Ferestansi is a member of the Batwa ethnic group. Batwa pygmies inhabited the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest for thousands of years, but became conservation refugees largely as a result of efforts to protect endangered mountain gorillas. She has now lived in the remote village of Byumba for the last 10 years. Ferestansi used to have to walk 20 kilometres to get to the nearest health centre to receive treatment for her health problems; “I had to walk because I needed to live but that was then, when I was younger” she says, adding that at her age (unknown), she doesn’t have the energy anymore to climb the hills that surround her village. When Scott and Carol Kellermann began their work in Bwindi in 2001, they came as missionaries to help the Batwa pygmies. Out of the population of 100,000 people in the Bwindi area, around 800 are Batwa. They represent a very important minority.
Batwa have a much lower life expectancy than their neighbours, are poorer, and have more limited access to health care. In the past Batwa women would be beaten in labour by health workers to stop them from crying, or even denied health care altogether when they tried to take their sick children to health facilities.
Only one out of every fourteen Batwa women is on family planning compared with one out of four of their Bakiga neighbours. Batwa children are more likely to die, more likely to be malnourished, are less likely to go to school and are less likely to sleep under a mosquito net than the rest of society.
Byumba Health Centre opened in June 2009 on the edge of the Batwa settlement where Ferestansi and three other generations of her family live. It employs three Batwa and three Bakiga workers, including nurse Patric Tweheyo. Patric was a beneficiary of a scholarship offered by a Hospital supporter to complete his nurse training, and he leads a team that looks after more than 500 patients a month. The Byumba team teach in local schools and villages, and make special efforts to reach out the Batwa pygmies with family planning, HIV testing, pregnancy care, and education about clean water and prevention of malaria.
Teams from Bwindi travel to other Batwa settlements in the area every Friday for teaching, the sale of mosquito nets and treatment of common health problems, and the Hospital is located within walking distance of two other Batwa communities. Batwa have always received free health care at Bwindi, and the Hospital is working together with partners in the area to encourage the Batwa to generate income that enables them to make a contribution to the cost of their care.