DRC: Indigenous projects at the Onaway Trust

Excerpt from Onaway website: "...In the last five years, Onaway has established contacts whose function is to address the ongoing plight of the indigenes whilst ensuring that traditional cultures remains intact. Our main focus is to support sustainable projects with environmentally-sound aims, improve the health of the people whilst providing spiritual upliftment to the whole community. One such project provides support to two Pygmy villages* in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Recognised by many as the first settlers in the Virunga region, Pygmies only take from Nature what they need and thus do not disturb the natural balance of their ecosystem. However, with the creation of the Virunga National Park in 1926, the Pygmies were unceremoniously evicted without resettlement or compensation from their Ituri forests where they had lived for thousands of years. In 1994 their population was reduced by 30 per cent as a result of civil war and today, in consequence, they are seriously marginalised and forced to survive by scavenging agricultural waste sites.(*Kashwa and Tchanzo in Rutshuru Province.)..Onaway supports the Pygmies through the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund (DFGF) and Eco-Action - both NGOs working in the region. In a letter to Onaway in August 2000, Judith Egerton of DFGF explained: "By improving their social, health and economic environment, the Pygmies will be in a position to end their dependence on neighbouring communities and take charge of their own destiny. If successful, this could be extended to other Pygmy communities in Eastern Congo."..Clearly, community development requires time, patience and ongoing encouragement but already, one year on, positive results are being seen. DFGF reports that:"When the project started there wasn┬╣t a single Pygmy household that grew produce and they showed a certain hostility to work that did not reap immediate rewards. With the help of Eco-Action, the Pygmies realised that the land itself was a source of potential wealth." With the necessary seeds and tools in place, all cultivatable land provided to the Pygmies is now being farmed efficiently. In the year 2000 alone, the production of beans increased 30 per cent on the previous year - and maize a staggering 60 per cent!...Pygmy health, too, has improved with all members of the two villages now registered at a local health centre. While workshops have been arranged to improve sanitary conditions and to organise the building of latrines. Illnesses, mainly caused by contaminated water, waste materials, malnutrition and infected wounds are declining and it is anticipated these improvements could be replicated in surrounding villages...Pottery production, sadly, is a declining Pygmy tradition. However, in the past year, through encouragement and supply of the necessary materials, each family has moulded and is now using fuel-efficient clay stoves within their homes. Surplus pots and stoves are sold at the local market - the proceeds of which are used to purchase other goods which benefit their communities. Thus, Pygmy pottery skills are being increasingly resurrected and better stoves are produced, resulting in both increased Pygmy self-esteem and a marked improvement in the overall sustainability of the villages..."

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