A bit about me:
A bit about everything else:
I'm back home now having just completed my Bachelor in conservation biology. The time in Madagascar has brought home the reality of conservation work. In the three year course I learnt just as much in the three months with WWF in Madagascar. I read this really insightful book on conservation in developing countries during the first days in Tana called 'The soul of the Rhino' by a Nepalese guy who loved his Rhinos. He said 'conservation is nothing if not for the people' This quote would echo through my consciousness for the remainder of the 3 months as I would be brought to face it again and again. Be it on the straw mats in the village meeting hut in Bemandraisy village having open floor, translated conservations on the importance of forests; or in walking past a man cutting down a few trees in a tiny pocket of natural forest on the outskirts of town asking him why he's doing it in broken Malagasy and he replying something about family, food and having a sturdy house; or in cycling past a really well vegetated riverbank with a friend from the town; me asking:
"why does that river have so many trees around it and all the other rivers do not"
"Because there is a spirit in the river"
"Does the spirit protect the forest?"
"No, it kills the zebus"
Huh? My face contorts into confusion. This does not explain the reason for this act of random forest conservation.
"The herders never take their zebus to drink from the river or else the spirits will eat their herd and that's very bad."
That makes sense, and explains the reason for no constant trampling of the riverside vegetation. Noone goes down here through fear and the little corridor lives on.
"Really! That's crazy. Do you believe that there is a spirit in the river?"
Now his face contorts into confusion.
"It's not something to believe or not believe."
Then we keep going on our way.
I had moments like these all through the time in Ivohibe. How the people here see the world around them is totally different from how we in the west do. The Malagasy word for environment literally translates to 'the world around'. It makes sense - the life people lead is so ingrained into the land here. They don't have much choice. The road to Ivohibe is hard going, 5 hours driving and involves a precarious half-formed track over a massive rocky range. The road cuts off the world, no tourists, no huge markets, no infrastructure, reduced commerce. This makes the people live a life closer the that of the land around them; collecting their water from the river, food from their fields, milk from their cows and wood and honey from their forest. It's something that someone coming from a city where everything is monetised can have trouble coming to grips with. But the villages around Ivohibe aren't exactly living sustainably. The greatest wealth they have is the forest reserves. It provides water, food, and housing. But they all know it's diminishing. They know it's their wealth, and their lifeblood. But they also live lives with little choice for innovation, where getting enough rice on the table for the family is often too hard, let alone meat and vegetables. The ideas WWF injects here go a long way in firstly making the villagers livelihoods more secure, and taking away their dependence of the forest to anything more than a water source and source for housing in doing so keeping the forest area intact and the lemurs and the birds around for longer.
© WWF J.Traill
About the Video
So this video is a music video. It was written by a group called Big Rap Ivohibe, who are a bunch of kids about 18-23. I met two of them the night I danced Kilalaky at the gendarmerie. They showed me their music; original music with original lyrics. The song is in Malagasy but I had it translated and some of the lines roughly translate to this:
"Madagascar used to be a green island paradise, now it is red and washing away. Our ancestors died to protect it from the colonialists and now we are killing our land and leaving nothing for our descendants."
It really surprised me that some of the coolest guys in town, the rap singers wrote songs about protecting the environment. It was not Kilalaky music, but it was still really good. So the idea of the video is to bring the idea of environmental protection to the dance floor. To the social stage, and at the same time spreading the name of Big Rap Ivohibe and their songs, in the region where WWF Ivohibe is working and maybe even further!
About doing the programme:
My advice to anyone thinking of doing this is firstly get your diary out and find out the earliest time that you can and just DO IT! And then, once you're on your way; annihilate all expectations you may have. That way there is one less step to having a successful time. Instead of talking to people to try and confirm what you think, which will eventually lead you to have to give that up anyhow - you instead listen to people to try and understand the situation. And find a solution. That's what it's all about - finding a solution to making lives more sustainable and stable.
Another one, perhaps hone your skills in listening. In French, English Malagasy and non-verbally because I needed those all almost every day.
And start to enjoy random, awkward-feeling sets of events and revel in it. Like carrying a chicken 14kilometres in a little basket that tries to escape all the time. Or letting a school student gouge a hole in your foot to remove some gross parasite and then douse it in petrol. Or having people come to your house dressed like gangsters with profanity they don't understand written on their clothing holding a turtle and proceed to sit on your porch singing Ronan Keating songs until you join them and they sing you a rap they created about saving the environment.
Just shoot me through an email if you have questions or are thinking of doing this or anything else within the realm.