects promoting Batwa education in the countries in question.
In ensuring quality and access to education for the Batwa children, our organisation Kisoro Concern for Marginalised People Organisation with support from our friend Judy Atkinson opened a school in Rukeri Village whose name is Virunga Massif Community School.
The school officially opened on 3rd February 2020, where we saw 55 children from the Batwa community report to school for their first time
To ensure competitiveness and corporate social responsibility, children from the neighboring communities who are non batwa are given chance to study from a nearby school.
The school started with two classes and an office space whereby we started with Nursery section (Baby and Middle Classes)
To motivate the indigenous batwa to stay in school and atleast complete the primary level of education, the batwa children are given uniforms, scholastic materials, break fast and lunch.
We plan to include a technical or vocational institution where some batwa children who will have completed their primary level of education can enrol and learn some skills which can help them create their own jobs other than being job seekers in a country that has high levels of unemployment.
Thus more assistance is needed to help us deliver the much needed services since education is regarded as an efffective tool for development and the batwa will be responsible for their own affairs without seeking outside assistance.