Before his involvement with Matoke, Wim was a tour guide for another Dutch company. He guided tours all over the world, but mainly in Africa. During family trips to Tanzania he always visited Lake Eyasi where kids went hunting with the Hadza tribe. They got a bow and arrow and looked for monkeys, antelopes and other wild animals. They had to run through the forest, follow footprints and help the bushmen with their bushmeat. “The kids loved it!” says Wim.
No surprise therefore that he remembered his friends from Edirisa and their partnership with Batwa “Pygmies”. This mental connection was pregnant with symbolism. Batwa were chased out of national parks for the sake of mountain gorilla safety (though that rationale was shaky at best). Could an activity involving gorillas now offer an opening for a Batwa community to make some dollars?
Indirectly, many local people of the Gorilla Highlands benefit from tourism; the whole Gorilla Highlands concept is rooted in that. But direct rewards are few, especially for Batwa. Astonishingly they were never recruited as trackers in national parks and their jobs on the Batwa Trail of Mgahinga Gorilla National Park remain a prominent exception.
The Batwa Trail is one of the three almost identical Batwa experiences that rely on costumes and acting to take tourists into the past, to the time when Batwa were the real rulers of a huge forest that encompassed today’s Mgahinga, Bwindi and Echuya. Edirisa was eager to bring in something different and thus created Batwa Today.
“Could Batwa Today be remade with children in mind?” Kok asked himself. He shared his thoughts with Miha Logar, Edirisa’s director, but didn’t want to prescribe anything. He let Edirisa do the rest.
In April 2015 Miha took his children to Echuya for a trial. The first kids discussed their wishes with Batwa, explained what was cool to them, and then entered the forest as “hunters and gatherers”. Echuya Forest Reserve has preciously few animals left, and they are protected, so real hunting was out of question. But you can always pretend!
John Kanusu, the main Batwa Today guide, found it challenging to understand a child’s frame of mind. He thought it odd to whisper just to make it more dramatic. However, he had a lot to show to his young visitors, and especially impressed them with a baby chameleon he found.
The thing worked, lessons were learned (for instance: the bow was enough, no spear needed), an attractive program was drafted.
However, this was the era when some thousands of kilometres away ebola did Africa a tremendous disservice. Not many travellers dared to enter the continent, and especially not visit Uganda.
“People can be adventurous but not with their kids. Lots of parents still believe that Uganda isn’t safe, or simply know too little about it. They only know about Idi Amin, anti-gay law and gorillas. It’s a shame that people don’t know how safe Uganda is!” says Wim Kok.
Thus it took a full year for the first kid client to arrive! That in a number of ways meant starting from scratch… Miha and Owen of Edirisa called Kanusu and Amos from the Batwa community of Rwamahano to Lake Bunyonyi for proper discussion and preparation.
The organisers were super lucky. The visiting family included two talented artists who volunteered to make the target; a cardboard box with different animals on each side.
On the way back to Rwamahano, Amos weaved a container for the bow and arrows. At the last moment, Miha thought of a rope that would make the animal box move.
There was no need for that eventually… Traditional Batwa arrows have no cut at the end, nothing that would rest on the string; you have to use your fingers to squeeze and (hopefully) release at just the right moment. Even a static box was not so easy to hit. … Not impossible though!
All in all, a small alternation of arrows was the only area of possible major improvements. The ki(n)d client Evan marked his Echuya adventure 10 out of 10!
With an online presentation ready, a professional photographer visiting the site in June and a video in the making, Batwa Today for Kids should soon be getting more popular. Matoke Tours is committed to it.
“Uganda is an excellent family destination: it’s safe, people speak English and are very open-minded, there is forest, wildlife, lakes, mountains, waterfalls, lakes, beach, monkeys, and gorillas. You can go rafting, shower under a waterfall, see huge crocs, hippos and a bathing elephant during a boat safari, you can have fun in the jungle, be an animal caretaker in the ZOO… We have created a wonderful gorilla alternative for the kids and we will put more efforts in letting families know about the diversity of Uganda,” says Wim Kok.
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