As a society we often overlook the suffering that’s coupled with statistics; when you tell someone 5,000 children are dying every day from water-borne diseases, the number can go in one ear and quickly out the other. For professional MMA fighter Justin Wren, that reality was too much to bear; “I was fighting against people, but in reality, I was supposed to be fighting for people,” he said.
After several mission trips deep in the jungles of Congo, Wren became closely attached to the Mbuti pygmy tribe. Considered to be the largest group of mobile hunter-gatherers of Africa, it’s estimated that there are about half a million Pygmies living in the Congo.
In the past few decades, the Pygmies have been experiencing a violent persecution. As victims of war, displacement and logging, their health has taken a serious toll; only 30-50 percent of children survive to the age of 15; water-related diseases are the leading causes of death.
Empowering the Locals With Fight for the Forgotten
Today there are an estimated 27 million slaves in the world, more than ever in human history, and with no land of their own, the pygmies remain trapped in a cycle of slavery. “Their slave masters would come up to me and say, ‘what are you doing here with my animals,’” Wren said.
With the aim of setting the Pygmies free, Wren partnered with Water4 and founded Fight for the Forgotten, a nonprofit focused on assisting locals in land, water and food initiatives. Through lobbying and petitioning, the organization purchased 2,470 acres of land back for the pygmies, replanting 3,500 trees in deforested areas. Moreover, by partnering with Water4, 35 wells have been drilled in communities that never had access to clean water.
The underlying approach is based on empowerment. Wren’s goal is to empower the locals to solve their own crises. With the help of Water4, Fight for the Forgotten trains local residents to build wells while educating them about sanitation and hygiene practices to prevent the spread of disease.
On top of that, Fight for the Forgotten also provides agriculturalist to teach the pygmies how to properly farm, supporting entrepreneurs that want to start their own business. As a result, for the first time in history, many are going to the local markets and selling their food; “All we had to do is put the tools in their hands, and the knowledge in their heads, and send them out to be world changers,” Wren said.
– Marcelo Guadiana