By Sarah Tucker, Advancing Leaders Fellow 2013, SIT Study Abroad: Cameroon 2010
I first encountered Cameroon in 2012, when I studied Social Pluralism and Development there through the World Learning SIT Study Abroad program. The following year, a proposal for a Fulbright research grant turned into the charter for an incredible journey that would change my life. It took me, completely alone, into the forests of eastern Cameroon to live in solidarity with Baka communities who would become my friends, family, and mentors.
The Baka of Eastern Cameroon
The Baka, an intensely marginalized group of hunter-gatherers pejoratively known as “Pygmies,” live in perfect harmony with their forest home. But their way of life is in jeopardy: Logging and mining industries, exploitation and oppression by outside populations, alcoholism, and a high incidence of disease stemming from their newly sedentary lifestyle threaten the Baka from all sides.
The Baka are highly underrepresented in formal schooling, and almost none have ever graduated from secondary school. This is a root cause for many of the aforementioned challenges. The Baka are unaware of their rights, unable to communicate with the rapidly encroaching outside world and disconnected from decision-making forums that impact their lives.
Chasing Two Rabbits at Once
My Advancing Leaders Fellowship project seeks to enable the Baka to do what my Baka friends and colleagues described as ideal but impossible: to chase two rabbits at once. The Baka will simultaneously pursue tradition and modernity, learning the skills to thrive in the outside world while deepening their ancestral ties to the forest. The project uses SABER MP3 devices as mobile schooling supplements, enabling Baka children to simultaneously pursue their semi-nomadic lifestyle while learning the skills they’ll need to defend their rights and interests in the outside world.
In my presentation at the World Learning Social Innovation Summit in San Francisco, I talked about my very dear friend Buba. She is only four years old, but has a mastery of the forest and a wisdom among her peers that is far beyond her years. She is my inspiration. I hope that this program can enable her to break free from the cycle of exploitation, alcoholism, and oppression that her family faces today. I want her to learn the skills she needs to channel her incredible charisma and intelligence to defend her people’s rights in the face of the extractive industries setting up shop in her forest. And I want her to always know that her forest expertise is state-of-the-art knowledge that she should cherish forever.
Supporting Indigenous Communities around the World
I also want Buba and her people to understand that they are not alone in their struggle: the case of the Baka is one that is playing out in Ecuador, Brazil, Botswana, and many other countries. Indigenous people all over the world are organizing, demanding respect, equality, dignity, and autonomy. I want the Baka to join this movement, contributing to the global dialogue on indigenous rights and empowerment.
On August 9, the world will observe the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. This is a day to celebrate indigenous cultures and to raise awareness about the promotion and protection of indigenous peoples around the world. Please show your solidarity with indigenous communities around the world – attend an event in your area, learn more about indigenous culture and struggles around the world, or reflect on what culture, heritage, and human rights mean to you.
Join the Advancing Leaders Fellows in making a difference by donating to the Fellowship program. Your support changes the lives of our alumni and the communities they serve. And be sure to follow Sarah on Twitter as she develops her project in the coming months.