Sept. 10, 2013
Michelaina Johnson, OVN correspondent
Thanks to a group of dedicated volunteers based in Ojai, 180 nomadic mothers in Niger have safely given birth since 2009. Four years ago, local humanitarian and artist Leslie Clark — along with local doctor Bob Skankey — founded the Tamesna Medical Clinic. Their goal was to positively change the following United Nations statistic: one in seven women in the African nation die due to pregnancy-related causes over a lifetime.
In addition to the 180 mothers, the clinic has also aided more than 7,000 patients since its opening, according to Clark, and serves about 200 patients per month.
“We feel the program has been phenomenally successful, and so do the people,” said Clark, who founded the Nomad Foundation. “They have come to the point where I don’t need to go into the clinic to work.” Clark has designed the program to become self-sustainable, although, “We will always have someone go and help them,” added Skankey. The clinic, which is just one of many programs in the foundation’s Tamesna Center for Nomadic Life, is also meant to serve as a model for future medical centers in the region.
In February and November each year, Clark brings Skankey, his wife, Louine, and a handful of other volunteers to Niger to train nomadic women in proper prenatal care and hygiene. After the two-week program, the women become certified “matrones,” the name used in Niger for those educated in basic midwife training, prenatal care and hygiene. Currently, the clinic and the matrones serve nine nomadic encampments.
The Nomad Foundation group is planning to fly to Niger soon, to follow up on the 10 matrones they have trained. “My plans for the upcoming trip are to get out to each of the encampments to evaluate how effective each matrone has been,” said Skankey. There are many challenges, of course — not the least of which will be translating information from the native language to French and then to English, and back again. But, Skankey said, “I’m ready for anything.” He added that he and the medical volunteers will retrain the 10 matrones and evaluate the assistants the matrones have trained during a three- or four-day class in which the volunteer medical professionals will teach them updated methods.
“We are very anxious to get back there and find out how the matrones are sustaining their program,” said Clark. “There is some resistance from the communities to pay someone who is not a trained medical professional, so we were not sure if they were going to able to accept paying for the services of the matrones.”
To address this problem, Clark gave the matrones solar panels — made by the participants of the Nomad Foundation’s solar programs — which can charge locals’ cell phones for a small fee. Funds generated from that project are used to purchase needed supplies.
The Nomad Foundation’s only expense for the clinic is the $300-per-month stipend for the clinic’s staff member, nurse Ali. Foundation volunteers also bring donated supplies from groups and businesses such as the Ojai Medicine Shoppe and Direct Relief International in Santa Barbara.
“I think that probably the most important thing we have done is (distribute) vitamins. It may not have cured something, but a person who comes in paralyzed and is walking two days later because we gave him vitamins speaks of a pretty severe nutritional deficiency,” said Clark.
Skankey recalls a story of six young men who brought their ailing father to the clinic; the man was paralyzed and hadn’t eaten in a week. After he was given vitamins and ibuprofen, he started walking again. Happy endings like this, Skankey said, “happen time and time again.”
In 2010, the Nomad Foundation helped to introduce the Moringa plant to the nomads in northern Niger, because it grows well in the region, is highly nutritious and is also drought resistant. The Moringa leaves may be dried and made into a powder for easy transportation and can be added to millet, which the nomads eat daily.
“We asked the nomads a couple months later, and they said they noticed a difference immediately. And they loved it,” said Clark.
Moringa is now growing in popularity, and is a sustainable replacement for American supplements, saidSkankey.
The Nomad Gallery, 307 E. Ojai Ave., will host the annual Nomad African Market Sale on Sept. 21 from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Foundation representative Sidi Mamane, from the Tuareg nomadic tribe, will be on-hand to discuss the foundation’s new boarding school and other projects. All of the proceeds from the sale will benefit the Nomad Foundation. Visit www.nomadfoundation.org or call 646-1706 for more information.