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Salama Iabe! Ty anarako Joey sy Baka Libano Aho (Hello Everyone! My name is Joey and I come from Lebanon). I was 20 years old when I participated in what would become two unforgettable months in Madagascar. Almost a year has passed since then and still, today, I fail to remember these moments without a strange and yet powerful feeling of nostalgia.

Living with the Vezo

I stayed about two months in a charming little village called Ambohibola in southern Madagascar. At first, I simply rejoiced in living in a place surrounded by breath-taking sceneries and amazing people. They were welcoming, kind and hard-working and everything seemed in favor of giving me a very memorable experience devoid of any hardships. However, I soon realized that these otherwise happy people were going through extreme challenges that I had never experienced before.

Don't get me wrong, I knew from the beginning that challenges would have to be faced. But that is something that one forgets when living with these people. It's hard for me to describe the warmth and security one feels when living among the villagers of Ambohibola.
Our Work
I was honored to be part of a seven members team working for the Southern Toliara Marine Natural Resource Management Project. Our daily or weekly activities consisted of Ecology, French and English classes, Movies (both educational and entertainment) screening to fund for the eco-tourism project and, on my part, non-stop photography. Eco-tourism was our main mission. And here is why.
The main problem the villagers have is their total dependence on the sea as their only source of income. One obvious consequence of such a dependence is the uncertainty in the face of bad weather conditions. Add that to an on-going decrease in the fish population due to both global warming and global fishing, and you've got a very difficult situation to say the least. An example I can give is that of the woman we called the Octopus Lady. She is responsible for collecting octopuses, preserving them and selling them. Up until 2006-2007, the daily octopus catch was between 150kg and 200kg. She buys them at 1,000 Ariary (0.3 Euros) and sells them at 1,200 Ariary (0.4 Euros), making that a profit of 0.1 Euro per Kg. Since 2007, the daily quantity has been shrinking to what it is now: between 20 and 30 kg. Her monthly earning thus decreased from about 450-600 € to about 60-90 € in just a few years.

A place as beautiful as Ambohibola with its clear sea filled with dolphins, whales, sharks, crabs and thousands of different colorful fish, its palm trees and its clear star-filled night sky is heaven on earth. All it required was a little boost. Eco-tourism would provide the village with an alternative source of income that is sustainable and, most importantly, It would allow them to be less dependent upon a single source of income, giving them time to develop other projects.


It isn't healthy to get lost in our dreams but If there's one thing I learned from living there, it's that hope can be life-saving in a life-and-death scenario. Mr. Cheban, our translator and good friend, would leave me speechless in his dedication towards solidarity in the face of difficulties. Sasa and Kristiny, my two new sisters, taught me to simply smile. Mr. Pierre, our Malagasy teacher, taught me not to complicate things when simplicity is available. And I could go on.

I wouldn't be lying if I said that I felt like home there. For a moment, or rather many moments, I felt like returning to Lebanon would be leaving home. It is a weird feeling, I admit. But a powerful one nonetheless. Being so close to people who are supposed to be so different really gives one the feeling that, although we may have differences across cultures, and may speak different tongues and live different lives, these differences are dwarfed by the universal similarities we all share as part of that big human family.

A Lebanese in Madagascar

And Next?

I am currently in my second year at AUB. I am planning on continuing social and conservation studies when I finish my BS. I have a feeling that my journey will lead me back to Ambohibola one day.

Planning on volunteering abroad?
I say this to you quite frankly: go for it. It will be different wherever you go. In some ways, it doesn't really matter where you go. I would look for a place that is supposed to be different from where you live. By different, I don't only mean physically, but culturally. I feel like discovering something so new and yet so human would make you closer to the human race and make you more effective in facing the global challenges that we face.

Lecture at the American University of Beirut (AUB)

I gave a short talk at my university on volunteering abroad. Check it out here