The Batwa of Bwindi Impenetrable Forest

In June of 2013 I volunteered with the ECOLIFE®  Foundation to facilitate an educational and community service experience in Uganda for twenty YPO (Young President’s Organization) members and their 20 adult children.

We went to Mukongoro, a  village near the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, to provide fuel efficient wood-burning stoves to the first three Batwa and Bakiga families with the ultimate goal of providing a stove to each family in these communities in the coming years. The YPO group has come to learn about the issues and do community service work with these families. As well as helping to facilitate this large group,  I was shooting to document the stove building process and the reactions of the locals for ECOLIFE’s website and their marketing materials. 

The ancient jungle, now known as the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Southern Uganda, was home to the Batwa, an indigenous, short-statured  “pygmy” people for 60,000 years.  The Batwa survived by hunting small game and gathering plants and fruit in the rain forest.  In 1992 their lives were irrevocably changed.  In an effort to protect the remaining mountain gorillas and the rich biodiversity of the forest,  The Bwindi Impenetrable Forest became a national park and World Heritage site.  The Batwa were evicted from the park becoming “conservation refugees” –  landless peasants living as squatters on land around the forest. They are now some of the most severely marginalized people in the world, with an average life expectancy of less than 30 years.


The Batwa cook and heat their homes on open fires.   They deplete the forest with their reliance on it’s wood not only causing habitat destruction but impacting their own health from smoke exposure and burns to their children who stumble into the open flames.  In partnership with Maasai Stoves and Solar and the Batwa Development Program, three Maasai women and an installation team leader came to build and install the demonstration stoves and chimneys for the first few families.  These stoves and chimneys produce 90% less smoke than cooking over the traditional open fire and reduce respiratory ailments by at least 35%. 

The entire village wanted to see what was going on and gathered and watched outside of the home where the first stove was being built.  Mothers carrying infants clustered, teenagers hung out, others were in small groups, and everywhere the children played all around them.  The festive dress of the Maasai  made a beautiful contribution to the local attire.   It was a festive day. 

In a procession, school children from the near-by Nina Waits Mukongoro Primary School carried the bricks down from the road in buckets.  During the stove building many of the locals joined in with the visitors to mix the mortar with their hands or climb the roof to mount the exhaust pipe.  It was quite a scene with the 45 visitors and about as many curious locals hanging around talking and helping.  Villagers kept coming up to us asking when they could get their stoves too. 

I wished I had a wider lens as the kitchen where the stove was being built is really small and it was crammed with helpers so I wandered out to mix with the people.  I asked to take photographs of the husband and wife in whose home we were installing the stove.    They also posed with the installation team leader, a Maasai, providing a nice contrast of one of the tallest and one of the shortest peoples in the world.  I noticed a young woman standing alone in a doorway.   I was able to photograph her and later photographed her with the wife of the family.  I thought she was beautiful.  This is the woman with the scar on her forehead.  Her name is Sarah and she is married.  I regret not learning how she got this scar.

This entry was posted in Batwa, Bwindi, Photography, Travel, Uganda, Uncategorized.


  1. Diane Rosenblum February 18, 2017 at 12:45 am #

    What will happen to these people, do you think? Your pictures are amazing!

  2. MICHELE ZOUSMER February 18, 2017 at 3:02 am #

    Very well done. Great images!!

  3. Sally Bucko February 18, 2017 at 3:16 am #

    Fascinating blog and beautiful photos! Hard to believe this was a new camera and an early photography attempt as photos are such quality. Sounds like an interesting experience and a worthy cause. Hope they all have stoves now!

  4. Karen Paterson February 18, 2017 at 8:16 am #

    Thanks for taking us to Bwindi and spotlighting some of the challenges faced by the Batwa. Your pictures are great!

  5. scott stulberg February 18, 2017 at 5:07 pm #

    Who is this amazing photographer and storyteller…and how did I not hear of her sooner?
    Way to go Miss Ivy!

  6. Ginger Calvert February 19, 2017 at 6:34 pm #

    Wonderful story and pictures, Ivy. You bring stories to me of people I have no idea exist on this planet. Thanks!

  7. Rick Itzkowich February 22, 2017 at 6:03 pm #

    Ivy, Thank you for taking us on this journey with you.

  8. Nancy Hopwood February 24, 2017 at 4:13 pm #

    Ivy, this is a wonderful blog. I enjoyed walking through a day with these great people. Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  9. Monica February 26, 2017 at 3:11 pm #

    Wow! There are people on this planet we share, that are still totally unknown! How utterly fascinating Ivy! Did they welcome these changes readily? Why the life expectancy of 30 years? Moving them out f their traditional forests, has their diet changed? Beautiful and haunting photos!

    • Ivy Gordon February 26, 2017 at 3:46 pm #

      Monica – they are welcoming the stoves and starting to send their kids to school. But moving them out of their tradition way of life has been devastating. Glad you liked the post

  10. Christie February 20, 2018 at 12:12 pm #

    This actually answered my downside, thanks!

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