Volcanoes Safaris is thrilled to announce the launch of a permanent village for one of the oldest surviving indigenous people in the Central African Forest, the Mount Gahinga Batwa Community. The building of the village broke ground in Fall 2017. With their own village, the Batwa Community of Mount Gahinga will no longer have to live as squatters. With the creation of Mgahinga National Park in 1991 to create a protected area for the gorilla, they became conservation refugees. Now they will have their own homes.

The opening is being done in the presence of representatives of Kisoro District, Uganda wildlife authorities, GRASP –  the UN great ape program and the gorilla doctors and the local community.

Volcanoes Safaris and Volcanoes Safaris Partnership Trust (VSPT), supported by donations from Volcanoes guests, acquired land and materials for building the permanent village. The Adventure Travel Conservation Fund and its members have also been a major supporter. With this project, Volcanoes Safaris’ long-term goal is to provide land that can be used in perpetuity by the Batwa, where they can build their own homes and community center, have space for agriculture to generate income and to enjoy for recreational use.

A village community center has also been built. It has been designed in conjunction with Felix Holland from Studio FH who has provided his services pro-bono.

‘This is a historic day for the marginalized Batwa community. This is a landmark project and it is a privilege to be able to support the Batwa to have a new beginning. The Batwa are our forefathers and we need to honor their place on the Earth. In seeking to support conservation for the gorillas, we need to change the paradigm and make local communities the focal point. And then I am sure they will do their best to support the gorillas’ said  Praveen Moman, Founder Volcanoes Safaris.

The Gahinga Batwa community has more than 100 adults and children. They will now have 18 homes on 10 acres of their own land. The houses are built and designed by the Batwa, allowing them to follow their own traditions and culture. Most importantly, the settlement will allow for better access to education and health facilities which will be the next phase of working with them.

Over the last few months, the site has seen quite a transformation, beginning with clearing the area of large volcanic rocks, and then creating smaller rocks to create a foundation. Earth flooring and sturdy eucalyptus provide the skeleton structure. Community members carried clay to be mixed with water to create the walls of the structures, and finally, wooden window shutters, doors, and metal roofing sheets were placed to finish off the home.

The project has been widely welcomed by the Batwa and also by the wider local community. VSPT has made a conscious effort to understand the needs of Batwa’s members. Aron Sengiyunve, Gahinga Batwa Community member said during an interview, “Life at the current settlement is extremely challenging. Here in the new Gahinga Batwa Village life will be hopeful. I am very proud of this new village”.

Volcanoes Safaris looks forward to continuing their relationship with the Batwa Community and helping to preserve their culture by sharing it with guests of the lodges and the VSPT.

Image Credit – Craig Howes