them off from their traditional way of life and compelled them to
integrate with the dominant Bantu society in Cameroon...To face up to this challenge, the Bagyeli formed the Committee for the Advancement of the Bagyeli people of Bipindi and Kribi (CODEBABIK) in 1994 with the help of Catholic missionaries. Three years on, they are proud of their achievements so far. "When one enters a Bantu kitchen, one is struck by the quality and quality of utensils one finds there and the clean environment," says 40-year-old Jeanne Mbamitoo, who is in charge of hygiene and women's activities in CODEBABIK. "Thanks to our self-help loan-thrift society, we can also aspire to having half if not as much as Bantu women have." ..."Pygmies who still wander around, live on hunting and fruit gathering are those of the older generation," says another member
of the group. "Today we are settled and agriculture is our main activity... The Bagyeli have also understood the importance of education and now send their children to school. "Education is the key to our further progress," says 44-year old Joseph Nkoro, three of whose five children are in school -- the eldest is attending high school in Yaounde. "When I arrived here in 1994, there were only seven Bagyeli children in school," recalls Jean Paul Mimboh, headmaster of the
primary school at Nkoungio, a locality in the area. "Today they are 60 and are among the best pupils." A government programme to provide free education to pygmy children is yet to take root. The only assistance some of them receive is from church missionaries. Otherwise they pay for their children's education with their earnings from farming and small-scale livestock rearing. However, the government has provided some primary health care. Each week, a team of health professionals headed by the chief medical doctor for the district of Lolodorf travels around the Bagyeli camps (small villages) consulting and giving practical lessons on primary health care and hygiene and sanitation... "It is true there has been a net improvement in our standards of living," CODEBANIK Secretary-General Jacques Ngoun, a teacher who was trained by Catholic missionaries, tells IPS. ''That has not come about in three days. It has taken time.'' The Bagyeli still lag behind their Bantu neighbours whom they have traditionally served as house boys and guards. However, Ngoun is optimistic that this gap will some day be closed. ''Development takes time, patience and hard work," he says. "Our primary goal is to strengthen Bagyeli unity and, depending on our own efforts to improve our overall conditions of living. "It is encouraging to note that the number of camps that are members of CODEBABIK has increased from 13 in 1995 to 20 today and that more and larger farms are created each passing day, ensuring our survival." According to Sister Dolors of the Congregation of the Small Sisters of Jesus, the missionary group that helped found CODEBABIK, the Bagyeli have today reached the stage of fighting not just for survival but for real progress. The Congregation has been working among the Bagyeli since 1952, she says, adding: "We can leave them today and go to help others elsewhere. We are sure they will stand on their own and, given the opportunities, can even beat their Bantu countrymen." "I only fear that while moving ahead they may forget or lose their own rich cultures - their dance, music, etc..."