Madagascar was the topic of the first book report that I ever did in my life, at which time it was still hard to visit there if you were not a researcher, but as time went on, it opened to tourism. To read about the issue faced by a country is one thing, but to be living amongst the people, see the erosion of the land in your backyard, and face the stench of sanitation issues in a daily basis causes you to truly feel a personal desire to assist in changing the situation.
How did I even end up there?As an assistant for World Water Week, in Stockholm, Sweden, I met some amazing WWF staff members working on their freshwater / water policy programs, who steered me to the panda.org website. The idea of working with the WWF organization appealed to me greatly, so I visited the website. It was during that visit that I found the link to the youth volunteer program, and knew it was my calling. I worked on my essay on my flight home, so the moment my plane landed San Francisco, CA I submitted my application. Before I knew it, I was leaving to go the other side of the planet, to be one of six people getting to go live in the spiny forest. Honestly, my life has never been the same.
I have always been interested in water policy and ecology as I was born in a country (Bangladesh) that will most likely be underwater in the next thirty years and raised in California that faces droughts. Since I was a kid I loved exploring and knew when I landed in my village, that this would be the start of more exploration in my life. Upon my return, I have become more interested in conservation topics and promoting policies that work with the locals of poor countries in respect to preservation of important animal and plant habitats. Not only did I learn a lot about conservation, I learned a lot about myself, and made friends that I know I will keep in touch with for the rest of my life.
The experiences of working with WWF in the bush of Madagascar, inspired me to learn more about the geology of the "dry forest" of California, and to promote toilets in developing countries. The lack of sanitation was something that was hard to ignore while doing this project as we were the only people who had toilets in the village. This opportunity provided me the stepping stone to follow my passions. Currently I have been volunteering with California Academy of Science, learning as much as I can about Madagascar's wildlife and taking classes in San Diego, in hopes to go to graduate school so I can do field work in Madagascar...
Public Health & Environment video
This was the project I worked on during my time in Madagascar. I thank WWF for giving me the opportunity to volunteer in Madagascar and attaining such precious information about the spiny forest and the endemic species of Madagascar. I used music from Sigur Ros and Cat Stevens...
This is something I realized later that is utterly important to comprehend: at times people will stare at you and you shall feel uncomfortable, remember you have a camera to take their photos, while they can only hold onto the image of you in their mind. The people are curious and kind, as long as you are the same.
Things you really should not forget:
- A journal and great crayons - it's great to be able to draw and explain things when you are confused
- Camera - get a great one and your images will keep you connected to this place mentally
- Printed photos of you to give your host village - images are important to the people
- Swiss army knife - I've never diced more vegetables in a daily basis in my life than when I lived in the bus
- Sunblock - You will use it and you will love yourself for taking some with you
- Wet wipes - they are great for so many reasons. Most likely you will have limited toilet facilities, so be prepared.
- Girls - awesome tampons, because there are slim pickings here
Madagascar tribute video
I created this video to share some of my emotions and visuals that I felt I could not explain in words. This shows a good amount of the village where I resided in the spiny forest. The island of Madagascar is the fourth largest island in the world and one of the world's hotspots in biodiversity. It is also home to some of the poorest people in the world. This video was created in May 2008, since which the country has been in more political unrest that might lead to more water and food crisis for some of the poorest individuals. The area of Ankirikirik is located in southern Madagascar and is predominately where the Antandroy people (one of 11 tribes in the country) reside. The Antandroy are known as warriors, and the people of this village were curious, kind, and friends who I shall never forget.
I would like to thank WWF for giving me this opportunity, my fellow team mates - Margaux, Leon, Emmanuelle, Shana, and Franziska - the kind helpers from ASOS (Fidy, Fanza, Tony) and the numerous individuals (esp. Joan D'Arc and the kind family of Herve) for their assistance with situating us with our project and understanding of the Malagasy life and plants. Added thanks goes out to the WWF Fort Dauphin staff, our volunteer coordinator, Voahgny, the WWF Toliar folks, and all those who will keep me curious enough to hopefully return again. Thanks!