“If nothing is done, we will simply disappear,” says 33 year-old Mamatal Ag Dahmane, son of a Tuareg Chief, as he arrives at his family’s camp three camel-days journey from Timbuktu in Mali, Africa. The nomadic Tuareg, known as the “blue people of the Sahara” because of the indigo robes worn by the men, have lived in the Sahara more than 2,000 years as expert herdsmen and warriors.

In Mali’s capitol, Bamako, Mamatal is working as a music promoter to keep his Tuareg culture alive but his heart is in the desert with his family and a school he started though recently they’ve had to turn children away, because there’s not enough food and water for them.

The Tuareg are beset by severe drought, desertification, extreme poverty, lack of medical care and education. Government massacres and rebellions since Mali gained its independence from France more than 50 years ago have also diminished them. And, a new threat has emerged from drug smugglers and Al Qaeda militants arriving in their territory.

Mamatal believes the only way the Tuareg can survive is if they learn to advocate for themselves through education while bringing global attention to their plight.

In an old Jeep, he sets off on a journey across the desert seeking help for his people. Mamatal is a modern day noble warrior.

With rare access to this ancient society through Mamatal’s eyes, we experience the harsh reality of the Tuareg struggles: a water well drying up, children living on goat milk, a school shack with no supplies, no medicine, a salt caravan trader displaced by modern transportation, a rebel leader fighting for the dignity of his people. We learn about Tuareg history and culture: the matrilineal society, its reputation for artisanry, music and hospitality. We learn about the rebellions for independence and government neglect in an oil- and uranium-rich region.

While Mamatal is trying to preserve his nomadic culture, we meet Salah, the 12 year-old son of a Tuareg Village Chief who moves to Timbuktu for an education and embraces the idea of assimilation in a modern world. But Salah, who sells jewelry after school, reveals how difficult life still is, because tourists are warned not to travel in the region.

In Timbuktu where Mamatal dreams of building a cultural center, the Mayor says the government lacks resources to reach his people deep in the desert but Mamatal believes that’s just an excuse. Tensions start to rise back in Bamako where NGO aid workers tell Mamatal he is naïve, and that the Tuareg will be forced to adapt. Finally, at a meeting with a University Professor, Mamatal is aghast at the professor’s lies and distorted view of Tuareg history.

For Mamatal, it’s not just about survival, but keeping his culture alive. As he says “our identity IS our culture and we are nothing without our culture.” Taking this journey, Mamatal realizes the situation is getting worse and he vows “whatever risk is necessary, I will take to help my people.”