Within a few quick minutes, all of the water points had major line-ups. Families stood with yellow jugs stacked in front of them. Fifteen minutes later, the women and kids walked home, jerry cans empty. The government run water program may come as much as one time per month. This time, it was only passing through to the next community. This is life in Beheloka, Madagascar.
And yet this is only one element of life here. From World Food Program bearing food security, to declining reef biodiversity; from infant health to rapid forest cover loss; the fabric of what it means to live in Beheloka is a tangled relationship of ensuring both ecological integrity and human wellbeing. Like many places on this planet, solutions are far from simple. I am mired by these complexities. However this program has strengthened my perspective: by deepening my awareness of the intricacy, it has grounded my ability to take hopefully more genuine, constructive and informed actions.
The tangled relationship between livelihood and resource conservation is paralleled on all corners of our globe. Yet as I reflect on my short three months, I feel more on the balls of my feet in optimism than I ever have. My experience in Beheloka was a one-way bridge which has completely thrown me off my feet. And for this—and the lives, perspectives and efforts of those we met—I am immensely grateful.
My advice?Take the plunge. And I hope you can bear in mind the key importance of preparation, follow-up, timing (working with the tides or weather!), providing notice, absolute listening and taking that time for appreciations when working in these community-level conservation projects. This was an immense learning curve for me.
Also, advice from a few women in Beheloka: do remove the dorsal fins of the snapper with a bottle cap before filleting it. Otherwise, perhaps like me you might gouge your thumb only to loose all sensation for the next 24 hours. Although, the uproar of hysteria it caused among the women’s association, might have been worth my shock. So as a final word, I hope you can let laughter guide your experience, so that you may find that sweet spot of balancing of long days of work with shared joy in the evening sun, beyond language barriers. This is something I am so grateful for the fellow volunteers of having taught me.
Working with WWF?Never before in my life have I seen a staff body take such short coffee breaks. It was clear from the beginning of the internship that we were collaborating with a team of passionate, motivated, immensely hard working individuals. I have learned so much from each staff member, and am very appreciative of their generosity and insight both in-country, and over the last year.
© WWF / Navarana Smith
"To the WWF staff and Beheloka community: “Miasa biby fe tsi vosake”. And to all of you considering this program — mahafinartse!"
Feel free to contact me !