Shoeboxes bring smiles to Saharan nomads

Victoria Ahlén (right) with the shoe boxes and nomad friends in the Sahara
Victoria Ahlén (right) with the shoe boxes and nomad friends in the Sahara / Joakim Ahlén
  • The Ahlén family started Vilostrada after moving from Sweden to Frigiliana and are involved in a number of projects

Vilostrada, a non-profit organisation based in the Axarquía which runs community projects through its foundation, recently started a shoebox fundraiser for nomad children in the heart of the Sahara desert.

The founders of the organisation, Swedish couple Victoria and Joakim Ahlén, had the backing of Telesforo Romero, the head teacher of the Enrique Ginés primary school where their children go in Frigiliana. "He made sure it became a success," said Victoria, adding, "They donated close to 125 shoe boxes."

In total, around 200 pairs of shoes, donated by the school and friends and acquaintances of the Ahlén family, along with clothes and toys, travelled from the Costa del Sol with the family to the Sahara in December.

The children live in an area known as 'Tanmirt', close to M'Hamid and near to the border with Algeria. Tanmirt, explains Vilostrada co-founder Victoria Ahlén, means 'thank you' and 'our land' in Berber.

The family spent eight days over the Christmas and New Year period trekking and working with nomads in the Sahara.

"During our hike, we gave away some of the shoes to the nomads we met on the road and we will continue sharing them in the weeks to come," said Victoria, adding, there was a feeling of "pure happiness on both the receiving and giving end".

The family set off on December 26th and travelled with their van through the desert with nomads. "We want to teach our children that Christmas is about giving and being together," said Victoria.

Lucas Ahlén, who is 11, has even become involved in a football team on the trips that he has made with his parents, the first of which was in March last year. Because of the shoe donations "several of my friends got new shoes to play with our team Real Nomad", he explained.

Victoria said, "I bear special memories of my meeting with Fatima, who said that they were so happy that there are kind people who think of them there in the Sahara and thanked us for our work."

Back in October the family was involved in a separate project to install a solar panel to run a pump providing water to communities in the Tanmirt area.

A power button controls the solar powered pump that fills two large cemented, newly-built water troughs with about 3,000 litres of fresh water. This is enough for the nomads' camels, goats and donkeys, as well as households in the village.

Victoria said of the foundation, "Together with the nomads and our voluntary work in the Vilostrada Foundation, we aim to tackle major challenges like the depopulation of the desert and illiteracy in 2017. The work that Lucas and I started in March 2016 with Brahim Elaaddouli, our partner in the desert, is now starting to give results with a handicraft school for women and school for children from three to six years, with a base camp for the teacher just 100 metres from the well."

During part of the first few months of 2017, Victoria will return to Tanmirt and work with the nomads to continue to build the school.