For one month now, we have been volunteering on the West coast of Madagascar. It proves to be a privileged moment in our lifes: interesting, fun, and recharging.
Blue Ventures (BV) has been taking volunteers in Madagascar for over a decade. They take up to 15 at a time, for periods of 6 weeks. Most volunteers come here to dive on the coral reef and collect data about the abundance of certain species in the Velondriake area (a marine protected area supported by BV and managed with the villages).
Instead of diving, Johanna and I decided to focus on the conservation and community activities. We wanted to experience and support BV’s “integrated approach”, bringing together environment, health, education, and population (improved access to family planning and contraception).
Our first contribution as volunteers was to make a short video about the Madagascar Population Health Environment network which was created by BV and other partners. The purpose of the video is to promote the work of network in social media and with donors. It was great fun to do this video and record the voice of Laura Robson from BV as the narrator. We enjoyed it and it inspired us to do some more.
Here in Andavadoaka, we get to experience several aspects of field work. One of them is education. Education levels are very low in the area, and it remains an obstacle to social and environmental progress. In order to change that, BV is doing two things. They provide scholarships to help as many families as possible pay for school and high school. They also complement the public school system with a range of activities: English lessons, an open access library, a Saturday School and a great “Girls Club”.
Johanna and I are also helping a small French NGO called Steph’Andava, which focuses on teaching French. This is important because the whole school system is in French but many of the teachers don’t speak it properly. Karine and her two Malagasy staff are very happy to have French speaking volunteers, so we spend a lot of our time working with them.
In order to support education efforts, Johanna and I are also preparing two promotional videos: one presenting Steph’Andava, the other focusing on BV’s scholarship program. Hopefully these videos will help raise more funding.
Working with the kids here is very enjoyable, but also fascinating. One day I presented images of Paris: the kids asked if the Eiffel tower was a “tour Telma” (a mobile phone provider in Madagascar). I managed to explain what is an elevator, and what are traffic jams, but the concept of metro proved really hard to grasp!
Apart from education, we are supporting some of the conservation work.
Johanna spent a great 5 days conducting surveys in other villages, asking people about fisheries and marine resources. She also documented the meeting of the Velondriake Committee that manages the marine reserve.
We were also very excited to spend a day with BV staff and other volunteers in a region south of Andava, to do a census of rare endemic tortoises.
As you can imagine, my artist wife is also working on several illustrations: one on hygiene, one to help education activities, another one to explain why data is being collected on sharks and how fishermen can help. Pretty varied work!
One last story: we joined the “village clean up”, an initiative run by the kids of Saturday School with the support of Blue Ventures.
I hope this gives you a sense of our activities as volunteers.
It is the fourth time I volunteer abroad. Before coming here, I sometimes wondered if it still made sense, at this point of my life and career. Today, I can say the answer is yes. In fact, volunteering has always recharged me in my life, and it is working once again.
Both Johanna and I feel extremely privileged to be here. It is a rare chance to meet great people and bring contributions without the pressure, over-planning and stress that is sometimes associated to work. Everything we do here is very concrete, and no matter how modest our roles may be, we see the concrete products of our work along the way. We do what inspires us and stimulates our creativity. We live in the present moment in a beautiful environment, with very little noise and pollution. We learn a lot, we laugh a lot, and we feel uplifted by NGO staff and volunteers, local people, kids and nature.