This month long trip was such an amazing experience. I enjoyed every minute of teaching the children English, sports and hygiene.
I arrived at Ivato airport just outside the capital Antananarivo at 4:30pm. I was picked up by a representative from Projects Abroad and started the 4-hour trip to the town where I would be working, Andasibe. Driving through the city and seeing the difference between the UK and Madagascar for the first time was a shock. After spending time in Andasibe for a day or two it became normal as I could see that the people led a very simple life and enjoyed their community.
When I started teaching the children it was difficult to find out how to communicate. They only speak Malagasy as their first language and they learn French and English as second languages. As I couldn’t speak French I thought I would be majorly disadvantaged but I learned quickly that the children spoke just as good English as French albeit little.
Projects Abroad run a ‘Care’ system which provides a school of sorts to children of families who can’t afford to send them to school. The kids are really enthusiastic and enjoy drawing and colouring. There are a range of ages in the classes. In ‘Care 1’ where I worked most, there are two groups, one has 3-4 year olds and the ones I taught were 5-6 year olds. Within each age group there are varying abilities with numeracy and literacy. Some can count to 10 in French and English and write the numbers with no problems, whereas some struggle to form numbers and letters and can’t say them as well as others. This is exactly what Projects Abroad are trying to improve and there is a well established schedule including lots of activities and games to engage the children and teach them necessary skills. ‘Care 2’ has slightly older children aged 10-13 years old and is a bigger group.
It was really rewarding to see the children become more confident with counting and reciting songs and shapes that I had taught them. The centre has lots of resources for volunteers to use to carry out the activities on the schedules which gives slight flexibility in the task the children complete.
On Fridays we had community days in which we help the local community. The first week we were widening the main road in to Andasibe. This involved scraping the mud and vegetation back from the side of the road so big lorries and cars could pass more easily. The next Friday we were planting beans in a small area of land. We had to plough the hard soil with shovels and then small holes were made, compost and then seeds were put in and the holes covered over. This was done in the bright sunshine and was the first hot day of my trip as it had been raining and freezing until then. It was a lot of physical work in the heat. The next week we made a meal for the children in care and many more. One of the coordinators took us to buy local vegetables, zebu (meat) and rice. We then cut up the vegetables and they were cooked.
The children all came and we dished out the food. I had a huge bucket of rice and was shovelling it onto each plate and they received the stew as well. They had loads to start with and always came back for more and more again to take home to their families. The buckets and buckets of food disappeared surprisingly quickly. On my last community day, we were painting the fronts of houses which were also peoples businesses for selling produce. The houses are painted white first and at a later date they are painted a bright colour. This greatly improves the look of the buildings and makes the locals very happy and proud of their homes.
Projects Abroad provide so much for their volunteers and we were very well looked after. I got the chance to take French lessons taught by a very good teacher who was local and who has taught French and Malagasy for many years. Every volunteer also gets two free lessons of Malagasy while you are in the country to help you buy things and interact with the kids and locals.
It was so nice to see that the vast majority of products were grown or made in Madagascar, for example, the tea, sugar, bread, meat, chicken, all vegetables and fruit. We had a lot of pineapple which tasted amazing as it was locally grown, there was also loads of bananas which were smaller but also tasted great. Sometimes you could see a whole lorry stacked full of bananas.
On the weekends there were some trips. The first one was to Manambato which was near the coast. Our hotel was on a lake and we took a boat across the lake and up a river taking an hour and a half. We came to a lemur island where the lemurs would jump onto our shoulders and eat banana from our hands. This was incredible as they were so tame yet able to come and go as they please. There was lots of very interesting wildlife here and a guide took us around. There were also tortoises and we saw vanilla growing.
But the car journey from the hotel was four hours and for one of those hours the terrain was incredibly rough. The second weekend was quieter as people left but some of us walked a few kilometres to Vakona where there is another lemur island and there are also crocodiles. I enjoyed just walking through the forest and being surrounded by the nature and the calls of the famous indri lemur. It was wonderful to hear the indri while sitting at breakfast in the morning just drinking tea.
On my last day with the children they got to go to the national park to see lemurs. They were all walking silently one by one when someone showed us up to an area where the indri lemurs were directly above in the trees. We all were able to see them and it was such an incredible experience. That afternoon the children came back to watch the movie ‘Madagascar’ which they all love and start dancing to ‘I like to move it’ which was so surreal.
I was also able to see bats coming out of their home which is officially in the post office as it says on the information sign. They come out, just as the sun sets as it becomes dark, in their hundreds which was incredible to watch.
On my last day I had to write reports for the children to show how they were improving and how well they were doing in each subject area. This was difficult as most are very smart kids but some who had just moved up from the younger group were behind so they all need different levels of help which is hard for one person to give. It had been a great journey for me to complete and I would have liked just a week longer. I am sure I will return to Madagascar in the future and visit the town and many other different parts of the country which are so very diverse and hold so many different forms of wildlife I would love to see.
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