Céline De Caluwé

What's it like to be a volunteer in Madagascar?

So, you are thinking about volunteering in Madagascar? That’s great!
I’m Céline De Caluwé, 25 years old, from Belgium. I volunteered in Madagascar (Ivohibe) from October 2012-January 2013.
 
It was a unique experience, both on professional as on personal level. I will try to recreate a part of my experience on this web page. I hope you will have the chance to live the other part, the part that is not describable. The part that is so wonderful and personal that only you can live it.
 / ©: WWF / Tsiory Andrianavalona
Exploring the forest during a biodiversity inventory
© WWF / Tsiory Andrianavalona

Great volunteering team

We were a great team. Tsiory and Aina from Madagascar, Solange from Rwanda, Cami from Argentina, John from UK and me. We have different culture, a different background and different characters. But the mix was amazing. Exchanging views on technical or social aspects during the job was a big added value to the work, even though it did sometimes pop up many discussions. Our free daily time together was as exciting than the work on itself. 

After a week of intensive language course and getting general information about the project in Antananarivo, the local culture and a first aid course, we were ready to start the field work. We met our new teammates: the field agents of WWF, with whom we would be doing the field work for the coming three months.
 / ©: WWF / Aina Ramihangihajason
Group photo
© WWF / Aina Ramihangihajason

The field work

The project we were working on was the Programme Holistique pour Conservation des Forêts (PHCF). It aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing deforestation and forest degradation in Madagascar, by, among other ways, improving livelihoods of local communities wwf.panda.org/fr/wwf_action_zones/madagascar_nature/programme_holistique/.

The PHCF has following main objectives: sensibilisation, alternatives for slash and burn, natural resources management transfer, reforestation and restoration and the creation of new protected areas. Our activities were based on these objectives. Our activities were based on working with COBAs (« communauté de base », villager communities) which are divided in many groups and we worked on growing vegetables, fish breading, intensive rice systems, rabbit breading, duck breading and bee keeping. In each COBA we visited, we gave advices about techniques and management, verified the report books and helped them with filling it in. Our activities of reforestation were mainly based on working in tree nursery, pruning trees and visiting reforestation areas. We also showed different videos including videos on climate change, pollution and conservation and development.
 / ©: WWF / John Paul de Quay
Spectacular view in Ivohibe District. Was this forest before?
© WWF / John Paul de Quay
 / ©: WWF / Solange Uwera
Plowing the ground for conversion to a rice field
© WWF / Solange Uwera

My personal experience

Whitout exaggerating. This experience changed my life. I discovered another life is possible. Especially because of the people I met, the stories they told me and the way they looked at life. I more than ever realized the sense of urgency of conservation. Once the forest is cut you can use the ground a few years for agriculture. When most nutrients leached out, some grasses can still grow. But after a few years of grazing with zebus, no fresh grass will grow anymore. So you can keep putting the grassland in fire to have some fresh resprouts of grass. But in the end, nothing will grow anymore, except for dry grass that are not even eatable for zebus anymore...  So once it's gone, it's really gone...
As important is that our daily life in Europe has an impact of conservation. So doing sensibilisation work in Madagascar should go together with sensibilisation in Eruope (and worldwide). 

Most of all I want to thank my collegue volunteers. We had a very intense and enriching time together that I will never forget.
 / ©: WWF / Cami Cosse
Solange taking pictures for our reports
© WWF / Cami Cosse

And after?

Honestly, it was hard to quit Madagascar. We were living a dream, learning so many things every day, sharing it with good friends. But we left with a package of new insights and reflections. And with a plan to attend a marriage of some friends...! 

Today, I have the chance to have a job I enjoy every day: working for WWF Belgium on International Projects. I wish everybody of our team can get the chances they deserve: we did a good job friends!

 It will be different than what you expect

A friend just before leaving. I thought about it very often. It helped me a lot to readapt my adaptations to reality on the field. In the end it turned out to be different but so much better.

 / ©: WWF / Cami Cosse
The first steps to a mudfight after working in the rice field...
© WWF / Cami Cosse

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