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About me...

I’m Henintsoa Ravoala and as my name suggests, I'm Malagasy. I was born in Madagascar but was brought up in France where I have been living since I was 2 years old. So far, I shared my life between my parents' home in Haute Savoie and my student life in Lyon where I spent 4 years and obtained my first year of Master in Political Science in August 2010. I did not know anything about the WWF’s Explore programme and it was by chance that I discovered the site. I was looking for a way to get involved effectively in protecting the environment and I immediately filled out my application form without really expecting too much... and I was selected!

And why in Madagascar?

I was just finishing my Master's year. I wanted to move from theory to practical, gain field experience and volunteering seemed a good opportunity to rub shoulders with the ground realities in the field of development. What interested me firstly was how the WWF had come to reconcile environmental protection, socio-economical and cultural development, particularly in contexts such as Madagascar where the ecological and environmental concerns could seem minor, even luxury, given the poverty that afflicts the country.

The most obvious reason is that Madagascar is my country and I wanted to do something concrete for it, for its development and for its environmental heritage which is so rich. However, to a young Malagasy, this is not so obvious at all, since for most Malagasy immigrants or those born in France (or more generally in the West), the return to country outside holidays is of little or no consideration, and interest in Madagascar comes down to family reunions and endless stories of nostalgic parents.

I also wanted to wring the neck of all these prejudices about Madagascar, including some shared by young Malagasy from France: no, it’s not just an animated film, not only of poverty or deserted beaches of white sand and no, wildlife can’t be reduced to emblematic lemurs...
Formation en nutrition au village de Anivorano 
© WWF / Henintsoa Ravoala
Formation en nutrition au village de Anivorano
© WWF / Henintsoa Ravoala
What I learned
Throughout these three months, I learned a lot about the country, the WWF conservation work ... and about myself, for example I am capable of a physically challenging hike of 120 km! I could see and share the daily life of people and then try to understand their relationship with their environment. I have seen the difficulties of raising awareness and the need to involve different requirements: economy, social and ecology, which may sometimes seem opposed.
I also observed that a population's culture can be an obstacle to protecting the environment through the practice of “tavy” (slash and burn) for example, but it can also be support for this protection, through some “fady” or taboo (for example prohibiting the killing of certain animals) or by the transmission of knowledge, for example about medicinal plants. The cultural dimension can’t be neglected, as it is ubiquitous in the lives of the Malagasy.

I also discovered, not without pride that the Malagasy themselves became aware of the importance of their environment, such as this young boy in the village of Anivorano who came to us and asked us to protect the forest surrounding the lemurs. Despite the harsh living conditions, they realized that nature was not only a resource but also a place of life for animals and plants, a system where all elements are interdependent and on which they too depend, and that protection of environment can be beneficial for them. Man can take advantage of this extraordinary biodiversity without harm nor degradation. This awareness is also the result of the work of WWF and its agents who for years tirelessly sensitize the population. However, the road is still long and bush fires, which we saw throughout our stay, were there to remind us that: change is gradual, one must focus on the long-term and constantly renew its approach to education. And that's where the Explore programme and volunteers are proving to be invaluable!

I applied, I was selected and I spent three unforgettable months. So why not you?

This has really been a volunteering experience that changed my life and it's not trite to say this, it is really an incredible opportunity to be selected and to have lived these three months. I achieved my objective for my country and went far beyond, I realized that this experience and the people I met had a greater impact on my life. This has strengthened my ideals, but also my willingness to work for development in developing countries. So if you want to take part in Explore, try, and if you are selected, don’t hesitate a second, go for it!
Want to know more?

Please don't hesitate to contact me!

My Advice?
Be prepared to take nothing for granted, to see your own references sometimes a bit shaken up and to keep an open mind to discover and understand other ways of living, thinking, particularly the life and culture of the Malagasy, which may themselves be disconcerted to cultural difference (this is also valid for the life of the group of volunteers, because they come from different backgrounds and have different personalities and ways of seeing things): cultural exchange is done in both directions! It is best not to set preliminary expectations but remain open to discovery and opportunity.

Malagasy Cooking School video

"Cooking Food for Health" - This film was created by the girls of the WWF Explore Vondrozo 2010 group: Christa Szumski, Henintsoa Ravoala, Cara Brook & Kunigunde Baldauf. This video is intended for use by WWF in Madagascar, however, showcases the work of WWF Volunteers. This recipe was toured as part of the Holistic Conservation Programme for Forests in Madagascar, teaching women how to cook with new crops and how to plan balanced meals that include protein, lipid, carbohydrate and other essential nutrients. "Gena Gena" is a cake based on manioc, banana and peanuts - delicious & nutritious!

My photos of Madagascar