The experience: What you see and what you feel
Trying to find the right words to share my experience there is however somewhat difficult as it seems that it is just now that the experience is really sinking in, almost three months after I got back home. Yet as I worked on my video that hopefully manages to summarize what I felt in the big island and as I went through my pictures, I manage to realize the real impact of this eye-opening experience on me.
Madagascar is no doubt a destination that all biologists want to discover. This unique biodiversity is what you have in mind and what you want to see when you get there. And I did get my share of nature’s wonder out there: beautiful plants, mesmerizing misty forest in the morning, bright flowering orchids, funny-walking chameleons and lemurs that sometimes do ‘like to move it’.
Yet they are not what I cherished most from the experience. It is those people that we met, the people we lived with, these communities we were part of that made this experience, a true human experience. With them I discovered a new way of living: simple and tightly linked to their immediate environment. They warm-heartedly shared their life with us.
I also discovered communities deeply anchored in traditions, which was somewhat playing a role in the degradation of their environment. Yet I find it hard to blame them. We are all raised in a specific way, immerged in whatever culture/religion and way of life we were born into. We would all be different, living differently and have different opinions about life if we were born in that other place, with that other family. There, it was a question of survival, their way of living. Giving them opportunities for a better livelihood and informing them about the consequences of their actions on their own survival is one of the reasons we were there. Yet as you go there hoping to help them, it is them that help you: to see and live life differently. And with my biological background as I plan to pursue a career in conservation, my time there has given it a different dimension. I wish never to have a microscopic view of wildlife, to see this little species isolated from others. There is a whole complex world within and beyond the forests, yet it is all intricately and beautifully linked.
My advice for you
Yes! Don’t go there with a ‘I see life in pink’ attitude expecting everything to be perfect and everybody to be grateful and like you. Since I like these color metaphors, also don’t go there if you are to see everything either in black or white. That same day that you will get into conflict with another volunteer can also be the same day you will learn to make your own coffee in the traditional Malagasy way. There will be good and ‘bad’ things happening simultaneously but keep a positive attitude because even small things like the smile of the kids are enough to make your day. Once home, it is what you will remember and all the rest will just not matter. So dare to go out there and LIVE!
Forest conservation: Beyond the science, there's the people
What I retained from my experience as a WWF volunteer on a community forest project in Midongy du Sud: Communities should not be left aside from conservation actions.