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May 17, 2017

A Real-life Cry in the Desert

By Tai Pelli

I met him during the Indigenous Terra Madre Conference, in Shillong, India in 2015. As an Indigenous human rights advocate and presenter my responsibility there was to educate on the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda, give a briefing on the then upcoming Climate Change Conference of the Parties in Paris, France, and about the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.

Galdibe Tumal Orto, 59, a pastoralist from the Maikona Village located in the heart of the Chalbi Desert in Marsabit County, in Northern Kenya, was one of the attendees. This gentleman with a personality, eyes and smile that brighten the entire room was an active participant in our audience. As we continued speaking during our stay in India, I learned about his community, his desire to help it prosper and the great significance of the livestock in a pastoralists’ life. To those who have not been exposed to this way of life, when hearing or reading about livestock, they pretty much imagine someone just gracing their animals in the beautiful green fields and perhaps even images of the Norwegian fairy tale of the “Three Billy Goats Gruff.” They do not connect it to a way of sustenance for entire families, do not even fathom the fact that many at times have to walk long distances to grace their animals in a semi-arid terrain, or that it brings the opportunity to Education to the pastoralists’ children nor do they see it as the one factor that could either make or mar their lives forever. As said the World Bank country director for Kenya, Diarietou Gaye, back on July 30, 2016 in a statement about a pastoralists’ project from the World Bank: “…livestock…is the single most important asset and the key source of food and income for pastoralists.”

Just about a week ago, I received a note from Tumal. I was super happy to hear from him, but very saddened to see under which circumstances this Indigenous brother had contacted me. As I read him, I could picture his face with the signs of worry and concern, and through his message I was missing that shine and smile that had characterized him when we met. Very little have we heard or read on the western hemisphere about the drought and the struggles of the pastoralists, and now about the torrential rains that have impacted the lives of hundreds of families since the end of April and beginning of May and where thousands of livestock have perished washed away by the floods, schools and homes submerged under water, and with very little help to cover the magnitude of this crisis and ensure their survival.

Tumal comes from a family who for generations have been Indigenous mobile pastoralists dating back to 1780. As a pastoralist, he supports a family of six, with three children in College and one in high school. As a father of three daughters, Tumal’s main priority is their education. Most girls in these communities do not go beyond 8th grade, and are exposed to early marriage and female genital mutilation, which challenge the opportunities for a girl’s education, among other things. As a father, with the proceeds from the sales of goats, sheep, and camels he has supported the family’s daily living and his children’s education. During the drought between 2016 and 2017, they did everything possible to keep their animals alive. Now these torrential rains have compromised their livelihood and as you can see, even his children’s education is at risk. Earlier this month, Tumal Orto, like many other pastoralists in the area, personally lost 225 goats/sheep, 2 donkeys, and 3 camels, and his total losses equate to approximately $30,000.00 USD. Other pastoralists have lost about 20,000 goats which equate to about $800,000.00 USD. Most of the animals that have survived are weak. About 100 households of Indigenous mobile pastoralists have been affected in this area. It is believed that in the next few years the Gabbra Peoples are likely to become climate refugees.

In this case, the funds needed represent way more than goats and a donkey; it is sustenance, a way of life, education, it is a legacy, and literally, their own CULTURAL SURVIVAL!


--Tai Pelli is a Taíno international advocate for Indigenous, environmental, treaty and human rights. For more information on how you can get involved, please contact: Tai Pelli - Galdibe Tumal Orto –