Dec. 20, 2012
Monica Lara, OVN correspondent
Ojai’s Nomad Foundation has made strides towards building the self-sustainability in African migrant communities. Now, the Foundation is building a school there to provide better business and communication opportunities for generations to come.
“Our hope is to do for the nomads what is needed to help them adapt like the cowboys have,” said Leslie Clark, Nomad Foundation founder. “The world is changing and they can’t be herders on limitless prairies any more. They need to adapt, but we also want them to keep their culture still.”
During the Foundation’s last mission trip to Niger, Africa in November, it established a temporary structure to get its school plans off the ground. The structure serves as a boarding school so the children do not have to walk from their ever-changing village locations.
The first school opened Nov. 20 with 42 nomadic children ages 4 to 9. Within a week, students were recognizing and speaking French words, the prominent language of the area, Clark said. By teaching them to read and write in French, the Foundation hopes to bridge communication between them and their neighbors for better business, supply trade and other dealings.
“The kids are just amazing,” Clark said. “On the first day they came with their parents and none of them really knew what it was. No nomad has been to school before.”
The Foundation plans to build a permanent school starting next summer, a project that will take three years. It hopes to complete the building’s first phase, including building classrooms and training the teachers, by October, 2013. Dorms and kitchen facilities will be built in the final phases. A goat pen will be used for food and to teach the students advanced herding tactics, including giving vaccinations and learning when to sell an animal so the rest have enough food.
“It’s what they already do with the education and knowledge and just making it better,” said Sheri Hanna, 50, a Moorpark volunteer on the last mission trip.
Hanna hopes to return on future trips.
“This is a culture that goes back much further than our history in the U.S.,” Hanna said. “It is a culture that is very much about the simplicities. It’s amazing how little things can make a huge difference in their lives.”
The Nomad Foundation is an organization benefiting the migrant communities in Niger. Clark and other local volunteers have made several trips to Niger to determine the peoples’ needs and help them establish a self-sustaining lifestyle. The Foundation has established a communications center on the nomads’ migration route for access, trained them to make solar-powered cell phone chargers to communicate with the nearby towns and has established a network of midwives.
In February, the Foundation plans to finalize its midwife program, and turn it over to the nomads to continue with minimal support. Through the program, the Foundation has trained nine midwives from various villages. Since the Foundation started its training last year with three of the women, there have been 100 childbirths and no maternal mortalities, according to Clark. One in seven nomad women are expected die during childbirth, according to Clark.
“It’s really changed the statistics,” said Clark.
To help the Nomad Foundation, shop at the holiday gathering hosted at the Nomad Gallery, 307 E. Ojai Ave., 3 to 6 p.m. Sunday. Guests can see the nomadic culture through handmade items on sale, including jewelry and iPad cases, or “houses for the little computer” as they’re called by the Nomads.
People can help sponsor a school child for one year, as well. The sponsorship helps pays for the student’s food and materials. Twenty-seven of the 42 children still need sponsorship, Clark said.
Visit www.nomadfoundation.org to find out more.