MENTORSHIP PROJECT – Supporting 50 Local Men Who Help Others

Ruhengeri, Rwanda

Chimu & 3 Batwa men

Leaders Say “THEY” Know What’s Best for Others & should Decide for them?

Don’t believe it!

As the Inti Raymi Fund team of Chaski, Chimu and Elia Saikaly were finishing up a series of projects and filming our Documentary in Eastern Africa, we all went to the airport in Uganda to board a 1:00am flight to Rwanda. This is when the bomb dropped and we we found out that the Rwandan Government issues Visas upon arrival for USA citizens; however, Canadians and Peruvians must apply on-line and wait a 3 day waiting period for their approvals. Crap, that blew us out of the water!

Stuck remembering a broken promise to return someday to help the Batwa Peoples of the Rwanda or deserting my team mates in the airport at 1:00am…I chose to desert them. Sorry Guys, our IRF “peeps come first”.

I arrived about 2:00am then after my taxi driver kept falling asleep while driving me through the country roads, I forced him to drop me off midway at a sketchy hotel, which was safer than a head on collision at 3:00am. Early the next morning with just a cup of coffee, I set out alone to revisit my Batwa friends from the mountains of Rwanda. Upon arrival and check in to my hotel, I had several meetings with some local hotel owners who I felt would be real estate savy. I was seeking help facilitating the Batwa’s request for their own land, as previously decided with my visit two years earlier. On my past visit, I felt had lost control of their business dealings and decided I would return some day to deliver on that promise. Well I returned and here is how it went.

I decided to engage these local real estate moguls with the hope of getting a seasoned person, who had little interest in directly stealing from such a small community of Batwa Peoples. Well this encounter, quickly led to one hand off after another, from one of the owners to the other, then onto the Park Ranger who everyone knew.   Finally after 3-4 hours of formalities, me and Park Ranger hit the road. No more than 10 minutes on the road with the windows open, filming a street scene, I filmed the reunion of one of my favorite Rwandan traditional dancers from my family trip two years earlier. I couldn’t believe it, it was Phillip (name changed to protect his identity) who at the end of each dance with him front and center, he would quote… “Very, very Good”, “Very, very Nice”. This made all of us laugh with delight just 2 years earlier.

After getting him in the truck along with his bike, I inducted him as the newest Inti Raymi Fund Volunteer. Within 10 more minutes we visited a community visitor center and met the wonderful volunteer there who dedicates his time touring the guests around this mountain area showing off the governments and government’s sponsored NGO works. In comes Peter (name changed), our second volunteer to come along and help us within 30 minutes of our arrival.

The best part was yet to come with the revisit of the two Batwa Communities which I had GPS coordinates from my last visit to the region. Upon my arrival I was so excited to see many of the same faces, and some new ones. Clearly the population of the communities grew from 236 at last count to now close to 300 in just 2 years. Well, we were able to film the entire interaction and the “What do You Need?” and “How can We Help?” meetings we had two years prior. With barely any hesitation, and with the absolutely most calm cooperative, and women’s inclusiveness, they repeated what I thought they would say and had requested two years earlier. They ALL wanted their own land to grow their own food, and raise their own animals on.

Roll the clock back a few years ago, I remembered all of these Batwa Peoples had been displaced by the Government in favor of the Silverback Gorilla habitat preservation, which yields big tourism dollars ($800/person for a 1 hour visit). Understanding Self-Determination is the most dear thing for persons who have been at the mercy of governments or leaders or the elite, I fully supported their passionate request. After hearing the resounding calls for our $25,000 gift to be used for a land purchase, we told them we would return the very next day to answer any questions and discuss further with all 300 people present.

Well that’s when the inevitable happened…The “authorities” inserted themselves into the financial equation. That evening, evidently the park ranger didn’t like it that someone was going to unconditionally help their people and allow them a happy day, so he notified the Mayor of the city who came to my hotel for a late night meeting. Well the meeting did not go well, since “I’ve seen this dance before”. He insisted that “he and his government officials knew what is best for the Batwa People” and that “they should make those decisions for them”. Our Philosophy of Self-Determination (please read Our Philosophy tab in this web site) should be an inalienable God given right to anyone. The fact that the government was hell-bent on taking that away from them, continuing their mental and emotional crippling of these people they say they are trying to help really upset me.

In all fairness, the government programs were making improvements and I did see about 4-5 new housing structures on their “Reservation” or “Refugee Camp” designated by the government signs for the tourists. This can only be described as a pity party and fund-raiser for the government elite, who control this circus act. while visiting with locals, it was revealed that roughly 6% of the $1,000/night eco lodging room rates actually make it towards the local social causes, which the foreigner patrons naively pay so dearly for. If this figure is close, it’s par for the course of my estimate of global sharing at about 6%-10% of all foreign aid making directly into the hands of the grass roots recipients. The money simply is stolen or evaporates along the way.

