Redemption Song Foundation gave out mattresses to the Kalehe Batwa families after each one improved their homes with mud. The brand was “Sleep King” and our manager Charity told me that a couple of them joked that they would be sleeping like kings and queens!
This is no small thing. We last bought them mattresses a few years ago and living in mud homes, they get ruined faster than in a home you might be used to. We also handed out a bedsheet for each family getting a mattress. Mattresses are too expensive for them to afford at this time -- especially right now during the pandemic when all tourism has ceased (the country's borders are still sealed to visitors). They typically live on less than a dollar a day, and that's when they had dancing income. Now, they are getting money by selling handiwork, such as wooden mingling sticks, woven mats, and also firewood.
For the past few weeks, we have delivered food, soap and other items to the Kalehe Batwa. Other items we have provided and/or will soon provide include hand towels, hoes, storage buckets, plastic jerry cans, cups, bowls, spoons, jelly (like lotion for their skin), and toothbrushes and toothpaste. The Kalehe Batwa's sole source of income comes from tourism, and that’s temporarily gone—we aren’t sure for how long.
The opening sequence of the Lion King movie is beautiful and inspiring and reminded me of the gorgeous African savanna. Our organization is based just a couple of hours from the savanna where we take some of the Batwa children. RSF lies closer to the Montane rainforest of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a gorgeous ancient forest that until this century was home to the indigenous Batwa. They were not responsible for the depletion of the mountain gorilla’s habitat, or the gorillas themselves, which was caused by other tribes engaging in agriculture and deforesting the area. Yet the Batwa have suffered more than any other group because of tourism and because of the park.
When it comes to helping others, RSF doesn’t skip the middle. We want to make sure that the Batwa individuals in this village receive solar lanterns, cell phones, and that the families get complete solar power systems with a solar panel, a charge controller, a rechargeable battery, and lights in every room and outside. We want to make sure that every kid in the village can read their books on rainy days and complete their homework at night — not to mention that they can eat their dinner and see it! RSF is helping give "Power to the People" — solar power!
I’d known Wendee nearly ten years as a dynamic journalist who traveled the globe to report on wildlife and environmental issues. When she told me she was selling her house and moving to Uganda to start a nonprofit on behalf of the Batwa people, I thought she was a teensy bit crazy. But when she explained the principles on which RSF would be based, and her plan to implement them, I not only got on board – I literally joined the organizations first Board of Directors, on which I still serve.
Developing Africa in a way that does not harm the environment is incredibly important in the era of climate change. And solar power helps bring light to the Batwa's homes at night so they do not have to scrounge around looking for things with 500 shilling flashlights that break and barely work. The kids can do homework and read books. THIS IS HUGE!
Even if you grew up poor in America, you almost certainly had electricity — you had lights. With no running water, no electricity, no traditional education, and no access to their traditional source of food in the forest, the Batwa are facing extreme poverty the likes of which most people in the U.S. can't really imagine.
Bringing solar power to Batwa families will allow children to complete homework and improve their chances of escaping poverty. Education is so crucial to every aspect of how we form as humans, in escaping difficult circumstances, in growing as human beings, in bettering the human condition through self-education or educating others.
Solar power is not directly tied to education in Kalehe village. We still have our school, and the kids will come whether their parents get it or not. But it will enable them to study at home, and it also creates an even deeper trust between RSF and the Batwa — and shows the parents we also care about them.
My physician husband, two younger daughters, and I spent 5 weeks in Uganda in 2016. While my husband did anesthesia for surgeries at Bwindi Community Hospital, the girls and I began spending time with Wendee and the children at Redemption Song Foundation (RSF). We became aware of the challenges the Batwa people are facing, helped publicize Wendee’s fundraising efforts for safe drinking water, and assisted in constructing a mud hut for a family (through the Batwa Development Program).
Because we lived in northern British Columbia, we were accustomed to long winter nights – sunrise after 9 am and sunset before 4:30 pm. However, until we experienced life in Uganda, we hadn’t experienced true darkness. The dark that descended shortly after 6 pm felt thick, almost three-dimensional. Unlike the local people, we had flashlights to help guide us up the 2 kilometer dirt road from the guest house (where we ate our meals) to our accommodation. Even with the flashlights, it was disconcerting, parti...
This holiday season of giving, Redemption Song Foundation (RSF) is bringing Power to the People — literally!
We're bringing solar power to the Kalehe Village Batwa, an indigenous pygmy tribe in SW Uganda with which we work. This sustainable electricity will allow kids to study on rainy days and dark nights, enabling them to get away from the gritty, smoky fires that now provide their only light. There are 8 existing homes in Kalehe and we'll build new solar-powered homes for 3 single moms (Allen, Zawadi & Jolly), and get solar power for our school, Hope Stone Academy. Each home will also get a solar lantern for going to the outhouse (latrine) at night & a cell phone.
The Batwa tribe lags far behind other Ugandans in education, income, and development and RSF has worked alongside the Batwa of Kalehe to help in these ways. The grant that first brought our director — journalist Wendee Nicole...