Photo safari inspires fundraiser


Last updated 3/14/2023 at Noon


Titus Ngoyoni Memorial School students have new supplies

Photographer Wendy Birnbaum spent years perfecting her craft. Her photographs are on display at Sisters Gallery and Frame Shop. A world traveler, she always wanted to go to Africa. When she found her dream trip, called “Tribes and Animals,” it felt like her heart jumped out of her body.

The trip Birnbaum found was guided by renowned photographer Piper Mackay. Because of deep relationships Mackay established with various tribes, her African tours are more than snapping photographs.

“Because of Piper’s outreach and action, we had a more interactive experience than just pointing a camera at people. It was magic. There really is something about Africa that sets it apart from anywhere else,” said Birnbaum.

The group visited five tribes and took food to all of them.

“That’s part of what Mackay does. There’s a reciprocal relationship between her and the tribes. Her safaris help support the tribes with income and resources,” said Birnbaum.

Julius Dabalen works with Mackay as a tribal liaison. Birnbaum met him. and knew he was a person she could trust. He is now her liaison for providing continued support to four northern tribes.

Birnbaum visited the Turkana tribe up in the Northern Kenyan desert near Ethiopia.

“There are four nomadic tribes, one does goats, another fishing, and two have cattle. They move to locations where there is grass for the animals. This year there’s terrible drought and many of their animals are dying,” said Birnbaum.

Driving away after one of the African photo shoots, Birnbaum looked at the images she’d taken and had an epiphany: “I knew I wanted to give back to the tribes with proceeds I’d receive from selling their images. They gave me a gift to take their photographs and tell their story. Any money from that should benefit them.”

Since then, Birnbaum and fellow tour participant Kim Schnell have started supporting the tribes.

“After we provide money for resources, Julius sends me photographs showing huge bags of corn and beans and rice. He sent photos of them doing a thank-you dance, which feels like a blessing forever!” said Birnbaum.

“Our connection with the tribes is heartfelt and community based. Being with them, it feels like their souls connect all the way to the center of the earth. Julius is the biggest happiest, joyful guy with a belly laugh. With times being so hard, I wondered how he could be so happy, but his attitude is, this will pass. Julius has adopted three boys in addition to three of his own because they needed a home. He just took them in,” she said.

Kim Schnell considers herself incredibly fortunate to have joined Birnbaum on her African adventure. Schnell is a retired corporate pilot and an amateur photographer.

“I’ve always wanted to go to Africa,” she said. “Wendy waited two years to go on this trip. Because of a cancellation, I got on in two months. I just got lucky! We were so excited about all the tribes. You can’t help but fall in love with them. At the end of each village tour, the women laid out their wares of elaborate beads and jewelry for us to buy and reciprocate for being allowed to take their photos.”

Schnell met Samuel Lekatoo, who was raised in the Amboseli village. He is part of the Tareto Entito Foundation that supports Maasai girls’ rights through education.

Wanting to help more, Schnell and Birnbaum decided to do an African fundraiser.

“Wendy and I decided the money raised from the fundraiser in April will be split between two of the tribes, Julius’s Turkana in the far North and Samuel’s Amboseli in the far South,” said Schnell.

Since her visit, Schnell has supported the Amboseli Maasai near Kilimanjaro in Tanzania with personal donations. She’s hopeful the fundraiser will help provide much-needed money to educate every child. To learn more about the community, visit the Amboseli Maasai Community Organization’s website,

The April fundraising event from 3 to 6 p.m. on Sunday, April 2, will be held at the Red Tail Ranch Barn owned by Julie Escobar and Gordon Robertson.

“We love hosting these kinds of events,” said Escobar.

“In the two last years, we’ve hosted fundraisers and a concert to help Ukrainian refugees.

It’s a passion for us.

With my nonprofit, Global Women Fresh, we’re focused on women and girls.

We’ve donated to both Wendy’s and Kim’s tribes with a focus on little girls’ education.

We’re excited to support the cause.

These two ladies have taken beautiful photographs, and I think it’s going to be a great event to pull the community together and give the flavor of what’s going on in the rest of the world.

It’ll bring people together with wine and appetizers, art, and some music.

It’s an afternoon to do something good for the vulnerable.”

Red Tail Ranch Barn is located at 17830 Mountain View Rd. in Sisters.

“Being a part of this gives you a similar experience to traveling around the world,” said Escobar. When I was in India, the people were so nice and so humble and so willing to talk and connect. It’s like that in Africa. They can go through so many challenging things, but their spirit is incredible and inspiring and a good lesson for us all,” she said.

For Escobar, working in agriculture around the world, it’s obvious what the impact of climate change is doing to these communities.

“People here can resonate with the drought and losing so many animals. Listening to Wendy’s and Kim’s stories and comparing them to what’s happening in the western hemisphere, I can only imagine the suffering these tribes are experiencing. The safety net is much thinner there — if it exists at all,” said Escobar.


Young warrior Samuel Lekatoo teaching children about the world.

There’s a suggested donation of $25 to attend the event, which will have silent and live auction items. Schnell is offering an hour flight in her Bonanza from Sisters Eagle Airport. There will be photographs from the safari to purchase. Birnbaum is auctioning off a family photo session

There will be a raffle for an exquisite elephant photograph by safari participant Mike Reardon. RSVP by March 19 for the April 2 event to Wendy Birnbaum at [email protected], or Kim Schnell at [email protected], or Julie Escobar at [email protected]


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