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A Walk Into Ténéré

A personal fundraising journey through the Moroccan Sahara Desert.

My name is Linda Ricketts and, although my main life is lived in South Africa, I consider myself not only a South African but an African, as I have travelled to many African countries where I have fully immersed myself in the customs, culture and way of life in each country. That changed any South African thinking I may have had, into a more united African thinking concept. I believe in the spirit of Ubuntu ‘I am because you are’ or ‘we cannot exist without the other’. I am a passionate and fearless world traveller, with my travels focusing on adventure. At the top of my bucket list is a trip into the Danakil depression in northern Afar Ethiopia, which is considered one of the hottest places on earth and one of the lowest at more than 100m below sea level. This is where one would also find Erta Ale; an active lava lake that I am planning to visit soon.

I have a tour-guide business in Morocco and as I do my work is online, I am in a good position to travel with my laptop and work remotely from wherever I may be.

I have travelled the length and breadth of Morocco for many years and I have a special love for Marrakech and the red south, the tiny villages in the high Atlas and the vastness and inhospitality of the Sahara Desert. I find that in the desert I can recharge my batteries, walk with my own thoughts, be comfortable being on my own, clear my mind, connect to nature, embrace the simplistic ways of life and the openness surrounding me. This is the place where I can find my peace.

I am a very spiritual person and travelled to India on a five-week spiritual journey, which changed my thinking about many things. This journey made me realise that, as a more fortunate person I want to give back what I have learned in life to less fortunate people. This initiated volunteering my services in a selfless way which led me to apply for a volunteer position as an English teacher at Education for All Morocco. Being accepted allowed me one of the most beautiful and fulfilling experiences of my life; living with these village girls in a boarding house in a tiny village high up in the remote Atlas Mountains, far from everything. It also tested my inner strength and ability to cope to the limits, as I was the only foreigner in a village of nonspeaking English people with virtually no Moroccan Arabic or French abilities, for more than 2 months. The love, understanding, life lessons and vitality for life I experienced in this little village of Talat n’Yacoub also helped me when I spent Covid-19 lockdown in Morocco, where I had to live in isolation on the terrace overlooking the Toubkal mountains for over two months. That was a very special and spiritual time in my life, which also coincided with the holy month of Ramadan.

Could you tell us more about your fundraising project?

My aim and my passion with this Sahara trek is to emphasise that through determination and a dream to succeed, and through working together in partnership with key stakeholders, we can assist in educating these less fortunate girls and bring emphasis or awareness to the situation. If that is within our means, we should do so. It will, however, take much more than this to get to a level where we can say that most girls in Africa now have a chance of improving their future through better education. In the interim, we should try to donate our time, money and energies to educate these girls in some way or teach them a skill so that they can join the workforce, albeit in an informal manner, and earn much-needed money for the family. I hope that through the buy-in of businesses and individuals and through partnership to donate generously towards my fundraiser campaign, the cycle of limited education for the high Atlas Mountain girls can be broken and it will allow even more girls to be able to continue their education. My aim is to raise $10,000 towards Education For All Morocco (EFA) as my fundraiser project.

What is the landscape and climate like in the areas you will walk through?

I will start my journey with a small nomad support team travelling from Merzouga, the beautiful multiorange coloured desert with its highest dune of Erg Chebbi at +- 150m. We will trek at a pace of +- 15 to 20km per day through small oases and dried river beds where we will be looking for water wells to refill our water supply and nomad settlements where we might be able to supplement our food supply. We will continue through lower sand dunes and via a circle route enter the Feija Plateau, cross the stony Djebel Bani and enter a hammada (*stony desert). We will continue through low sand dunes till we get to Erg Chigaga, the highest sand dune in this area with a height of +- 60m and from there will enter the low sand dunes again, get to another stony desert until we arrive at M’Hamid. This is where my journey will end, roughly 500km from the start.

Due to extreme weather conditions in the Moroccan Sahara Desert, it’s not feasible to start my journey at any time of my choice. I chose to start walking on 1 February 2023. The nights and early mornings will be freezingly cold, even though we will be sleeping in tents with thick sleeping bags and padded winter clothes. But the daytime temperatures will be ideal for walking. As we near the end of our journey, the temperatures will already be much higher.

What will your facilities be?

There is no luxury, only what is needed to survive. We will have our tents, our camels carrying camping and kitchen gear, food and water. Our ablution will be the wild open desert outside. We will only be able to wash once we find enough well water for our drinking, cooking, and camel needs. We endure, we conquer, and we survive. And we grow stronger from that.

Who will be in your support crew?

My support team will be one cameleer and one nomad desert guide / cook and 3 camels. We will all work together doing camp and cooking duties, look after the camels and filter well water which is needed for cooking and drinking.

What are your meal plans along the way?

