The indigenous Batwa traditionally lived as hunter-gatherers in the forests of Rwanda, which provided them with food and shelter, but creation of the Volcanoes National Park, home to the critically endangered mountain gorilla, resulted in their eviction. Families were left homeless and without land, and have since faced abject poverty, but the Gorilla Organization has been addressing the needs of these communities through a project that began in 2001.
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With fewer than 750 individuals remaining, the mountain gorilla is critically endangered. Creation of the Volcanoes National Park helped to reduce the decline in population numbers, but led to the eviction of indigenous Batwa communities that lived in the forests. Plunged into extreme poverty, and with no homes or land, these communities were forced to rely on the forest for resources including food, water and medicines. Alongside local partner the African Indigenous and Minority Peoples' Organisation (AIMPO), the Gorilla Organization began working with the Batwa in 2001, addressing their needs through agricultural training, educational support and health and social awareness. The aim of the project is for the communities to grow sufficient food to feed themselves and generate income, improve the literacy of adults, improve their socio-health conditions and raise awareness of their rights. This will, in turn, reduce their dependency on the gorilla forest. To date, more than 30 hectares of land have been acquired for the Batwa and the communities have been learning and implementing basic farming techniques. Housing was constructed to improve their living conditions and the Batwa have been forming CBOs. In late 2007, the Gorilla Organization secured a grant from the European Commission to fund further CBO development, introduce sustainable, organic farming techniques and eventually extend the initiatives to further communities. Construction of a training centre has provided space for agricultural theory lessons, which the trainees then implement during practical sessions. The methods being put into practice are already having a significant impact, dramatically enhancing crop yields, generating income and improving the health of the communities. Literacy training sessions are improving education standards and building confidence, and school attendance by all children is encouraged and supported. Social workers are educating the communities on health and hygiene issues, such as the importance of a balanced diet, further contributing to their overall wellbeing. Once initial training of the beneficiaries is complete they will begin to pass what they have learnt on to their fellow CBO members, thereby extending the impact of the project. Annual funding provides: - Agricultural inputs, including tools and seeds - Teaching and healthcare costs - Capital equipment including a computer and motorbike - Operating and HR costs including project salaries and rent
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