The Baka are hunter-gatherers in Cameroon who identity is deeply connected to a disappearing forest. Deforestation and discrimination feed a vicious cycle of poverty, alcoholism and cultural shame. Compelled to settle in villages so that their forests could be opened to resource exploitation, the Baka struggle to continue hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Although international law grants indigenous usage rights in conservation zones, the Baka face arrest and torture for attempting to access ancestral lands and are excluded from consultation on resource extraction projects that impact their forest home. With few livelihood options, many Baka have been forced to labor on farms for liquor, small sums of money, or nothing at all.
Education has proven time and again a powerful tool to fight poverty, combat discrimination, empower communities, and prepare children for success in life. Early childhood education (ECE) in particular has demonstrated substantial impact on key indicators throughout life, including higher graduation rates, higher income and lower rates of teen pregnancy. However, educational opportunities for the Baka have failed in this regard, with prejudice against the Baka perpetuated in the classroom. Baka children are among the 93% of children who lack access to preschool; three centers serve a 32-village zone. School is taught in an unfamiliar language (French), is incompatible with nomadic life, and is a locus of discrimination by ethnic majority teachers and peers. As a result, the Baka experience negative self-perceptions and low literacy rates, limiting their ability to understand and enforce their rights, participate in decision-making forums, and protect the forest.
At Two Rabbits, we believe the Baka must have access to traditional and modern educations to acquire the tools needed to break the cycle and forge their own future; a challenge one Baka father described as trying to “chase two rabbits at once”- if you try, you will lose both.