Melinda Bangerter

Three month in Lemurs-Wonderland

Madagascar - a country so far away and so different in many aspects. A country with an abundance of endemic animals and plants, rainforests, savannah, mountains and moor landscape.
How attractive it sounded to me when I thought about my favourite place to join a volunteering programme. And how incredibly happy I was when I got the positive answer for my application for the WWF Explore Programme. I was assigned to the project “Empowering civil societies for improved livelihoods and the sustainable use of natural resources”.

My entire life I was keen on environmental conservation and it seemed to be a picture-perfect place to cut my teeth volunteering in the field. Moreover, WWF is one of my favourite organisations that commits itself to the environment. My dream took shape after a few days in Antananarivo when moving to southeast Madagascar, in the region of Ivohibe. 
 / ©: WWF / Melinda Bangerter
Planting 1000 trees in Angodongodo
© WWF / Melinda Bangerter

Places and people

Amazing. That was my first impression of Ivohibe when we arrived in the darkness. Not even a night in the Sahara two years ago revealed such a breath-taking star-spangled cope of heaven - in this small village which was our home base for the next three month. During our stay in Madagascar I took Ivohibe, our group, the WWF agents and the locals into my heart and I felt home.

During the three months in the Ihorombe region we visited 12 different villages which were scattered within distance of 50 kilometres from Ivohibe. Closer villages happened to be in walking distance of 25 kilometres. All our trips had their adventurous sides and brought along a lot of fun. We fought against the bloodthirsty leeches in the wet forest, crossed rivers with or without wobbly boats or carried two chickens 20 kilometres in a basket back to Ivohibe. 

Although our stays in the villages were always different in the sense of education, planning and social interaction, the locals welcomed us cordially in every village. The villages were small and not home to a high number of people. Nevertheless they put out tremendously generous with us despite their scarce possessions. I was impressed by the generosity and hospitality from the Malagasy people which added up to feel accepted in this foreign culture and at least as a short-term member of the village.

The simple life in the villages where we slept in tents surrounded by typical sub-Saharan African loam houses was visually and spiritually appealing. Even if I was conscious of the life in development countries I realised once more, how fundamental nature is for people who rely in a straight line on it. Rivers, for example, were not only the source for drinking water but also the shower and sink for the dishes.

 / ©: WWF / Melinda Bangerter
Chicken Transport
© WWF / Melinda Bangerter
 / ©: WWF / Melinda Bangerter
Around Ivohibe
© WWF / Melinda Bangerter
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Ihororonda
© WWF / Melinda Bangerter

Our activities

In the villages we supported the local WWF agents in their work. The gain of the project was not only to raise awareness about the environmental problems and the importance of the forest but also to give the villagers more opportunities to improve their daily life. The people in Madagascar rely on natural resources, which is a problem because these are short and limited. In addition it is extremely hard to earn money in this secluded area. For this reason WWF gives the villagers possibilities to improve their situation with facile practical methods. Subsequently we conducted different activities in the field of agriculture, small animal breeding, measures in forest protection or education.

The time in Madagascar bundled so many highlights. For example the village Angodongodo where we planted 1000 Ravintsara-oil-trees in a single morning or the celebrations of the environmental day in Bemandresy where we were sitting the whole evening next to a bonfire and sang songs with the locals and the WWF staff. Also the first night in Ihororonda where we attempted to dance the traditional dance Kilalaky and we disgraced ourselves with our stiff hips or recalling the time in Soanatao where we could build a relationship with the young teacher Lea.  

 / ©: WWF / Melinda Bangerter
Gardening
© WWF / Melinda Bangerter
 / ©: WWF / Melinda Bangerter
Building a cooking stove
© WWF / Melinda Bangerter
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School lesson in Ihororonda
© WWF / Marc Sivignon

The activities:

  • Gardening
  • Cooking
  • Cooking stove building
  • Fruit tree planting
  • Small animal breeding
  • Rice cultivation
  • Women’s’ Group
  • Reforestation
  • Class with children

My impression

Of course, the stay in Madagascar was not always easy and involved a lot of challenges. Especially the language barrier between us and the villagers was a dare. Although we attended a short Malagasy language course at the start of the programme in Antananarivo, there was no chance to discuss with the people about the environmental issues or their problems and culture without a WWF agent who translated. Furthermore there was no privacy during the three month. We spent the whole time in our group and we were focused by the villagers. Starting from the moment when we opened our tents around 6 in the morning we turned into an attraction. Even if I felt a little bit uncomfortable at the beginning, time passing I got used to it and naturally disregarded being exotic for once. We also were gracefully imposed to the Malagasy way of working. That means no rush, plans can change and everything needs more time.

Whereas I was faced with these things I didn’t regret once that I joined the programme. It was such a valuable experience where I got the chance to get to know my expectations better. I learned to adapt within a different work culture and to see the life abroad in another perspective than before. We experienced what difficulties the locals are faced with and how important the intangibles assets and the natural resources are. Besides the fact that I got aware of this aspects, the people over- compensated these difficulties with their openness and cheerful manner. The locals were genuinely motivated to work with us what resulted in a feeling of being dearly appreciated.

On the other hand, I realised that conservation work in developing country is very challenging. Even if locals are motivated to work with an organisation like WWF there is a long way to change for sustainability. In my opinion it needs a lot of effort in educational work and the drastic raise in awareness of human actions and its correlating environmental problems. In this matter WWF excels and tries to enable the villagers to act independent. Undisputed, this is one of the main pillars in the sustainability of conservation work.

 / ©: WWF / Marc Sivignon
Around Bemandresy
© WWF / Marc Sivignon
 / ©: WWF / Melinda Bangerter
Hannah's & my girl in Ivohibe
© WWF / Melinda Bangerter
 / ©: WWF / Melinda Bangerter
Manamisoa
© WWF / Melinda Bangerter

What’s next?

In a way, the Volunteering was the decisive event for me to finalise my decision to change my career. I realised that nature and conservation work are my passion and I would love to work in this field. When I returned to Switzerland I also returned to campus. Despite I have a Bachelor degree in economics, I decided to enrol in an entirely different Bachelor: Political and Environmental Sciences at the University of Zurich.

I’m convinced that the volunteering with WWF was one of the best experiences in my life. I was given a fair chance to be a part of the difficult situation in a development country and it opened my eyes for a wide range of aspects. It is likely that I take part in another environmental project this year that focuses on reforestation and species conservation in Southeast Asia.


 / ©: WWF / Melinda Bangerter
Amazing landscape around Ivohibe
© WWF / Melinda Bangerter

Contact details

If you'd like to get more information about my experience, just write me a message:

melinda.bangerter@bluewin.ch

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