By Firmain Eric Mbadinga
Of life's many realisations, perhaps the most meaningful is knowing one's purpose. Many spend a lifetime chasing this epiphany. Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim believes she was born with it.
"I came into this world with a love for nature and have never stopped fighting for it," she often says.
Born in Chad, Hindou's journey from a humble background to an internationally recognised environmental activist alongside her career as a geographer has been fuelled by her indomitable spirit and steadfast commitment to the cause she believes is her life's mission.
Her early years were spent in Chad's capital city of N'Djamena, with holidays spent among the indigenous Mbororo people, traditionally nomadic farmers herding and tending cattle.
This intrinsic bond with the Mbororo way of life, coupled with the challenges she faced as an indigenous woman, ignited in her the spark to become a fierce advocate for the environment and her community.
Hindou has travelled the globe – from the historic COP 15 meeting in Paris, where she signed the Paris Agreement on behalf of indigenous peoples, to the climate summit in New York in 2019 and the COP 28 conference in Dubai last December.
Her genteel presence and eloquent voice deliver a simple yet powerful message at all these events. "We must protect the environment that sustains us. Our lives, and our way of life, depend on the environment," she says.
"Campaigning for the protection of this environment comes naturally to me." The thirty-something activist is also known for her love of African outfits, which she wears proudly to wherever she is invited.
All through school, Hindou learned to structure her commitment to what she believed in – a process that would eventually involve her community and the entire country.
"When I was in primary school, I wanted to talk about and claim my rights as a child, as a girl and as a Fulani," she recounts to TRT Afrika.
"That's how I came to understand that you couldn't talk about human rights without talking about protecting the environment. It was then that I created the Association for Indigenous Women and Peoples of Chad (AFPAT)," says the 2019 Pritzker Emerging Environmental Genius Award winner.
The year was 1999, and Hindou was only 15 at the time. The impact of her initiative would soon resonate far beyond the plains of south-west Chad through relentless advocacy and awareness.
Besides the Pritzker honour, she was conferred the 2020 Holbrooke Award by Refugees International and the Danielle Mitterrand Prize. One of Hindou's significant achievements as a geographer is her contribution to the design of 2D and 3D participatory cartography in the Sahelian zone.
The project, executed in collaboration with UNESCO, aims to delimit areas inhabited by different communities, considering the uniqueness of their ecosystems. Another objective of multi-dimensional mapping is to counter the conflict between farmers and herders in this area.
The mapping initiative also considers indigenous peoples' knowledge about nature as part of the drive to combat climate change.
Hindou's collaboration with UNESCO has led to recognising women's right to land, thereby creating income-generating activities based on the agroecology of specific areas. Her consistent efforts also led to the establishment, at COP15 in Paris, of five key references to indigenous peoples, including their rights and knowledge.
Long before reaching where she has, Hindou had a slow start, especially in funding her mission. "For my first mobilisation in the field, I didn't count on funding from international donors," she recalls.
"I participated in international events, for which I would receive per diems. To save money, I would eat the cheapest food possible and stay in the most modest hotels."
Hindou's savings on personal expenses went into funding her initial field operations. "I was counting first on my means to get involved in protecting what we all hold dear," she tells TRT Afrika.
The mission continues, but Hindou is far from where she wants it to go. Statistics bear out the enormity of her task.
According to France Nature Environnement, deforestation in Chad is responsible for the disappearance of 200,000 hectares of forest a year. It is causing the desertification of the Sahelian zone of Chad.
The desert is estimated to be advancing at the rate of three kilometres annually. Factoids like these drive Hindou to spare no effort in helping maintain a balance in the ecosystem before it is too late.
"To protect the environment, we must first recognise all species in nature, not just humans, but also plants and animals," she says.
"We need to protect birds, insects, plants, trees and grasses, all of which have value and rights. All ecosystems are interconnected; all ecosystems depend on each other; if we destroy one, it means we are destabilising the balance of the other."
At international conferences such as COP28, Hindou provides feedback on the progress of initiatives through documents translated into local languages.
An anecdote from the conference illustrates why she believes getting stakeholders on the same page is the first and most crucial step.
"We were all tired and had gathered for a 'circle of trust' when the women in the group told me, 'We know what you are doing. We support you and give you all the energy you will need'.
That did me a world of good. Moral support is just as important as technical and financial backing, which fortunately exists," she says.
"I want to fight the fossil fuel market (coal, oil and gas), which generates greenhouse gas emissions and contributes to global warming," she says.
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