We will carry enough food supplies to last us a few days where we will have to find a nomadic settlement to stock up again. Our food supplies will mostly be staples and a few pieces of meat for the first few days. When that is finished, we eat vegetarian. It is important to take enough bread with, as this is the staple in Morocco, which is eaten with every meal. Being cold at night, we will have Harira (Moroccan soup). Mostly we will eat what we have. We will carry a limited supply of bottled water, but most of our water will come from the desert wells.

What experience do you have with long-distance walking?

I have walked a 240km Portuguese Camino de Santiago and the Tankwa Camino, a murderous 257km in 10 days, through the semi-desert of South Africa. I have done an 8-day camel safari in the Moroccan Sahara Desert. During 2023 I plan on walking the nearly 700km Cape Camino in South Africa. To walk 500km+ in the desert can never be underestimated and it will be a huge challenge and accomplishment for me, having smashed both knees in a car accident about 10 years ago. I have learned to manage through yoga and walking, and I have full confidence in myself and my ability to succeed. To be able to do these kinds of extreme adventurous activities, you need a very keen sense of adventure, determination to succeed, ability to adapt, a clear goal, an unfailing belief in yourself and your capabilities to succeed, and a very firm belief in the dream/s you want to achieve.

Why is your fundraising initiative focused on Moroccan girls, particularly those in the Sahara?

I am passionate about Morocco and this inspires me to strive to make a difference. Through volunteering at Education for All Morocco as an English teacher during 2020, I have learned that very few girls from the rural communities of the High Atlas Mountains get the opportunity of continuing their education beyond primary school. Secondary schools aren’t available in the small villages. The bigger village schools are mostly not accessible to them because of cost of lodging involved, lack of local transport and their parents not having the confidence in existing facilities to entrust their daughters to be safe away from home. Without the boarding houses of Education for All these girls would not be able to complete their college education, and the possibility of being married off too young is very real for them. Early marriage will not uplift them from the cycle of poverty and village life and therefore allow no opportunity to make something of themselves with a much better hope for the future.

Despite the Moroccan Government’s support of education policy and women’s rights, half of the country is not literate, and in rural village areas up to 83% of girls and women are illiterate. Investing in the girls’ education is therefore essential, as an educated girl educates her family and whole community.

Why Morocco? I have travelled to many countries including African countries where the same challenges with lack of girl’s education can be found. Yet I have chosen Morocco for the simple fact that I understand Morocco’s dynamics and the life of an uneducated small village girl in the high Atlas. I know that an uneducated village girl doesn’t stand a chance to better herself in life if she doesn’t get educated and move outside of her village. I want to, as an educated woman, give back to Morocco’s village girls. In time I will focus on other African countries education challenges too. For now, that time hasn’t come yet. My first and foremost vision and mission is now to do what I can for Morocco’s village girls. The saying of “educate a girl and you educate a village” cannot be truer than in Morocco.

What have you found to be the best way to attract sponsors, participants, and volunteers for fundraising events?

Through being real and through action. I think potential donors, no matter how attractive a proposal looks, want to see action for their contribution. It’s easy to have a stand in a mall asking people to donate. It’s more difficult to add action to a donation request. That’s why I will, in return for generous donations to Education for All and to show my appreciation, be walking my personal 500km Sahara Desert journey. I don’t just expect people to donate, I want to earn each value that is being donated towards my cause, through extreme tough conditions. I will also rely on social media to attract potential donors and hopefully people will open their hearts and donate towards rural girls’ education in Morocco.

Do I see myself as a role model to young girls?

I think, given my injuries and how I overcame these obstacles to still be able to enjoy and love life, gives me credibility to be a role model to young girls still in the process of finding out who they are, what they want from life and why. Also, my hardships to work and study at the same time, most often taking me late into the night, but reaching my career goals that I never thought possible, qualifies me to be a role model. I never had an easy life, but it’s what you make of what you have that takes you forward in life, and that counts the most. Always strive for something better and through believing in change and in yourself, you can always make any dream come true. I hope that by sharing my life experiences with these girls, it will inspire them to change their thinking and allow them to make future plans of their own.

Why am I walking the desert when there’s easier things to do?

One day as I was walking through the Sahara Desert in Morocco, I couldn’t find words to speak. I wanted to walk in silence and I didn’t understand why. Along my silent way I found my answer. I felt as if this wasn’t the first time I was walking the desert. I have done that before, possible in a previous life. I could sense that feeling of belonging here, this was my place, I was born to be in the desert. This realisation was profound. I belonged in the Sahara Desert, I am part of that desert and no other. From that time of sensing where I came from and where I truly belong, I had peace in my heart and I always knew I would return to my beloved desert.

What is next after this project is complete?

I want to take a year sabbatical and after Morocco I will continue to volunteer, always combining this with some extreme activity. I want to travel to other African countries where I haven’t been before, to challenge myself and to help others when they can’t help themselves. I find that in this stage of my life I am drawn to use my heart and give back to the communities in any which way that I possibly can.

The name Ténéré comes from the Tuareg language, meaning “desert”

Fundraiser links:


A Walk Into Ténéré: @lindasahratrek

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