I applied to the WWF´s volunteer placement out of my eternal longing both for participating in conservation and sustainable development programs and travel across the world jumping from one adventure to another. I usually write about all the important, funny, emotional or ideological encounters that I have during my volunteer experiences and journeys.
WWF has given me the unparalleled opportunity to put my writings and photographs about their program on this website. I hope every reader enjoys through some of these articles a bit of the Malagasy culture with me and learns as I do about sustainable development, environmental conservation, and how to live a funny healthy committed life. Later on, photos and portraits will come to complete the articles in order to give a complete and enlightened picture of what we are doing here.
Special thanks to fellow Volunteer John Paul de Quay for his corrections, edits, insights and critics. These posts wouldn’t be as they are without him!
We arrived about ten days ago and while the official program has yet to be sent we have already created bonds with our field agents. We have visited the nearest villages in which the WWF has been working for a couple of years now and met the people and kids that live in them.
I have been particually drawn to the children´s contagious cheerfulness, which to be honest surprised me a little bit. I was expecting extreme poverty and the angry faces that it usually comes with. But I have found the kids here, at least in Ivohibe, to be full of character and joy. They wave their hands and cry with cheeky laughters as we pass by. They yell their hellos and then run away, showing a shyness that doesn’t quite hide their curiosity and wittiness. They ask what our names are from afar, as to keep a distance that their shouting’s try to traverse.
In the villages, a couple of miles away from our HQ, I found the children equally welcoming and curious. They start off very cautious and serious. But their stiffness fades away as soon as I get my camera out. They shy away between laughter and yellings, to come back running and crouch themselves together in front of my camera visor to look at themselves. They laugh at each other pointing to the camera and then ask for more pictures. The bolder ones smile at me now, and make funny faces as we bond in a way that no language can do.
I had noticed once before, with my nephews that speak German, which I scarcely do, that language is extremely overrated, especially with kids. You don´t need to speak in order to have great fun and understand each other. Very soon they start hiding behind the hay and popping out trying to scare us, yelling and laughing of their own game.
They look and seem so happy, despite the dirt and ripped clothes. This impression strengthens while we clean our feet in a water pond. They start jumping into the water for refreshment. Bounds and flips cover the air while they show of how well they can jump onto the water.
So while my fellow explorers pay loads of attention to the technical explanations of the field agents, I can´t help myself but to play around with them, take pictures and enjoy their curiosity and toughness. You can almost feel their strength while they walk with us; they don´t sweat a drop and have extra amounts of energy for running, playing, jumping, climbing up trees and coming back for more, yet again.
Concerning their strength; one of the things that amazes me most is how the little girls, of barely five or six years old, already carry their younger brothers on their back, in typical African fashion. They must be so strong! Imagine what kind of a strong woman that little girl will grow up to be, if at her young age she is already carrying a small boy around all day long. I leave the villages greatly humbled. I cannot imagine a life in which at five years old you are already responsible for another’s life. It puts into perspective so many tears wasted by irrelevant people and situations. Suddenly our work here becomes much more urgent as the need arises for easing the amount of work that those little girls and boys will do as they grow up. Hopefully once grown, their kids will be at school, enjoying themselves and learning their family trade, instead of solely caring for their little brothers and sisters.
Collaborative work: key for a field agent
Collaborative and team work is, most of the time, not easy. However it is paramount in roder to build and promote sustainable projects and work in conservation. After my stay with the Madagascar field team I learned quite a few lessons on how to work in a team and what approach is by far the most productive.
When trying to implement a project it is crucial to keep in mind that every conception that we have can be incorrect or misguided. One may work with people of our same field but have very different professional views of the same situation. In order to be productive it is important to remain open to other´s experiences and allow them to pass that experience to us. This does not mean to relinquish or change our views or opinions, but it does imply to be opened to the fact that for others might work with different data of have had a different set of working experiences. Theirs are as real and contingent as ours. Since is for everyone´s world´s that we are trying to come up with sustainable improvements: every one of us is part of the solution, every opinion and experience counts and should be taken into account.
If there is a true willingness to build a collaborative project for a common good, then there has to be a true commitment to compromise. And compromise does not mean to explain why our views are better and why others should compromise to our vision. Compromise means to find a middle point between others visions and ours and find solutions that address them all.
In addition to be open to others experiences, it is very important to be willing to challenge ourselves. This means approaching every disagreement with a self-defiant logic: Why do we have the opinion we have, and what is it in our personal and professional experience that has built this idea?
It is not an easy exercise since it implies to face the fact that not only we might be wrong but also to face the fact that we simply might not know where we stand. If this is not kept in mind, not only we are unable to properly process others suggestions but we remain ignorant on why we work as we do and how to improve. It is very easy to be open to learn new things; it is a bit harder to be open to re learn the things we think we already know. It is important to notice that by challenging our convictions and previous knowledge we do not un-do them: we put them under scrtutiny and eventually we even change them for fresh and improved, better informed ideas and prospects.
Remaining open to other´s experiences while implementing a development project or program is key for this. Otherwise agencies end up proposing invasive projects that are not inclusive, do not take local communities into account and do not address their needs, and therefore are a waste of time, energy and resources.
To be sure and comfortable enough in your own skin so that you are actually willing to change, and therefore improve yourself; that is the key of self-challenge and growth that makes a good team and a good sustainable development agent.