In a few days I’ll be back in Heathrow after an unforgettable year in Madagascar. It’s hard to describe any time in this beautiful country without employing a few clichés. The people continue to amaze me with their resilience, ever-present smiles and welcoming friendliness. Sure, as a vazaha you attract more than a few curious stares, and “Bonjour vazaha!” can sometimes be annoying, but as soon as you return a greeting in Malagasy their faces light up. The scenery here also continues to impress me, varying so massively between low littoral forest to sudden mountain ranges, lush green rice paddies to the scorched desert of the south, and of course the other-worldly spiny forest.
The work of Azafady has been a source of pride for me the past year. Despite being only a small charity facing a funding crisis, it continues to punch above it’s weight. We’re carrying out projects to improve education in a dozen villages, to conserve critically endangered forest species, to provide sustainable livelihoods for hundreds of people and to build sanitation infrastructure that will benefit a town of 63,000 people. All that and more, plus projects still in the planning and funding stages which will do even more for the people and environment of Anosy.
It’s been a real pleasure to be involved in some of these projects over the last year as Coordinator of the Pioneer programme. My role is mostly based in the field, leading the international volunteers who come from 2-10 weeks, each contributing vital funds to Azafady and labour to it’s projects. I’ve worked with 49 lovely volunteers, from Germany, Portugal, America, Norway, Australia, South-Sudan, Argentina, Canada, Ireland, The Netherlands, Sweden and of course the UK. We’ve shared in-jokes, the odd splash of rum, great days out, rainy days stuck in tents, hundreds of card games, excellent bush parties, and lots of rice and beans.
The work we’ve done has been pretty awesome too. In my time here the Pioneers and I have worked on benches (mine are the ones with the odd extra nail…); made over a hundred flat-pack latrine kits; studied geckos, lemurs and rare trees; repaired 3 wooden primary schools; taught English; searched for herpetofauna (a task at which I am singularly useless!); helped to host World Environment Day In Sainte Luce; repaired a tree nursery; and built one-and-a-half concrete schools. I find it very difficult to choose my favourite groups, schemes or even moments from this year, but I can say for certain that my favourite project was the CEG build in Soanierana.
I got in a little bit of travelling too. First to Lavanono, deep in the South of Madagascar, taking in the spiny forest and arid desert scrub before spending a few brilliant days drunk on a beach (thanks for that one Nick, Lomba, Rachel and Dino). Later on the RN7, through beautiful burnt-orange towns and winding valleys to the wonders of Andringitra and Ranomafana (Emily, I’ll never forget you falling over that parked pousse-pousse).
The wildlife has also been a highlight for me. While I haven’t seen enough (could I ever?) I have seen about a dozen beautiful lemur species, lots of frogs, a karma of chameleons, some fantastic geckos, snakes (and even been bitten by one…), spiders and other beasts. I’d thoroughly recommend Azafady’s Conservation Programme as I’ve had some brilliant days there chasing lemurs and studying herps. Also Ranomafana National Park of course – lemurs in abundance.
So then, a huge thank-you to everyone who has helped to make this year so special for me. Thank-you for all the fantastic memories, for your great company, and thanks to everyone back home for putting up with my constant barrage of do-gooder prattle (though it
probably won’t stop here).
What’s next? Back to the UK for a bit of a rest I think. To Madagascar and Azafady: not goodbye, but rather indraindraiky koa…