Twa Growing Together Project
As one of the group
of those who have been left behind by history, I used to be in isolation.
No one took care of us. We couldn’t
think that there could be someone thinking of us, but there are people
who think of us and the difficult time we passed through. Now they
know how much we are traumatized. I feel comfortable after this [HROC]
workshop. I am taking the decision now of approaching other people
who are not from our group and share with them what I have learned
in this workshop. Hamissi from the Twa ethnic group
In Rwanda there
is a marginalized group call the Twa. They are less than 0.5% of
the population and are despised by other Rwandans and
treated as ‘untouchables’. Another name for them is abasizwe
inyuma n’amateka which means “people whom history has left
behind”. During the 1994 genocide, some were implicated in the
killings, others were killed, and many were swept up in the mass exodus
to the Democratic Republic of the Congo where they were harshly treated
in the refugee camps. The Twa live in isolation in their own villages;
many are illiterate as they can’t afford to send their children
to school; they avoid contact with local or central government officials.
They formerly lived in the forests as hunter-gatherers. Hunting was
prohibited in the 1970s. Then in 1998 the remaining small areas of
tropical forest in overpopulated Rwanda were designated as national
parks and military training areas. The Twa were expelled and can no
longer live there in their traditional way. They were also the potters
of the country but, in an age of cheap plastic and metal vessels, their
clay pots are no longer in much demand. They have no history as cultivators,
no land, and are among the most destitute and malnourished of the rural
While no single
event has precipitated a crisis, as the rest of Rwandan society takes
steps towards improvement, the Twa are left further and
further behind. The government does not recognize their particular
problems and the policy of not naming groups within the Rwandan population – an
attempt to see all citizens as Rwandans and not as a member of an ethnic
group – means their plight cannot be publicly addressed. Amidst
rapid increase in the general population, Twa numbers have fallen to
around 20,000 according to fairly recent estimates from the Minority
Rights Group (MRG) and Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization
Origin of the project
This project, funded by a grant from Quaker Peace and Social Witness
of Britain Yearly Meeting, is an innovative one, bringing together
the interests and expertise of Healing and Rebuilding Our Communities
(HROC) and Growing Together.
some initial work with Twa in 2008 and judged that a group of workshops
conducted close together would enable the building
up of a big enough group of “graduates” to have a significant
effect on attitudes, encourage participation in wider Rwandan society
and breaking down prejudice.
is a kitchen gardening project devised by Elizabeth Cave from England,
teaching sustainable organic methods of growing
vegetables near the house and spreading information about the role
of compost/humus in restoring exhausted soils and slowing erosion. “Growing
together” has a double meaning. Growing food together improves
nutrition, while working co-operatively provides opportunities for
people and groups to grow closer together, building community cohesion.
Food security is an essential component of individual well-being and
thus of peaceful social relations. Acquiring the ability to provide
more nutrition for one’s family builds self-esteem. Better nutrition
provides a better range of micro-nutrients, leading to improved physical
and mental development. People with better mental development find
it easier to accept new ideas.
After Elizabeth visited Rwanda with the Friendly Folk Dancers in 2008,
she returned as a volunteer with the African Great Lakes Initiative.
In 2009 she worked in Rwanda for four weeks in February and another
four weeks in October conducting Growing Together workshops. Being
open to how the work may develop, she expects to continue her involvement
until the end of 2012.
During her month’s
work in Rwanda in October 2009, Elizabeth suggested to Solange Maniraguha,
the senior HROC facilitator in Rwanda,
that there might be a possibility of combining the two types of workshops.
They thought at first that a pottery project would be their goal, using
a traditional occupation of the Twa to help them develop a marketable
product. After further thought and discussion with Dave Zarembka, AGLI
co-ordinator, it was agreed that vegetable growing would be a more
appropriate practical component of the first project combining HROC
and Growing Together.
Since the Twa,
due to their poor status, are reluctant to come to meetings or workshops,
it was decided to have initial one-day “debates” where
the Twa would be allowed to give their thoughts and opinions in an
accepting, positive environment. This would then be followed by basic
HROC three-day workshops. When these were completed, Growing Together
two-day workshops would teach vegetable gardening skills. Each of these
elements has been shown to work successfully. The combination is new
and the whole may be more than the sum of the parts.
With the increased self-confidence acquired during both of these workshops,
Twa may lose their habitual suspicion of all authorities. They can
then send their children to school, and accept help and advice offered
through Rwandan government initiatives to teach sustainable kitchen
gardening throughout the country.
At the time of
this writing, the four debates and ten HROC workshops have been completed.
In October Elizabeth, with a Rwandan under-study
who can take over the program after she leaves, will hold six two-day
Growing Together workshops. Then a community celebration day will be
held bringing raising the visibility of the Twa in their local communities.
Lastly, follow-up days will assess the project and plan for the future.
It is intended that ten Twa graduates of the HROC workshops will be
paired with ten Hutu/Tutsi in 2011 for an advanced HROC workshop so
that Twa can begin to feel integrated into the larger Rwandan society.
Ideas for helping Twa engage in productive activities include making
ceramic “refrigerators” to keep food cool and cement bio-sand
water filters. We will see how way opens.