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Two schools and a scorpion

For the first work placement of the October Pioneer scheme, we went to two villages in the Mahatalaky commune, Agnena and Belavenoka. Each is home to a population of about 1,500 people, around a third of whom are under the age of 18. Azafady built wooden primary schools in these villages in earlier schemes, back in 2008 and 2009, but due to extreme weather conditions, both had begun to deteriorate. Our task was to repair damaged parts of the walls, add a protective verandah around the outside, and repaint everything to add some basic weatherproofing.

Diagram showing how the verandah works

Unfortunately it’s quite common for charities working in less developed countries to complete a project, then pull out of the area and leave without considering additional needs or maintenance. It’s often mentioned here that some Western organisations raise funds and build excellent school buildings, then neglect to provide any benches for the children to sit on. Imagine trying to learn whilst sitting on a concrete floor all day! Azafady tries to prevent this by remaining in touch with the community after a project is completed, continually assessing need, and returning when repairs are needed. In 2009 a survey of primary schools built by Azafady was carried out, which recommended 8 schools be repaired or replaced, many of which have now been done. The work is not as glamorous as building new schools, so it is harder to find donors and volunteers for these projects, but it is important and more sustainable.

Construction image

Construction at Agnena. 

At each site we arrived in the morning, set up camp, and spent the afternoon exploring the village and surrounding countryside a little to get our bearings. We also made contact with the Chef de Village (village head), to thank the community for welcoming us in, explain our plans, and show our respect.

Repair work begins with the volunteers cutting and chiselling wood to make the framework of the verandah – vertical posts, beams between each post, and rafters which connect the verandah to the existing building, and support the roof. Meanwhile one of the construction team is on the roof of the existing building, painting over the tin roof to protect it from rust. We then dig holes for the verandah posts around the school, before putting the framework in place and securing it. Whilst the skilled construction team level the framework and start fitting the verandah roof, the volunteers sand down all of the walls on the existing building, and repaint everything – this acts to weatherproof it, as well as making it a more pleasant place for the kids to learn.

English lesson

An impromptu english lesson in the bush.

In our free time, some people played football or an improvised form of cricket with the local children, while others helped one of our guides, Yvon, to teach impromptu English lessons. When the weather was nice, we took an afternoon trip from Agnena to where the river mouth opened up for a spectacular view. On market day, we walked into Mahatalaky, the central town of the area, which I also visited last year while doing repairs at Emagnevy. A little odd to be back there without the old crowd, but made all the more enjoyable by the fried cassava and prawn snacks we found in the square.


Towards the end at both sites, the weather turned a little for the worse, and at our second site (Belavenoka), the rain started, and rarely stopped for the next 4 days. This made our next task – the verandah foundations – a bit of a slog. Digging down around each school building, we alternated layers of rocks and cement to build up the foundation of the verandah to the same height as the existing building, before the construction team apply a smooth layer of cement over the top to tidy it up. During our time at Belavenoka we saw a lot more wildlife – a fairly large scorpion resident in the walls, a snake which wandered into the schoolroom after dinner one night, and several brightly coloured frogs. We had just enough time left on our final day to do a few finishing touches – repairing a few blackboards and benches, thoroughly cleaning out the classrooms, and at Agnena there was even enough time to fix the goalposts on the pitch outside.

The team in front of Belavenoka school before the short-termers left

The team in front of Belavenoka school before the short-termers left

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2 responses to “Two schools and a scorpion”

  1. Dad says:

    Well done to all the volunteers & good to see some pix too!

  2. […] of Mahialambo, in Mahatalaky commune, to carry out another wooden school repair. As before in Agnena, Belavenoka and Emagnevy, we replaced damaged parts of the walls, added a protective verandah around the […]

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