What can you do in seven weeks to help save the world?



Posted on 16 February 2009  | 
We – Leon, Naureen and I – spent seven weeks amongst the people of Ankirikiriky. We were involved in the WWF programme “Ala Maiky” in the Spiny Forest Ecoregion through the project PHE (“Population, Health, Environment”). This project is called “integrated”, as it is based on increasing the communities’ well-being and prosperity on health and economical levels, in order for the locals to act in a responsible manner and to take care of their natural resources in a sustainable way in the future. The final aim is naturally to achieve strong and reliable protection and conservation of the ecosystem.

Our work was initially based on promoting economical stoves (“toko mitsitsy” in the local dialect), encouraging reforestation, presenting some “Activités Génératrices de Revenus” (extra activities for them to increase their income), supporting the Planning Familial (birth control and sanitation).

But of course beyond it all, we wanted to make them aware of the richness, fragility and specificity of their environment. This is why we eventually edited a film for the community – original version in the local dialect! – as we realised that the people really have no idea of the treasure that belongs to them. To make a video and project it was a great way to catch their attention and involve them in our concern.

“What, don’t you have lemurs in Switzerland?!!?” No, we don’t, nor do we have chameleons or radiate tortoises. How many nights did we spend chatting around the fire under the milky way with Laurent, Koseke, Maharavo; how many hours staring at wildlife pictures in our books, talking about it together, drawing with the kids; how many walks in the surrounding forests, looking for lemurs, laughing as the chameleons were showing up as soon as our friends would spot them in the branches; sharing our enthusiasm and commitment for nature.

So what did we do in seven weeks to help save the world?

Thinking about this small amount of time in front of this great stretch of dry forest, and all the time that will (hopefully!) build the future, we thought the best solution was probably to pass it over. We didn’t build 10’000 toko mitsitsy (not even 10 actually). We didn’t replant a whole forest. We didn’t give them a fish but wanted to help them learn how to fish. So we talked, we shared time, laughter and lives, and hope to have helped make them understand that they have it all in their hands and are the only ones who can really and definitely make things change and save their world. The lemurs, the chameleons, the tortoises, the fantiolotse, the rain, the river, the rice, the trees and the zebus; this all belongs to them, and we happily exchanged some things we know, as they shared their knowledge too. And I swear I certainly learnt at least as many things as they did.

Ankirikiriky was a fabulous opportunity to learn, to work, to discover, to exchange, to go over one’s boundaries and open oneself to the beauty and strength of life. You don’t only get to know the people and the place, but you become part of it. The feeling of happiness I had walking through a postcard-like landscape on my way back from my daily bath at the river soon changed into pride and bliss to feel at home there in such a wonderful place. The sound of the holy [damned!] mandolin, little wooden box built with a hole in its middle and two strings, gave rhythm to every single dawn and new dusk, replacing the possibly discouraged thoughts in your mind by a constantly joyous melody (though very repetitive but totally endemic too!). And all these nights spent cooking on the fire (economical stove of course, let’s show the example), joined by our faithful friends wrapped-up in their blankets (20°C is cold!) for the after-dinner cricket-barbecue on the ashes, were occasions that regularly became great discussion times. The two English-French speakers, looking at their three local mates trying to make their mind in their own language before summing it up and translate it into few words of basic Malagasy-French, were excitingly staring at the lips pronouncing weird and unknown sounds. And despite the sometimes incomprehensible information, we were all still trying to guess what it was all about, re-making the dialogues from the reading of the expressions and emotions on our faces. Another time, another life.

Ankirikiriky is the place where we sowed some of our knowledge, relatively adapted to local circumstances and needs. But it is also the place where we picked up and swallowed great values of life and experienced the reality of the field, with all strings attached. The biggest seed sowed though is hope. Hope that the communities will feel concerned by the environmental issue. Hope that they will combine some of our ideas with their vision and wisdom. Hope that the wildlife concern will grow and meet clever solutions, convinced awareness and ardent defence. Hope that they won’t forget the cause of our presence as they will remember us and our commitment. Hope that the Ankirikiriky seed will help sow new ones all over the world, reach our different places for us all to share respectfully our world with nature.

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