Madagascar ECS | Immersing into Malagasy Culture
As students awoke in their homestays after the first night away from the rest of the group, they began their first full day of immersion into Malagasy culture. Some students’ families decided to take them into the Morondava market to shop for food. Sarina M. ’20 and I walked to the beach with our two eldest sisters, and we taught them to play tic-tac-toe in the sand. As we were getting ready to walk back to the house, we saw about 60 people gathered at the end of the beach. We watched as they pulled an outrigger canoe out of the water. We asked our sisters if this was normal, and they said that because the water was so rough and the waves were so high, nobody else had gone out to fish and somebody had died in that boat. They explained to us that this was a normal part of life in Morondava.
After everyone had lunch, the group met at World Wildlife Fund’s headquarters and began to hurriedly debrief their last 24 hours. Aiden B ’22 excitedly described to the group how his drumming skills had become the beat to a neighborhood-wide party. Asher D. ’21 remarked on packaging fish with his fisherman father. Ariel E. ’22 said the a group of children came over to her house and practice English with Elise L. ’21 and Natalie M. ’20. The stories continued to flow until the WWF presentation began.
WWF Madagascar is working to protect the extensive biodiversity of the island by promoting environmental sustainability. The four biggest challenges they face are deforestation, coral reef damage, political instability, and climate change. The deforestation in Madagascar is caused by slash and burn tactics to create charcoal for cooking, which is the most widely used method for cooking. The presenter, Margo, talked about the coral reefs being damaged by unsustainable fishing methods.
Earlier in the week, one of our guides, Micah, told me about the large chain of events that eventually caused the water of beautiful Morondava to turn into “chocolate milk.” In the simplest terms, there is an extreme 5-year drought in southern Madagascar that is causing people who would normally be farmers to move northeast to the Morondava area. They are faced to fish, even though by nature they are farmers. This has detrimental effects on the ecosystem because they are using mosquito nets to drag along the sea floor for the whole beach. Not only does this cause a lot of damage to the water quality, but this area is the area in which the baby fish grow up versus the grown fish that live outside the protective coral reef. This is only one of the many complex problems that coral reefs face.
Another issue that WWF deals with is the political instability that Madagascar faces. Micah told us earlier in the week the basis of how presidential elections take place. Seeing as the island is incredibly isolated from each other, political campaigns basically consist of handing out brightly colored t-shirts with “No. 12,” for example, on them. Whoever hands out the most t-shirts wins the election. It is under political systems like these that corrupt politicians take office. It is not uncommon for people who support wildlife trafficking to take control of the government and actively work against any progress that WWF has made.
Finally, climate change is working against WWF as well. WWF has been working to educate Malagasy people against unsustainable practices while still promoting food security. They do this by planting trees in designated areas to be burned for charcoal, while advocating for the protected wildlife areas. They are also selectively attempting to save the mangrove ecosystems by replanting in areas where people have burned them. Margo said that the biggest challenge they face is the lack of funding According to Margo, they are good for seven or eight years, but after that he made a question mark in the air and shrugged. He also said that even though Malagasy are willing to change, they expect immediate results and don’t understand that environmental sustainability is a process.
After Margo finished his presentation for WWF, as association called Consortium des Juenes Mahery (Consortium of the Kids that are Strong) presented to us. CDJM’s main goal is to promote environmental sustainability and renounce juvenile delinquency. They work in a partnership with the community to create young leaders. One of the ways that they work toward this goal is by promoting Malagasy traditions in the youth. In order to achieve such an ambitious goal in our rapidly-developing world, the organization focuses these efforts on the rural and remote villages. They’ve found that the biggest problem that they ran into was that youth don’t listen to strangers (rightfully so). To remedy this complex issue, the organization goes out to the remote villages for five days at a time. They teach children about their ancestral traditions through games and interactive activities to ensure that the children associate their roots with positive energy rather than giving a strict lesson. The consortium believes that that by improving the social environment, they can raises a generation of Malagasy who also care about the physical environment as well. Another focus that they put a major focus on was bringing women into an active role in society in terms of gender equality. The organization has been running for five years and has 300 people in its network.
After CDJM’s presentation, a band of local, aspiring tour guides got the chance to practice English with us. The group was formed by people who love to speak English and French and who want more out of life than Morondava’s average job. They come from a variety of backgrounds , but they were all driven in their quest to lead vasars, or foreigners, through Morondava and the baobabs.
The guides then invited us to play sand soccer with them at what happened to be the nearest school. Though there was an official match of Malagasy already in progress on the pitch, they readily cleared off in anticipation to see what the vasars would be able to do in their sand pit. As the match went on, the cheers from the Malagasy onlookers grew louder and louder as the CSS Kodiaks showed off their skills. The crowd was especially pleased when the two girls who were playing (Elise L. ’21 and Sarina M. ’20) bested other ayers. The game was wended at a score of 4-3 after penalties, but the students took away much more than just another day of soccer.
Meanwhile, the students who chose to watch the game were faced with an overwhelming surprise. The elementary school where we were let out for the day, and we were suddenly surrounded by hoards of curious children. At first, we didn’t know how to respond, but after a few minutes we were laughing and playing with the many, many children. As we took pictures with them and sang songs with them, we got a closer look at what living in a small town like Morondava, Madagascar, means to a kid. Seeing that many people with differences evidently at a somewhat surface level, it was probably much more overwhelming for them than it was for us. After we all said “veloma” (goodbye) at least a hundred times, we departed back to our families after a long day. That night we experienced our first real rain while in Madagascar, and some students helped their families put buckets under the holes in their houses.
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