Friday, July 03, 2015

Help the Batwa Pygmies of SW Uganda - Go Fund Me

The Batwa forest pygmy tribe were evicted from their forest home so recently -- just in 1991 when Bwindi Impenetrable and Mgahinga National Parks were established in SW Uganda, Africa. They were given no land or money in compensation and have struggled to thrive ever since. While many churches and charities have helped, they are facing an uphill battle to gain some dignity and a better way of life.

I visited the region in January 2014 as a journalist ( and was so moved by the poverty and their plight that I sold my house in the U.S., and moved to Uganda to start a nonprofit charity/ministry to help the Batwa help themselves ( The Kalehe Batwa were the "forgotten" village that no one felt could be helped. They drank too much, they said. They were lazy, they said. They won't work together, they said. They also face discrimination and abuse at the hands of locals, at times. The women are raped because some locals believe raping a Batwa (Mutwa) woman cures HIV (or backache). HIV rates here are higher than average, there is prostitution, single motherhood, child and spousal abuse, kids dropping from school by 1st or 3rd grade. We've begun to turn their world around in just 10 months and need your help to keep going.

I'm raising funds for the Dignity Project: getting the people of Kalehe (and after that, neighboring Batwa settlements) the basic necessities of life - food, clothing, healthcare, and the self-sustaining income-generating of basket weaving. When I arrived they were sleeping on dirt floors with rats running over them at night without mosquito nets and risk death from a preventable disease, malaria; eating from banana leaves because they have no dishes; drinking unboiled river water that contains feces and parasites; and kids were wearing their only t-shirt with no underwear or pants for months at a time. We've provided clothing, got them enrolled in health care programs (including HIV treatment and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings), created an artisan co-op that sells their baskets in the U.S., and facilitated the community to build their own bedframes so they're off the dirt, and to build drying racks for their pots they cook in so they don't dry on the ground. We just spent our last funds on Lifewater drinking water kits so they have clean water, and on mattresses with waterproof pads and sheets for each family. We need more help to keep going.

Help me raise the money to buy more mattresses, sheets, dishes and utensils, washing basins, "jerry cans" to keep clean water in from our Lifewater kits, and other basic items. But more importantly, our work - which I believe is inspired by the calling of Jesus Christ on my life and to serve here - is truly helping the community help themselves. Despite the community's reputation (and continued problems), they have come together to do these development projects. To get mattresses, they all had to improve their homes with "mud" as well as help at least one other family. They all helped build a new home for a single mom with HIV. They built a bridge across the River Munyaga so the kids wouldn't risk drowning. And they have put themselves into certain healthcare programs, but our work is far from finished. Some women here struggle with escaping prostitution, excess drinking, spousal abuse, child abuse, and daily struggles of life caring for children when there's not enough food to go around. Just out of the forest 2 decades ago, they are only newly learning agriculture.

The Karehe Batwa have become my family. Let's improve lives and spread God's love.

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in. I needed clothes and you clothed me." -Matthew 25:35-36

Friday, February 13, 2015

Artisan Co-op photo album online!

The Redemption Song Foundation started two artisan co-oops benefitting the impoverished communities surrounding Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. One co-op serves Karehe village, home to 11 families of Batwa or Twa "pygmies", an indigenous people who were evicted from their forest where they lived from time immemorial as hunter-gatherers when Bwindi Natl Park was established in 1991. Another includes non-Batwa women in Buhoma, Nkwenda and Rugando villages.

Net proceeds from artisan sales are pooled & the basket weaving artisans decide how to spend it, with the caveat the money goes to better the community. In Karehe, we are discussing "kits" for each family that will have some basic supplies they cant afford, like basins for washing, new plates and cups and utensils, towels for drying off, or drilling a well or connecting the community's water supply closer so they don't have to get their water from a river that people urinate and defecate and wash in. The village decides! That is the core of the Redemption Song Foundation philosophy! In fact, from the first round of sales for Batwa, they decided to build a bridge across Munyaga river so they don't have to wade which is a serious danger for kids in the rainy season. Comment on the item you want to order, plus message me here your shipping address so I can estimate shipping (US addresses only, or Uganda addresses). If you cant comment, message me or email me at Even if you're not on Facebook this should be viewable, without the need to join FB!

