A Volunteer's life in Befasy...



Posted on 20 October 2010  | 
Befasy (literally meaning big-sand) is a small, isolated Vezo fishing village, where the spiny desert landscape that is characteristic of south-western Madagascar, meets the azure waters of the Mozambique Channel and where myself and 3 other volunteers (Alexa, Jonas & Markos) were based for 2½ months.

During our stay we are able to get involved with a variety of activities. For the first week we walk to the school in Maromena every morning for a crash course in the local dialect with local school teachers, M. Fangy Alain and the lovely Mlle Odile. It’s only a week or two before we have all become rehearsed in the positive local greeting. “Akore!” “Besoa!” “Ino ty vavao?” “Tsy misy”. Our vocabulary continues to steadily, or in Markos’case, rapidly grow in those first few weeks and the words we collect help us to gain further meaning from our experiences in the village.

Our work as volunteers is aimed at improving the understanding of the Toliara Coral Reef System and its role in the fishing communities. We run environmental education lessons and activities with the school; and conduct awareness raising sessions with fishermen and their families on topics such as marine ecology, coral biology, sustainable fishing practices, local by-laws on the harvest times of certain species and the life cycles of popularly fished marines species.

With the assistance of Madagascar National Parks and WWF, the villagers of Maromena and Befasy manage a community fisheries reserve called Tsitinginy, a 27 ha “no-take” zone or “bank for the fish” as it is often referred to around the village. The local families are acutely aware that the near-shore fishery is in decline – they are out fishing for longer periods at a time, over greater distances and catching fewer fish.
Francisca, a PhD student from Toliara, is gathering data on local fisheries for his thesis. Three mornings each week, we help him with his fish capture monitoring. The fishermen go out every day, mostly leaving in the early morning between 5am and 7am, but always depending on the condition of the wind, sea and tides.
Our neighbour Rony paddles his pirogue (a dugout canoe) up to 6-kilometres offshore on a daily basis, weather permitting, to retrieve his catch (shark, fin- fish) and re-bait his fishing line.

After 5 or 6 hours and with the south wind in their sails, the pirogues begin to reappear on the horizon – and you need to be quick to catch them as they charge up the beach. The catch is measured, weighed, identified and recorded along with other information such as the type of fishing gear used (line, nets, spears, spear guns) and the location of the fishing passage. The women also fish, gleaning the reef flats at low tide. They meet the fishermen when they return, collecting the catch which they process and pass onto other sellers in the village.

Now back in Australia, having had time to reflect on this experience, I can say that it has impacted on my life in many ways, and I dream of returning to Madagascar one day! Among my favourite of many lasting impressions was the amazing resourcefulness, energy and ability of the local men and women whom I have learnt many lessons from. And of course, the impromptu outbursts of kalalaky/dancing from the villagers and occasionally, the volunteers!
Off to work
© WWF / Claire Moulin Enlarge
Fish capture monitoring, Befasy
© WWF / Claire Moulin Enlarge

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