The Batwa of Burundi

The Batwa of Burundi, like Batwa populations in DR Congo, Rwanda and Uganda, are a vulnerable minority group of around 100,000 people in Burundi. At one time they were known as Pygmies, but the name Batwa is their true identity and preferred name. Historically, they have lived in forest areas in Burundi, but forest clearances and conservation as well as planned integration into mainstream Burundian life, have resulted in the Batwa being largely moved from the forests. The foremost challenge facing Batwa is usually understood to be a lack of land on which to live and farm. One of the populations of Batwa was moved around 20 years ago to an area called Gatonde just outside Ngozi, where Comfort International works with local churches doing the CIMS (Comfort International Ministry School) training. Around 190 households now live there, likely to be a population of just under 1000. Our partner, Gerard Rukerandanga of the Elim Church in Ngozi approached us around a year ago to ask us to consider a project to help tackle some of the development challenges the Batwa face. 

Some traditional Batwa grass huts
Bosco is the Batwa community leader
A young man lives here, in a structure not long enough to lie down properly in
Conditions in the village are those of extreme poverty. The majority of houses are circular grass huts with a diameter of around 2.5 metres, there are some mud brick houses but those are generally leaking due to an inability to roof them, and some are just sticks covered with scraps of material, like the one shown on the left here. There are some small plots in which crops are grown but in general there is nothing like enough land for them to grow enough crops to eat. Instead they tend to cut and sell grass for people to buy to feed their cattle and they coppice nearby eucalyptus trees to sell as building or cooking materials in Ngozi town. There is rarely enough food. 
Some homes and adjacent farmland
Children from the community

We received funding from the Souter Foundation to launch the project but have spent many months working through project options. The challenge of developing effective projects among groups with little experience of the kind of economic, budgetary and planning issues necessary for effective projects has been considerable. However, a recent visit to Burundi for the CIMS programme enabled Comfort International director, Callum Henderson, to undertake a visit to the Batwa village and meet community leaders with partner Gerard. The Batwa were extremely welcoming and eager to engage with project ideas. The outcome will ideally be a project aiming to develop good farming opportunities for the community which will include a small number of cattle for manure (the land around the village is quite impoverished) and land for farming. The land would initially be rented to test the effectiveness of the project and, if successful, land would be bought. We look forward to working with Gerard and the Elim Church, alongside the Batwa community, and are trusting for the project to be a real bringer of hope to this extremely vulnerable community. 

Batwa family on recent visit
Callum demonstrating the width of one of the houses
Despite desperately poor conditions a warm welcome was received and we were overjoyed to be greeted with smiles and laughter.

a little can change a life