May 3, 2010; Sources: The Christian Science Monitor | Leslie Clark heads a foundation that, at first blush, seems like a contradiction in terms and purpose. Her group—the Nomad Foundation—is dedicated to bringing health care and education to nomads of Niger, the world’s poorest country.
Unlike other humanitarian agencies that have enough struggles just getting services to people who live in one place, Clark’s problem is compounded by the fact that she is trying to help migratory groups that never settle down but who are constantly on the move. The solution? Locate services at what Clark calls “fixed points,” places that nomads are likely to cross as they make their way along well-traveled routes in the northern part of the country.
For example, the Christian Science Monitor reports that at one location, Doli, the foundation “dug a well, set up a cereal bank, built a two-room school, and hired a teacher to manage it. Also in the works is a program to hire nomads to dig small earthen dams, an effective way to irrigate that prevents rainwater runoff. With plentiful water and well-irrigated pastures near the school, the nomads should roam closer, encouraging attendance at the school.”
The Foundation, which is supported with grants from the Rotary Club, is currently working on a center to be located at the meeting point of several migratory routes. Already, it houses a clinic and a living quarters for volunteers. Clark, who first traveled through Niger as an artist 20 years ago, has a unique understanding of the nomadic lifestyle. Her grandfather served as a sheriff in California’s Wild West days, and spent his summers herding cattle. Says Clark, “I know that it is in my blood to want . . . that freedom and adventure.”—Bruce Trachtenberg