In 1992, the Batwa (bush people) living in the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest became conservation refugees when the area was turned into a World Heritage Site to protect the endangered mountain gorillas located within its boundaries. The Batwa were forcibly evicted from the park, and with no legally recognized title to land, they were offered no compensation. Displaced from their home, the Batwa community became a marginalized people overnight, forced to live in poverty as squatters scattered among the rocky outcrops in neighboring farmers fields.
Volcanoes Safaris, in close association with its non-profit arm Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust, has been working to create new economic opportunities through tourism for a group of local Batwa living near the Mt. Gahinga Lodge in Uganda. As a part of their work, the lodge is developing a new cultural tourism experience and repositioning the lodge as “premier hiking and cultural” destination to compliment the historical attraction of primate viewing (Mountain Gorillas and Golden Monkeys).
I was invited to spend a few days at the lodge to experience the launch of their newest cultural program with the Batwa. This included a short interpretive trail and cultural demonstration village; a vocational school where the Batwa learn employable skills; and a group performing traditional Batwa songs and dances. It was an absolutely incredible experience – the highlight of my three-week tour in Africa – and I encourage anyone venturing to this part of the world to pay them a visit.