As today is the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, writer Ali Wunderman penned a unique piece for Conde Nast Traveler titled, "How Travel Has Evolved in the 50 Years Since the First Earth Day". One of those ways included the Batwa Resettlement Project by Volcanoes Safaris at their Gahinga Lodge in Uganda. The Batwa are an indigenous group, who in the 1990s were exiled from the Virunga Mountains to protect the gorillas from outside poaching. They ultimately became conservation refugees left without homes or support to adjust to life outside the forest.
The Resettlement Project and the many others initiatives Ali highlights shows that there's hope for the next 50 years of Earth Day. That we can fix our wrongs, by making them right. We can take action now to protect the vulnerable things we love most. If we can continue to put communities and the environment first, we can preserve these incredible experiences for the next generation.
I had met the Batwa four years ago, but in their then squatting camps, their confidence and spirit entirely lost. On my phone I showed them portraits I had taken those years back. Some of them remembered me. They were excited to see photos of themselves, and commented how the children had grown and the elders looked even older. They were proud to pose for me this time, showing off their families and new infant babies. They welcomed us into their new modest homes that were built from the generosity of travelers who had donated to the cause.
Later that evening back at the lodge, we were treated to a dinner prepared by the chef in training, a young Batwa man, starting his career and providing for his family now on his own.
This particular visit brought me to tears, as I witnessed how truly our role in PR can really make an impact and support the efforts of those doing great conservation work. They danced and sang for us, something they didn't do in my first visit back in 2016. They had smiles on their faces and a sense of belonging, which they had once lost.