Ituri Forest Peoples Fund

The Ituri Forest Peoples Fund exists to assist the Efe and Lese of northeastern Zaire to provide themselves with basic education and health care. For the past 5 years Zaire has been without a unified and effective government. The economy has collapsed and inflation remains at approximately 70% per month. In the northeastern region's Ituri Forest, the three dirt roads, built in the 1940s and 1950s, are in such disrepair that trucks often take 3-4 weeks to travel 100km. At the site of the Ituri Forest Peoples Fund, the state stopped supporting primary schools over 10 years ago, and until recently the nearest primary health care was a 60km walk away. In 1987, Lese farmer and Efe huntergather families came to the conclusion that the state may never be in a position to provide them with social services. They asked a group of US based researchers who work in the area to help them to organize a primary school and a health clinic. The Ituri Forest Peoples Fund was established in response to this request and was formally accepted as a special project of Cultural Survival in 1992.

The Andisengi primary school (established in 1989) and the primary health care clinic (established in 1992) are the result of the needs, vision, and hard work of Lese and Efe families, along with the Ituri Forest Peoples Fund. The primary school has grown from a one leaf roof wattle and daub classroom with 18 pupils, to 8 classrooms (6 at the main school and 2 at a satellite school in a village 9km away) with over 200 students. The Andisengi primary school now provides children with the opportunity to complete a full primary education of 6 grades. In May 1995, the Andisengi Parents Committee arranged for 6th graders to take exams which would determine if they are eligible to continue on to secondary school.

The health care clinic is run by Kuri, a local man whose training as a nurse was supported by the Ituri Forest People Fund. Clinic records show that Kuri treated over 1200 people last year - primarily for malaria, intestinal parasites, wounds, and venereal disease. Kuri is now being helped by a locally trained midwife who the community hopes will be able to go next 6-12 months. Although the clinic charges patients for treatment, hyperinflation erodes the value of the money in the clinic cashbox. The Ituri Forest Peoples Fund buffers the clinic pharmacy from Zaire's hyperinflation.

The Ituri Forest Peoples Fund is supported by private donations and through items made by Efe and Lese artisans which are sold at the annual Cultural Survival Winter Bazaar in December. The fund augments the efforts of the community by contributing to the nurse's and teachers' salaries and buying school books in Swahili and French that are unavailable in Zaire. David Wilkie, Gilda Morelli and Byran Curran spend part of each summer in the Ituri working with the Efe and Lese.

For more information on the Ituri Forest Peoples Fund please contact: David Wilkie, 645 Centre Street, Newton, MA 

The Ituri Forest Peoples Fund would like to express its sincere gratitude to all donors. Special thanks are owed to the International Foundation, and to the Cincinnati Zoo for their extraordinary commitment to the well-being and empowerment of the Efe and Lese. Article copyright Cultural Survival, Inc.

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