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Jungle beat
A three month stay in the Malagasy bush

The steady splashing of the river, the rustling wind through coconut palm leaves and the birds’ cheerful twittering are the only sounds to be heard in this village far away beyond the mountains – overwhelmed just by the hammering noise of numerous sound systems (which are run by solar energy) delivering the rhythms of latest Malagasy charts (and at times European dance music from the 90s…).

Some modern development has already reached the little village called Andranomilolo (speak Andshanoomeelooloo), although basic life conditions such as drinking water access, a power grid and sanitation are still missing (hindered by the fact that the village is only accessible by foot plus the nearest town is a 1,5 days walk away).

© Felana Razakamahefa


Sunrise over Andranomilolo rel= © Teresa Schallinger

Nonetheless, the villagers are expected to try their best in mitigating their impact on the environment. In this special context this means reducing the deforestation rate (about 50 000 ha of natural forest disappear each year in Madagascar; almost 90% of its original forest are already gone) and reforesting the areas heavily affected by erosion. Easier said than done, as wood is the most important natural resource for many Malagasy people, providing firewood for cooking as well as construction material. Also, they tend to clear forests in order to create new agricultural land, primarily to establish rice fields and grazing areas for cattle. For this purpose, traditionally used slash and burn activities are widespread throughout the country, increasing nutrient loss, soil erosion and desertification, not allowing any further growth for decades. So what’s the solution?

Walking through areas that show recent signs of slash and burn practice is nothing unusual rel= © Teresa Schallinger

A lot of the land that used to be covered by forests is now dry and suffers from soil erosion rel= © Felana Razakamahefa

Realizing the threats of the ongoing deforestation, the government has decentralized its forest administration and transferred a vast amount of forest land to be managed by local communities. The main objective of this empowerment is that the population, who remains the first beneficiary of the natural resources after all, learns to responsibly take care of their environment. The WWF’s and our volunteer’s role is to accompany and support the community associations who have been trusted with the forest administration: if these associations are not able to manage and use their assigned area rationally and in a resource-friendly way, just as well as to record and report all important actions, the government will withdraw the accorded authority from them.

More precisely, our volunteer work in Andranomilolo comprised regular meetings with the village community, supporting them with organizational matters, reforestation and forest restoration plans. This once even meant assisting with the organization of a big dance party (which included a DJ with his substantial sound system coming) to help gather money for the construction of a storehouse. Working with the local population also meant exercising a lot of patience: remembering meeting dates and being on time has far less relevance for them than tending vanilla and coffee fields.

Regular meetings with the village community or just some of the villagers was a big part of our work rel= © Teresa Schallinger

Living closely together with the villagers for almost three months permitted us to become part of the community. We continually tried to raise awareness for the importance of the environment and thus its protection, during group meetings as well as individually. But we also motivated them to feel more responsible towards the community association and to be more dynamic and supportive regarding the tasks that come along with the forest administration transfer: attend reunions and bring themselves in, help with the tree nursery, reforestation and much more.

Talking to the women of the village about their responsibilities and their capability to make a ... rel= © Aurélien Herimampionona Andriambololona

One of our most entertaining tasks was an environmental education with the kids, all the while keeping them animated with games and contests. 

Explaining the kids the importance of the forest… rel= © Teresa Schallinger

…while animating them with games… rel= © Felana Razakamahefa

…and contests rel= © Teresa Schallinger

We also assured the tree nursery’s maintenance and got some (dirty) hands-on experience in replanting sprouts with cow dung.

Filling pots for reforestation purposes with the local student environmental club rel= © Teresa Schallinger

Going on a patrol with the Forest Police, which consists of five men elected by the villagers, was another unforgettable experience. These “Polisin’ala” control the surrounding woodlands, reporting any illicit logging or burning.

Heading deep into the rainforest, not yet suspecting that a hungry horde of leeches would expect us ... rel= © Teresa Schallinger

Besides all that, a lot of our time was consumed simply by “surviving”: fetching water, cooking rice three times a day (yes, three. Rice for breakfast, rice for lunch aaaaand rice for dinner. Seven days a week), checking the house for scorpions, washing clothes and walking three hours to the nearest bigger village to buy some vegetables kept us occupied when there was nothing else to do.

Washing clothes under the gaze of curious spectators rel= © Felana Razakamahefa

The basic food in Madagascar is rice rel= © Felana Razakamahefa

Living in Andranomilolo was quite a big personal challenge. The lack of sleep thanks to the deafening music next door, not having any privacy sphere, some drunk guys trying to bargain my price, or the troubles with adjusting to the change in nutrition are just some of them.

But still, getting to spend time in such a remote area and to live in such simplicity was a wonderful experience. The kindness of some of the villagers as well as the charm and vitality of the kids is something that I will never forget.

Being taught how to roast coffee rel= © Felana Razakamahefa

Angé rel= © Teresa Schallinger

Our 14-year old neighbor Déline who was always the first to help us out when we were in need of ... rel= © Teresa Schallinger

The girls at their weekly practice: braiding each other’s hair rel= © Teresa Schallinger