In October, Leslie Clark, founder of The Nomad Foundation, will lead an expedition in Niger to explore Nomadic Festivals of the Wodaabe and the Tuareg. This expedition will be a search for the annual nomadic festivals which are held each year after the rains when pasture for the herds is plentiful. It is also an intimate visit to the camps and villages of the Wodaabe and Tuareg of Niger. The excursion is an immersion into their lifestyles and traditions. Be welcomed into their homes and hearts; be delighted at the friendliness and warmth of these people. After fifteen years of traveling and managing humanitarian projects among these nomads, Leslie and her foundation are welcomed as part of the family. Her guides are Tuareg, those who have turned in their camels for 4wheel drive Toyotas, the best guides around.
The Tuareg are a nomadic camel herding culture that has dominated the Sahara for over a thousand years. The Tuareg are often referred to as “Blue Men of the Desert,” because their robes are dyed indigo blue and the color runs off and dyes their skin a rich blue hue. The Tuareg tribes are excellent craftsmen renowned for their indigo cloth, gold and silver jewelry and carved wooden masks.
The Wodaabe are traditionally nomadic cattle-herders and traders in the Sahel, with migrations stretching from southern Niger, through northern Nigeria, northeastern Cameroon, and the western region of the Central African Republic. The number of Wodaabe was estimated in 1983 to be 45,000. They are known for their beauty (both men and women), elaborate attire and rich cultural ceremonies. Wodaabe weave and dye beautiful cloth that is considered extremely valuable throughout western Africa.
Niger is the poorest country in the world; it is ranked the worst place on earth to be a mother and child. Like many areas in Africa, it doesn’t take much money to make a difference in the lives of children and families. Health statistics in Niger are appalling: one doctor for each 33,000 people; one woman out of every 20 dies in childbirth and about a quarter of all babies die before age 5.
Leslie, founder of the Nomad Foundation, is an artist whose career has always included travel, before completing her art degree; she attended a small Catholic girl’s high school in Ventura, where we were schoolmates.
In 1993, she made her first trip to Niger to look for exotic subject matter. She found that and a lot more. A chance meeting with Wodaabe nomads took her on a path that changed her life. A year later, after visiting this nomadic family and seeing the poverty they lived in, she gave them a gift of $200. On her return the next year the family explained they had purchased a cow with the gift that allowed them to remain nomadic. Realizing this relatively small sum could transform a family’s life made her understand that she could make a difference. In 1997 she started the Nomad Foundation seeking to balance economic opportunity and cultural tradition. Helping people support themselves using skills they already possess. Cultural exchanges, bringing African musicians to the US to increase awareness of the beauty of the music and art forms have also raised funds for the projects. The foundation has always tried to work with the local populations to decide what it is they need and want to improve their lives. Today the projects include nomadic schools, wells, women co-operatives, micro-credit, cereal banks, health and nutritional support for people and animals.
A short list of the Foundation accomplishments: 28 Cement Wells, 26 Cereal Banks, 5 Schools built, 8 schools annual support, 16 animal fodder banks, 10,000 animals vaccinated, 6 women co-operatives and 423 animals purchased.
Besides raising funds and awareness and improving the lives of the locals, Leslie leads Nomadic Expeditions to Niger several times a year. The expeditions are working trips or purely touring to meet nomads in their native lands. She has many years experience successfully managing fund raising in Niger and in leading intimate tours in this area.
There are many ways to Make a Difference: buy an animal for a Nomad as a gift for a friend or for yourself: Goat, Sheep, Camel, Donkey or Cow (under $100).
Adopt a child for a year $150
Pay for a teacher’s salary $1440
Build a temporary school $1500. http://www.nomadfoundation.org/donate.html
Nomad Foundation website http://www.nomadfoundation.org/