The experienceThroughout the three months internship I learned the challenges that people face day to day in the Vondrozo corridor, being completely dependent on their environment for the supply of natural resources. As a WWF volunteer, one of the biggest challenges I was confronted with, was to find myself as an example of what environmentally friendly behaviour is, from a society whose environment does not face degradation, deforestation, pollution, etc. One day, a man from one of the villages near the forest asked me: so, is Europe covered in forest then? I froze. I didn’t know what to say. After a few seconds of intense thinking while the man stared at my poker face, I said: no, most of the forest is gone in Europe. After a long conversation trying to explain why it was a mistake to let that happen, the man left not very satisfied with my answers. At that moment I knew that my task was not going to be easy. As I observed people’s livelihoods, several questions popped in my head. What lesson could I possibly teach to people whose means of transport is their own two feet?; who barely produce any inorganic waste and are constantly in a never-ending mission to collect empty water bottles for reuse?; whose electric devises are fixed and re-fixed when broken instead of it being replaced by a new one? Don’t we, in “developed countries” pollute more than any of the rest? And then I realised that it wasn’t meat to be a one way learning. I realised why WWF had sent us there, not to teach but to learn, and go back to our countries knowing that we could change our lifestyle if we wanted to, to a more sustainable one. I learned that I could live without television, or mobile phone, or fancy jeans and still be extremely happy, just like the Malgache. I still wonder if the Malagasy people, that I had the pleasure to meet during my stay, didn’t have a bigger impact on me that I had on them.
WWF Madagascar really opened my eyes to what I would like to do in my life
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Learning about the day to day challenges people face in the Vondrozo Forest Corridor, how their survival depends on the natural resources, and how WWF is working with the local communities to identify more sustainable practices.
Reverse culture shock
- Rubbish: How can people fill up their rubbish bins so quickly? Where do all those plastics come from? And most importantly, who will take my empty water bottles from now on?
- Showers: It now seems like a waste to use more water than what fits in a single bucket, but I really missed hot showers!
- Time: People back home actually use watches and everyone is on time!!! However, I miss being able to take things “mora mora” (“slowly, slowly”)
- Greetings: I constantly feel like waving my hand and saying hello at the people I pass by in the street, it’s a habit I picked up as children said “bonjour” over and over again, waiting with eyes wide open for me to say “bonjour” back, to laugh with excitement and astonishment.
- Fashion: After having seen people wearing t-shirts with huge holes in them, clothes have a different meaning to me now.
I was so inspired by my experience in Madagascar I made many changes in my life. I started a masters in development studies to combine conservation & natural resource management, I did an internship in Morocco in water management, and now I'm in India for 5 months working on participatory forest management.