After the disappointing meeting with the Mayor, he told me to come the next morning to their offices for a meeting with all their officials. Upon arrival, I was greeting by a group of 6 or so disinterested “stiff suits”, who cared less about why I was there to help their people, than they were about enforcing that I contribute into one of their designated Non-Profit Organizations which I believed they had their hands in. After an unsuccessful painful plea to deal directly with the community, they drew the line in the sand and informed me that “it is illegal for there to be a gathering of 2 or more people in Rwanda without a government official present and if I go back to the village unescorted, then I would have to suffer the consequences and that I should take my money home they would rather not have it”. Is this the leaders speaking or the community, which doesn’t even make $1/day and those who were wearing the same clothes from my visit two years ago? Leaders should do what’s in the best interest of their people and not send someone away with hard currency to be infused into their economy.

I was then escorted into a mans office who arrived late, who supposedly helps coordinate donors, projects and their Organization, such as USAID and an Austria Agency which have signs around the village. Having a really bad feeling about this corralling of us into their system I had “0” faith into, I requested yet another meeting with their supposed NGO up on the hill in their posh offices with a faux tribal house and dance theater used to entertain tourists for a mercy or pity party donation into their general funds account. After visiting with many locals, the transparency of this and other agencies appeared to be consistent with others around the globe. Like in the famous movie of the 1960’s, “The Great Wizard of Oz” and the “Don’t Look Behind the Curtain” scene, these agencies don’t want you to directly help others, because they want everything to be funneled through them so they may decide where the money goes or if it goes.

In the evening, we had another meeting, this time with their local NGO with about 7-8 stiff suits again, internally, threw up my hands with frustration and realized that their system in Rwanda was a well organized, secrete operating machine which “if left unchecked” appears fine at a 30,000foot altitude; however, the Inti Raymi Fund does check on these matters. We drill deeper than just the surface level when helping others. When peoples are oppressed, they would never bite the hand that feeds them, or make a complaint for fear of retribution or matters might get a lot worse for them. We must always remember, after we leave, these people are still stuck there with any collateral damage done during our visit. This system is why the Continent of Africa as a whole cannot pull itself from poverty, largely due to corruption and abuse of power, not a lack of funds or natural resources. Those few at the top, through fear and intimidation, corruption, violence, cronyism and nepotism hoard all the riches and forget about the bottom 99%.

Our Philosophy section contained within this web site tells it well, that all peoples if given the choice, would rather determine their own destiny on issues in their lives. It’s those crooks and/or narcissistic leaders always at the top, who feel they need to control every move everyone does, through the villainization of the victims in every situation. For example, these Indigenous Batwa Peoples are very uneducated and primitive in reality and have tremendous struggles adapting in their new society they were forced to move into. Remember, this was not their choice to live in the town nearby, it was the government agencies, tour companies and the like who made this decision for those voiceless mountain people, enforcing that they come down from living among the Silverback Gorillas. Grant you, there is a land scarcity issue and a health issue for the Silverbacks getting viruses from the Batwa Peoples living within reach of them; however, land scarcity causes extensive collateral damage, so we must remember these Batwa are not the Villains, they are the disempowered poor who cannot decide what they want or need, they have spoken in a calm confident voice over and over again, that they want to start over with their own land, but their government is not respecting their voice. Land ownership is controlled in this region and the circus act of the Batwa being displaced and “oh, what can we do as tourists?” plays perfectly into the hands of those running the government and NGO’s locally which rich Gorilla Tourists come. So much so, that they even have signs in front of their Indigenous Refugee Camp yielding it a freak show in my opinion.

With the overt threats of deportation from the country, arrest or potentially worse, I had no choice but to betray my second promise to my Batwa Friends and not return to their village to help them fulfill their land purchase dream. What a bunch of crap!

The Inti Raymi Fund believes in “good is good” and that there are not any mistakes when sharing with others (see Our Philosophy) We quickly went to a “Plan B” mode. We elected to share over $30,000 with roughly 50 Silverback Gorilla Guides, Tour Operators and Guides, others who were role model citizens of high moral and ethical character who deserved a financial “second chance in life”. This golden opportunity presents a myriad of options for these young hard working men, with families, business ideas and continued educational dreams which all cost money. Remember, education in Rwanda must be paid for out of pocket in an 80% agrarian economy. Doesn’t this make you question, who makes the laws determining that education costs money? Who stays on top of the money pile? The rich stay rich, the educated stay educated, so the educated get richer and the rich get more educated, always at the expense of the uneducated and poor. Then the poor stay poor and the uneducated stay uneducated, then these guys stay poor & uneducated. The poverty cycle continues just like the rich cycle continues unless these cycles are broken, if given the opportunity. This is why the Inti Raymi Fund comes to these remote places, to provide this second chance and hope.

I hope this was a mentally challenging read and that you consider these perspectives and a paradigm shift in sharing with others. Please use this information to formulate your next sharing expedition.



Project Details

Sponsors: Chimu

Start Date: February 2016

Completion Date: February 2016

Funded so far: $31,000 USD

Total Project: $31,000 USD

Lives Affected: 50


Team Members


John, Jean, Chimu, Abbey, Gabby, Olivier, Edmond