Nearly two years has passed since I left Finland to work as a volunteer for WWF International in Madagascar. Now I am able to sit down and write something about it and still it’s hard to find the right words to describe how it really was and how it affected me.
At the time I was 21 years old and had just finished a one-year long photography course. I found myself at a crossroads and didn’t know which way to choose. Photography was fun, but was it enough? Since I was a child I’ve always admired the work WWF does. So when I found out about WWF Explore! I just had to apply and hope for the best. And a couple of months later I was on my way to Madagascar. It didn’t feel real and I didn’t know what to expect.
Once in Madagascar I floated away. Floated into a different world, a world beyond reach. I could not find myself in this strange, beautiful world and I got lost. I had walked into a maze, a maze of confusion. Who am I. Why am I. Why am I who I am?
The time in Madagascar gave me a different way of viewing things, a larger perspective. I remember how powerless I felt being there, feeling there is nothing I really can do. Since I hadn’t studied anything relating to environmental work, I didn’t have the tools to do what I would have wanted to do. So I concentrated on taking pictures and just observing the life around me. It was my first time in Africa and in a developing country and it wasn’t an easy task to adapt to the new surroundings. There were always curious eyes following every step you took and every move you made.
I learned how much conservation really is to work with people. Talking to them and informing them about how important it is to protect the environment. I realized how much more I could do to help the environment from back home where I understand the culture and speak the language. Spending time with the people also made me realize how hard it is to find a balance between development and conservation. How can you say to a person not to use wood for cooking and building when he/she doesn’t have a choice? For people to be able to change their habits and lifestyles they have to be given choices. Finding these choices isn’t easy. I understood that it’s back home I can make a difference. I have the luxury of choice and that gives me the power to do the right or the wrong thing. People tend to think that it doesn’t make a difference what they do and how they live, but I’ve learned that’s wrong! Back in Madagascar people just have to live how they’re living since they have no choice. But living in a developed country gives you the possibility to choose how you live. And that, if something, is making a difference!
The Malagasy are wonderful people that seem to have an endless joy for life. They are curious and want to learn a lot! In Madagascar you’ll find compassion, love and happiness round every corner. The Malagasy don’t live in a hurry. They live in the moment and take each day as it comes. For me their lifestyle and everyday life became a self-evident way to live. And that is why I find it hard to really explain how it was. During the trip it was the Malagasy people that made the greatest impact on me. Joy and misery, happiness and sorrow, poverty and richness all walk hand in hand.
"In Madagascar people have to live how they’re living since they have no choice. But living in a developed country gives you the possibility to choose how you live. And that, if something, is making a difference! "
Take a look at my video
I only spent two and a half months in Madagascar, but it mixed me up for a much longer time. It was a trip filled with a lot of strong impressions and coming back home was a culture shock.
To talk about the trip and let people know what I had experienced turned out to be hard. I guess people just deal with things differently, some people process things by talking, but for me the processing happened in silence. I couldn’t look at my Madagascar pictures for a long time and when people asked me how my trip was I didn’t know what to answer.
Don’t get me wrong it was a great trip! And I learned a lot! It just took my brain a while to catch up with what I experienced. My great lesson was learning to hold on to what I believe in, even if it seems hard and pointless.
I had a spark. A spark, that told me to work for a better world. This spark led me to Madagascar. Oddly enough that is where the spark was lost. It got suffocated.
Suffocated by the things I realized, and learned, about conservation and the world around us. I lost hope and I felt small and powerless in a sea of trouble. But the spark survived. It survived to grow stronger. And now I am guarding it as a treasure. I have a spark. A spark that drives me to work for a better world.