6 WWF Volunteers explore Madagascar and help conserve its richness



Posted on 26 February 2010  | 
Two 4x4 drive on the dirt road outside Toliara towards the small village of Ankilimalinka. A once in a lifetime experience is about to start for 6 international volunteers aged between 20 and 24 who are joining the WWF Madagascar Energy & Environment Synergy project for 3 months.

“I really want to learn about conservation in a developing country,” says 24-year-old Ian Martin from Canada. Ian is one of 6 international volunteers who arrived in Madagascar two weeks ago. He and his fellow volunteers will work for a project at WWF Toliara for 3 months. After one week in Tana where they had several orientation sessions and registered at their embassies and consulates, they took off for a 2-day journey down South. “I expected it to be wetter,” says 20-year-old Maia Tanner from England, “I mean, it’s supposed to be the rainy season!”

While they admire the vastness of the land after Ambalavao and the impressive rocks of Isalo National Park, they wonder, what they are going to experience. 24 year-old Julie Bremner from Canada is excited and says, “I want to experience something completely different and learn more about the culture in Madagascar”. The volunteers ask many questions. Do we need to wear “lambas”? What's a Malagasy wedding like? How do you say “thank you” in Malagasy and why are people’s gravesites nicer than their own houses?

Sahondra Razafintsalama answers all these questions. She has been the Madagascar Explore Volunteer Coordinator since the beginning of the project four years ago. A specialist in Human Resource Development, Sahondra is also a very warm and welcoming person. “I love working with young people from different backgrounds and help them discover my country” she says and adds “They all leave Madagascar enriched with unique experiences and unforgettable memories”. She laughs her infectious laughter and says “even if it is not always easy for them”.

In almost four years she has made sure that the volunteers are prepared in the best possible way for what awaits them in the field. Nevertheless there are problems – diarrhoea and food poisoning are common diseases among “vazaha”. Some of them have problems integrating in the local communities or are frustrated because things work differently from what they are used to. But for most volunteers, the Explore programme broadens their horizons.

The volunteers will spend two and a half months in the field. They are split up in two groups of 2 and 4 persons and will work in two rural communities, Ankilimalinka and Andranohinaly in Toliara. These villages are intervention sites of the project MG 0927-01 Energy Environment Synergy in the South West (SEESO), within the footprint programme. The project aims to reforest some of the cleared areas around the villages. They use fast growing trees which will provide the villagers and nearby Toliara with fuel wood and charcoal. WWF hopes to thereby reduce pressure on the natural spiny forest. Rina Andrianarivony, project officer at WWF Toliara, manages the project. He is very happy to have the six volunteers working for his project. “We need more staff than we can pay for” he says, “and also, people listen to “vazaha” here.” He hopes that if people see that the volunteers are motivated to plant trees for them, they will be motivated to plant trees too. The young students will raise awareness for a new law about the consumption of energy wood. They will also talk about new methods of improved carbonisation. “And last but not least” Rina laughs out loud “I can improve my English with them”.

In Toliara, the 6 volunteers had an introductory session at the WWF office and learnt more about their tasks. They also stocked up on food and bought Lambahoanys . Their first week in the field will be filled with classes in Malagasy, more specifically in the local dialects Masikoro and Mahafaly. “This is crucial,” says Sahondra Razafintsalama, “They must learn the basics to allow them to communicate and interact with local people, a key to integration in the village”. Upon arrival in Ankilimalinka, the volunteers pay a courtesy visit to the local authorities with WWF field staff: the mayor of Ankilimalinika and the “Chef du Fokontany”. Sahondra Razafintsalama and Rina Andrianarivony reconfirm the objectives of the volunteers' stay and asks for their assistance for the volunteers' activities in the field. Then, they go to their new homes. The four volunteers in Ankilimalinka will have one room in a concrete house and two small traditional houses with thatched roofs. “This is really nice!” says Katherine Davey from the US “I am looking forward to spending my first night here in Ankilimalinka!” Maia Tanner says she will probably miss the shower and the toilet next to her room. But she is sure, that “that will be the only thing. I won’t miss home – this will be our home for the next months.”

On their return from the field, the volunteers are required to complete several tasks. They will have to write a report about their activities on the project and one about the “EXPLORE Volunteer Programme”. Producing a short video is another task as well as writing articles on their experience for the WWF International website. They will also have to do at least three presentations in different institutions (universities, schools etc.) or organisations back home. In fact, when they return home they act as “Ambassadors” for the WWF projects where they were working, thereby continuing to contribute to WWF’s mission in their different spheres of influence.

The program is designed to inspire people and to let the world know more about the conservation reality and social development work in a developing country. Ian Martin, who studies geography, says “I want to put more pressure on Canadians when I am back home to conserve our nature. What I can learn in Madagascar will help me protect my own environment, too. ”

by Martina Lippuner, Communications Manager at WWF Madagascar & WWF Volunteer with Madagascar Simpona project in 2007

Julie, Katherine, Robert, Ian, Francesca and Maia with volunteer coordinator Sahondra
© WWF / Martina Lippuner Enlarge
Their home for 3 months!
© WWF / Martina Lippuner Enlarge
Courtesy visit with Sahondra to the Chef du Fokontany
© WWF / Martina Lippuner Enlarge
Maya with curious kids in Ankilimalinka
© WWF / Martina Lippuner Enlarge
In the spiny forest
© WWF / Martina Lippuner Enlarge

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