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Redemption Song Foundation hard at work!

Selfie of myself and Moses, a Twa child, on the way to his first day at boarding school with his best friends!

I have been remiss about blogging but busy in Uganda getting the Redemption Song Foundation (RSF) off the ground. Things are going great, but there's only one of me, and so much to do! Please check out the RSF Facebook page, for ongoing photos and stories of our work on the ground, with the Batwa (Twa) "forest pygmy" population around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and other marginalized and impoverished communities. We are now officially approved as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, so any donations are tax deductible. Join us in Giving Hope by Building Healthy Communities and Sustainable Ecosystems! We have a women's artisan co-op -- you can order products via commenting on the Facebook page and they'll be shipped to you after payment is received! Check below for all the people-clothing, hungry child-feeding, getting kids in school-doing, hope-giving, basket-weaving, income-generating, latrine-digging in preparation for house-building and classroom-building we are doing with the photos below (or on the Facebook page).

Mutwa (Mutwa is the singular of Batwa or Twa) child Beckham, who I adore! You will recognize him as the "face" of the Redemption Song Foundation on the website, and RSF Facebook page, and one of the 2 kids who really inspired my move to Uganda.

Beckham and his brother Shivan -- such cutie pies!

 My latest two articles:
  • The WASH Approach: Fighting Waterborne Disease in Emergency Situations. To report this story, Wendee Nicole visited two refugee settlements in Northern Uganda, Arua District’s Rhino Camp and the settlements of Adjumani District. She celebrated Global Handwashing Day 2014 with dozens of young children at Rhino Camp. Environmental Health Perspectives Jan 2015 plus many of my images! PDF version here
  • Is the Human Cost of Saving Gorillas Too High? Forest dwellers known as Pygmies were evicted when their homes became national parks a generation ago. Now they're fighting back. My feature published at Take Part on Nov 25 2014 plus a photo gallery of my images: Up Close & Personal with Endangered Gorillas.
At the Redemption Song Foundation, I have been busy...
Giving boys and girls a safe and fun place to play (my yard!).
Building the 5th grade (primary 5) classroom at the Rugando Parents School, starting a "classroom sponsorship" program & giving hygiene packs for girls who menstruate so they don't drop out of school.
Giving kids' shoes for school, and...
clothing for boys and girls (dress here and many others donated by Made with Love).
Feeding hungry kids,
Including some who were left alone, who were way too young to be left alone...(and playing with my two sweet kitties, Amashemererwe and Rokundo)
Washing kids (with warm water!) or giving them a place to clean (in the shower here), if older.
And trimming toenails and fingernails to help prevent "jigger" infestations.
Starting a women's artisan coop which pays women directly a fair price
and raises additional money to be spent as the coop decides.
Getting kids in school, including these three wonderful Batwa ("pygmy") boys, who I am so proud of. They started Bishop's boarding school yesterday, and had dropped from school altogether before this.
Helping parents enroll their families in health insurance, and getting kids to the hospital for care, like sweet Beckham...
who has an unusually large belly, full of worms. And we had him treated for malnourishment a few months back. This is him on the way, they stopped to bathe in the river (I know, I know... old habits die slowly)
And facilitating the Batwa men and community to build a pit latrine,
and covering it so kids don't fall in,
So this young boy Moses (far left) and his mom don't have to live in a stick teepee, hopefully by the time the rainy season comes in March. Join us, we welcome donations and need volunteers who are good at ... updating websites, starting a Mail Chimp newsletter, running the RSF Twitter feed, doing accounting or just working with Excel spreadsheets with financial info, and much more!