Inspired by the harsh beauty of the Sahara, its primal challenges and the strength and ingenuity of the people living there, longtime friends JoMarie Fecci and Isabelle Nikolic, came together as team USnomads to compete in the Rally Aicha des Gazelles in 2014. The rally across the Moroccan Sahara was more than just a proving ground for their off-road driving and navigational capabilities, it was also a first step forward towards the goal of “doing good as we go.”
The rally’s unique humanitarian component, known as Coeur des Gazelles, works to bring humanitarian assistance to needy communities in the area of southern Morocco where the event is held. In addition to providing material aide, Coeur des Gazelles staffs a medical caravan that provides free healthcare to the nomads along the route of the rally, and has built 16 wells and a school. (For more details on the work of Coeur des Gazelles see the website.)
On a more direct engagement, for the 2014 Rally, Team USnomads partnered with MothersToMothers, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization that recognizes the ability of mothers to change their destiny. MothersToMothers works with local women to create community supported day care and learning centers that change lives. The partnership enabled MotherstoMothers to provide computers and other supplies to their model project in Amacho Wato Kebele, Ethiopia.
In 2015, Team USnomads undertook a scouting and assessment mission in Mauritania to reach out to nomads in the Sahara and lay the foundation for potential partnerships in the region. Planning is currently underway to return with an initial effort to support selected local associations in the area of Ouadane and Chinguetti.
This year, JoMarie Fecci represented USnomads in Mongolia, taking part in the Overland Experts 2016 Mongolia Expedition in support of the Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project. The Mongolian Bankhar Dog Project is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization working to help slow down and reverse the desertification of the Mongolian Grassland Steppes, and to preserve and protect traditional Mongolian culture. Founded by Bruce Elfström in 2011, the MBDP works with nomadic herders in the Gobi desert to revive the traditional use of the livestock guardian dog known as the ‘Bankhar dog’. The expedition team assisted the organization with the ongoing work of placing dogs with herding families, assessments of existing placements, outreach to herding families and expansion of the project into new communities.
Preparations are being made for the next Mauritania trip to distribute supplies and take part in exchanges with local community associations in Mauritania in 2017. There will also be an additional scouting in the Sahara in late 2016 or 2017. Plans are on-going for the original project of a larger trans-Saharan crossing, and in addition to scouting routes we are beginning to look at Jeep options.