Pygmy Education Fund UpdateDear Friends and Family,
Each episode of Star-Trek began with the famous words: “Space the final frontier… going where no man has gone before”. This quote seems particularly applicable to the pygmies and especially to one pygmy named Keneth Turyamubona. Space is not the final frontier for the pygmies but rather the challenge is moving from forest dweller to the “modern” world. We had been told that the pygmies could never successfully compete in this world; they would always remain marginalized especially when faced with the rigors of the educational system. Our impression though, was that the challenges of hunter/gatherer would parlay well into the competition of the classroom.
In January, two pygmies graduated from primary school, the first, as we know in the history of the pygmy community to complete this grade level. These two had excelled in their studied but Keneth proved to be a particularly good student. We appreciated his determination 18 months ago when he requested a kerosene lantern and a watch from us. “Why do you need these items”, we asked? “Because I need to check the time so that I can get up at 4am daily to study and I need a light to read by”, he responded.
Keneth’s diligence paid off as he ended up not only being the top student in the school but also in the district. His goal was to be admitted to Budo secondary school en route to an eventual medical degree. Budo is the most exclusive secondary school in the country reserved for the best and brightest students, typically sons of the wealthy and politically connected.
Keneth’s struggle for this goal was not limited to the rigors classroom. Recently another pygmy that we had supported in acquiring a vocational trade challenged him. This friend chided him in that now with a trade he was able to earn money, showing Keneth a hand full of shillings. “And with this money I now can marry, and what do you have to show for all your education”, he asked? Recalling his tradition as hunter/gatherer where life is always lived in the present and schooling is of no value, Keneth became despondent. He lapsed in his studies and became withdrawn and seemed morose. The Bishop, the school headmaster and several elders counseled Keneth reminding him that he represents the future of the pygmies. “The tribe was counting on you becoming a physician and that in fact we sacrificed much to allow you this education,” he was told. In fact he owed the tribe a great deal, the debt to be repaid when he became a physician.
Keneth redoubled his efforts and scored well on the national exams. On Feb 5, Keneth received word that he had been accepted at Budo. The pygmies celebrated by song and dance but did not fully realize the enormity of the accomplishment. Previously no student from the entire district had ever been admitted to Budo, Keneth was the first ever!
This event was not lost on the national newspaper “The New Vision” who quickly dispatched a reporter to interview Keneth. One poignant question was asked, “What if you don’t get into medical school?" Keneth shot back, “How can you ask that question, I will become a doctor, I will not fail”.
Keneth is truly going where no pygmy has gone before and many are very proud of him. His continued journey will be not be easy though, we humbly ask that you keep him in your prayers.
We return to Uganda in a few hours. It will be interesting to return to the simple life with the pygmies after such an exhilarating time in the US. We are truly thankful for the time spent here; we have so much to be grateful for. We are especially grateful for your friendship and support.
The more we work with the pygmies the more we become convinced that one of the keys for their future is education in the traditional sense. We are working hard to help them to become independent, improve their health and nutrition, make sure they have land security, all of this built upon a spiritual base. Getting them back into the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, their ancestral home, on a permanent basis is impossible. The international meeting in 1992 protecting the last remaining forest and the endangered mountain gorilla determined their fate and sealed the forest off to human habitation.
At that same meeting the pygmies indigenous rights were codified but rarely recognized. One of those rights is the right of the Batwa to enter the Bwindi Forest to collect medicinal plants, vegetarian foods and herbs. The Batwa have been denied access for many years. We are very involved in encouraging the Ugandan government to recognize their rights. Their children need to be taught about the forest by going into it with their elders for their culture with all its special knowledge and myths are inextricably linked to this rich and diverse ecosystem. The forest can provide an invaluable education but the classroom can also.
There is no pygmy in our area that has completed primary education. This does not mean that pygmies are not smart. There are 14 Batwa pygmies out of an enrollment of 250 students in the Bishop's primary boarding school. All enrolled pygmies are in the top 10 positions with many in first and second position. The pygmy elders earnestly desire that their children become educated so that they can be teachers, nurses, government workers, Bwindi Park Guides etc. We hope that these young ones will return to be the ones to help their own people. We need to raise up leaders who have strong Christian values in a land where corruption is the rule. We want leaders who will represent the Batwa politically so they will have their rights and needs heard. If you are interested in supporting a pygmies' education the total cost is $200.00/ year. This charge covers room and board and basic needs. We would also like to upgrade the school itself with a library, teaching aides, teacher training and mentoring. Additionally there are other pygmies in more remote areas who also want to be educated and if enough young pygmies are encouraged to attend then we may even consider adding on a new dormitory. We are in the process of constructing a system of nursery schools at several of the Batwa settlements, which is the conduit through which students are prepared for primary school. Secondary school and University seem far away but now it is a possibility.
If you have an interest in this project please let us know by email. We will have the pygmy you sponsor give quarterly updates on their progress, probably by snail mail. Tax deductible donations can be made out to:
Trinity Episcopal Church
PO Box 416
Nevada City Calif. 95959.
In the memo area mark checks: Pygmy Education Fund. Please include return address plus email so that the pygmy can stay in contact. Enclosed is a photo of the pygmies currently in school. We took their photo with a digital camera and printed it up. It was the first photo they had ever had of themselves. We encourage you to join the pygmies in this exciting adventure in learning.
Scott and Carol
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