COURTNEY’S NOMAD ADVENTURE
By Nancy Gross
Courtney Hutcheson, who grew up in Ojai and is a former Nordhoff cheerleader, felt there was something absent from her Los Angeles film production career, even though it placed her contact with some wonderfully creative, interesting people, and offered her many extraordinary experiences. Some soul-searching, and a meeting with Leslie Clark of the Nomad Gallery was the beginning for Hutcheson in terms of finding a new direction, “ a more meaningful type of work.”
In September, she will be one of three volunteers to accompany Clark, along with Dr. Bob Skankey, on a trip to open a significantly situated medical facility, the Tamesna Center, in Niger, Africa. Courtney is requesting financial assistance to pay for vaccinations and travel expenses.
Clark, who is Hutcheson’s inspiration, runs the Nomad Gallery on Ojai Avenue, and began the Nomad Foundation over 10 years ago in a respectful attempt to help nomadic peoples, whose customs are in danger as the world rapidly changes and technologies proliferate. In order that these tribes might continue in their rich traditions, the Nomad Foundation offers some ways to help them adapt to the most pressing concerns of the modern world, but not forsake their centuries-old lifestyle.
Skankey, who is the Chair for the International Service Committee of the Ojai Rotary Club, is busy preparing for all that things that go into opening a brand new medical clinic. Much equipment has been gathered. Vitamins will be dispensed, as will medicines for treating active malaria and other diseases. This is the Nomad Foundation’s first medical undertaking, although the Foundation has been instrumental in building wells and schools, providing animals and grains to feed communities and aid in cultivation, establishing women’s co-operatives and facilitating artistic exchanges in one of the poorest and most environmentally challenging regions in the world. The Ojai Rotary Club has been a significant donor, partnering with other Rotaries around the country.
Claire Segal Brian wrote an article about the region, and Clark’s work, that appeared in the New York Times on August 20, 2006. The article states, “Health statistics in Niger are appalling: there is about 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.” Skankey relates with hope that a doctor from the region, Dr. Agak, is also joining the new project.
Hutcheson received a degree in Film from San Francisco State University. One way she will participate at the Tamesna Center’s opening is to take photos and video, something she feels will put her experience and training to use for a worthwhile purpose. “Hollywood is a hard place to work,” she admits, and states, “it was always the documentary form of film I was drawn to.” A chance to document the work they are doing appeals to Hutcheson, though she will assist as the clinic administers care as well.
The location of the Tamesna Center for Nomadic Life reflects the goals of the center, and the way the Foundation honors the tribal people it will benefit. Hutcheson explains that the center is right in the midst of nomadic territory and on the migration route. It will stand as a permanent fixture, where people whose lives are based on patterns of movement can obtain important services, and intersect the modern world, without abandoning their nomadic traditions.
Hutcheson relates the way that Clark’s work impacted her: “After hearing her speak so fondly of her time in Niger, I knew I had to experience it for myself.” Hutcheson is diligently trying to make this happen and has purchased her airplane ticket.
Hutcheson will spend four weeks in Africa, in a tent in the Sahara. She will work at the Tamnesa Center daily, assisting Dr. Skankey, Clark, and volunteers Marla Mott-Smith and Collie Bowers. All volunteers must pay their own way. Clark states in an email, “Appropriately, 100% of funds collected by the Nomad Foundation are for the people of Niger.”
To learn about the work, visit nomadfoundation.org, and to follow the center’s developments, the blog can be accessed at nomadfoundation.blogspot.com/. Hutcheson is collecting funds through giveforward.org, under the fundraiser Courtney’s Nomad Adventure.
COURTNEY’S NOMAD ADVENTURE