I first learned about the Omo Valley through Omo Child, a non-profit started here in San Diego, through my friend Janet Hanpeter who helped the founder, John Rowe, in expanding his fund raising and awareness efforts. Omo Child’s mission “is to provide a safe, nurturing home and quality education for rescued Mingi children. Mingi is the ritualistic killing of infants and children believed to be cursed by tribes living in the remote Omo Valley region of Southwest Ethiopia.” Shortly thereafter I got to meet Lale Labuko, co-founder and the heart and soul of Omo Child. Lale was born into the Kara tribe in Ethiopia’s Omo Valley and was one of the first of his tribe to receive a formal education. He learned that he lost two sisters to the Mingi practice and became an activist to help end the practice. Lale was named National Geographic Emerging Explorer in 2013. To read more about Omo Child and Lale please visit http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/lale-labuko/ and NBC’s coverage of Lale at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/lale-labuko/.
In 2015 John Rowe released “Omo Child: The River and the Bush”, shot in Ethiopia with the tribes and at Omo Child’s children’s home in Jinka, which won acclaim in film festivals all over the world including awards for best documentary, audience choice awards and other recognition. Check it out at: http://omochildmovie.com/
In November 2015 I joined Epic Photo Tours with Herb Leventon, Jeremy Woodhouse and Holly Wilmeth to visit the Omo Valley. Along the river we visited the home of three tribes: the Hammer, the Kara and the Mursi. Each is distinctive in some fashion.
The Hammer people wear colorful bracelets and beads their hair and around their waists and arms. They practice body modification by cutting themselves and packing the wound with ash and charcoal. Some of the women wear circular wedge necklaces indicating that they are married. Men paint themselves with white chalk to prepare for a ceremony. The Mursi are probably one of the last groups in Africa among whom it is still the norm for women to wear large pottery or wooden discs, or ‘plates,’ in their lower lips. The Kara tribe decorate their faces and bodies with multi-colored chalk and paint patterns.
The Lower Omo River is home to eight different tribes, population about 200,000, who have been fully self-sufficient living along the Omo River in Southern Ethiopia for centuries. They have developed a complex system of agriculture depending on the annual floods of the river to ensure their food security. The annual flooding feeds the biodiversity of the region as rainfall is low and erratic. Their traditional way of life is now seriously threatened by the construction of a giant dam and an associated hydro-power plant (Gibe III) on the upper Omo river which is forcing them off their land.
In 2011 the government began to lease out vast blocks of fertile land in the Lower Omo region to Malaysian, Italian, Indian and Korean companies to plant biofuels and cash crops such as oil palm, jatropha, cotton and maize. The people have not given their free, prior and informed consent for the dam or the plantations now being built. The government has begun to forcibly evict the Mursi and two other tribes. When the dam is complete, the environmental changes will cause the Omo tribes to lose their livelihood and become dependent on international aid, with the loss of their cultural identity inevitable.http://omochild.org/ where you will find several ways to become engaged.