My Experiences & Advice
You have been selected by WWF to participate in the Explore Program. Your placement is in a remote fishing village of South Western Madagascar, where you will work with the local community towards the sustainable management of marine natural resources.
These are some of the decisions, both important and trivial, that you may be called upon to make:
You have almost finished preparing your bags and have already packed everything that is on the WWF packing list. There is space only for one more item. Which one will it be?
- A book on coral reef fish: it will be good for identifying the fish you will see, and for the awareness raising sessions
- A second pair of bathers: a brighter pair will look good once you are tanned
- Pens and crayons: surely the village children will love them
- Your iPod: there will be lots of free time
The locals speak only the Malagasy Vezo dialect. How will you communicate with them?
- You hire an interpreter from the capital
- You speak English and if they don’t understand… well… too bad
- You avoid any interaction
- You try to learn the local language
You love eating lobster, but your stay in the village coincides with the closed season for lobster fishing. One day your dear neighbor offers you a lobster he just caught as a gift. What do you do?
- You grab the lobster, put it back into the sea and report the incident to the village president: that will get him into trouble and should set an example
- You accept the gift but eat the lobster secretly: this way you will not insult him, and the other villagers will know nothing
- You kindly reject the gift explaining that he shouldn’t be catching lobsters now because they are reproducing: you don’t insult him and also get the message through
- You accept the gift and casually eat it in public: what can you do, it was already dead when he offered it to you
A young village woman approaches you and asks you to marry her. What is your response?
- “I will think about it”: this will get you out of the situation for now, and you can then avoid her for the rest of your stay
- “I am already married back home”: yes, sure it is a lie, but it is a good excuse (or is polygamy accepted!?)
- “Sorry, WWF does not allow me to have relationships of that sort with locals”: WWF may seem mean, but at least that will keep her away
- “No way woman! You are ugly!”: perhaps a prettier one shows up tomorrow
By national law, fishing sea turtles is forbidden. However the villagers occasionally catch them and absolutely love their meat. How do you deal with the situation?
- Arrest the village president and hand him over to the authorities
- Arrange a meeting with the entire village and let them know they are very bad people to eat such cute animals
- Hold sea turtle cooking lessons for the local women
- Have sessions with the fishermen explaining the life cycle of the sea turtle and its role in the coral reef ecosystem
You are getting sick and tired of the house being a mess and always having to clean up yourself. So you:
- Leave the village
- Discuss your frustration with the rest of the group
- Hire a local woman to clean the house
- Say nothing and learn to live in an untidy house
You have 5 cameras. One non-waterproof camera falls in the water. One 3 meters waterproof camera goes 5 meters deep into the water. One camera gets sand in the lens. One camera gets left in a jeep. One camera’s charger burns out. How many cameras do you have left?
The Age of Information
You are missing information you need for next week's session on the lifecycle of the octopus. What is your backup plan?
- Cancel the session: it’s better to organize a session on something you know more about
- Make up the information: you are the scientist so they’ll believe anything you say
- Do the session without the information: hopefully they won’t ask any questions
- Take a pirogue 1,5 hours north, walk up a sand dune, search for a trace of cell phone reception, call home, get someone on the internet, and scribble down the information.
The locals see that you have medicine and soon enough a villager with a deep wound comes to you asking for medical attention.
- You assess the situation and if it seems straight forward you provide first aid: he seems in a lot of pain, and this way you will gain the trust and respect of the villager
- You help regardless of the situation: you don’t want to look like you don’t know what you are doing
- You tell him to go to the doctor, 1½ hours north by pirogue: it’s a long and expensive trip, and the doctor may not be there, but you don’t want to assume responsibility
- You don’t offer any help: if you treat this guy, soon enough you will have the whole village queuing at your front door
You are almost done fishing with the locals and are pulling the nets out onto the pirogue. You are all tired, cold, and ready to head back to the village. The last part of the net gets entangled in coral. How do you react?
- You dive into the water and carefully release the net from the coral: this will set an example for protecting the reef
- You act as if nothing happened and pull with force breaking the coral: you are too cold to dive back into the water, and they probably won’t notice anyway
- You ask a younger fisherman to dive in: they should get used to doing this themselves and besides you are too cold to dive in yourself
During the fish capture monitoring, fishermen love testing you to see if you know the names of the fish, and they really appreciate it when you get them right!
Varilava (long rice)
Fiantsifa (horn fish)
Boodoolooha (round face)
Tabookiba (to blow up)
Fia soomootse (mustache fish)
You only have 2 days left in the village and there are so many things to be done. Put these activities in an order from most important to the least.
- Carry out fish capture monitoring: it is important to compile as much data as possible concerning the practices and catches of the fishermen
- Prepare a radio emission on coral reef protection: this emission will be broadcast to many villages and will reach a large audience
- Cover the wooden information signs you created with varnish: you’ve put a lot of work into painting these signs and you don’t want to risk them being damaged
- Have a session in the school: the children should learn as much as possible about sustainable fishing, since they will soon become fishermen themselves
- Talk to the president to sum up the project: he should appreciate the work done and should understand his role in continuing it
If you are resourceful and creative, and can work with others to find answers to such questions, then click here.
View our Befasy video
I have continuned to get across the message about nature conservation. For a year after my Madagascar placement I worked as a volunteer at WWF-Greece doing environmental education programs in schools around Athens! And if you understand Greek....
Find out more in our Teachers e-Panda Newsletter, September 2011
I have also been back to Madagascar (in September 2011) to visit the project site and meet up with old friends!