CultureConnect's student ambassador's return from Madagascar!
Five student ambassadors and two chaperones were fortunate to have traveled to Madagascar in July 2017 on MadagascarConnect’s inaugural trip. We spent three weeks in country; ten days in the capital, Antananarivo, and ten days in the southern part of the country, near the rainforest, at Centre ValBio, a research station run by Stony Brook University. Scroll down for the whole story...
In Madgascar's capital city, Antananarivo, we worked with Zara Aina, an organization which aims to build confidence and educate children through theatre and performance. During our stay at CVB, we spent time in the villages with artisans and schoolchildren; as well as hiking and observing wildlife in Ranomafana National Park.
When one of our chaperones travelled to Madagascar in 2016 to plan this trip, he asked artisans in several villages surrounding CVB what would be most useful to bring on our trip the following year. The artisans responded that they would like to learn basic English in order to sell their goods to a wider market of tourists. As part of our preparation in the US, we created a simple picture dictionary with an accompanying lesson plan, which focused on commerce. We taught greetings, numbers, and sale-related words and phrases (such as “how much/many?”) to silk weavers, basket weavers, and blacksmiths, along with others in the village who joined in each day. The artisans we worked with were very responsive and eager to learn, and we are excited about the potential for expansion of this program. In the future, we hope to create a sustainable means to allow the people with which we’ve worked to solidify their English skills to make sales within the tourist community.
In addition to our work with the local artisans, we potted and planted saplings in conjunction with CVB’s reforestation project. We worked alongside children, members of CVB’s conservation club, and dug holes for the young trees. After we finished our work each day, we walked with the children to Ranomafana’s school, where we all got to know each other a little better, and exchanged well-known dances from our respective cultures. The connection we were able to make with these kids in such a short period of time was fantastic. Sharing a common goal of reforesting sparked an instant partnership between our groups, which was only furthered by the enthusiasm toward cultural exchange from everyone involved. As our time spent with the reforestation project came to a close, Nicolas, the leader of the conservation club, spoke to us about his vision, motives and intentions. Hearing from him changed the way we view this present and pressing issues of deforestation and climate change, and motivated each of us to bring about change, both locally and globally. We also spent time in the park, searching for birds, bugs, reptiles, and lemurs, the likes of which we’ve never seen before.
Hiking through the forest gave us a visual which solidified our understanding of the importance and beauty of Ranomafana National Park. Our truly amazing guide, Theo, was kind enough to share his story with us. The open-mindedness shown through his story of being moved out of his home, where Ranomafana National Park now stands, to becoming not only a fantastic guide, but a role model and teacher to the children in the surrounding villages is incredibly moving. His passion for his work is inspirational and learning from Theo was an opportunity that we are extremely grateful to have been given.
Our work with the incredible people at Zara Aina, in the capital, involved creating dances with the children, taking day trips together, sharing music, playing games and visiting the neighborhood and some of the homes where the children live. While our Malagasy was rudimentary and their English limited, we were able to create and share and laugh and play. The director, teachers and staff at Zara Aina are vibrant, thoughtful, talented people who, through discussion and by example, helped us understand the beauty, the promise and challenges of the children in the capital. We were moved by their tremendous generosity.
When it was time to leave, it was hard to say good-bye. We met many amazing people in Madagascar, and are truly inspired by the work that they do. Upon our return, we have begun making plans to share our experiences with the community and we look forward to building upon the foundation we’ve laid for this powerful program.
The vision of MadagascarConnect is to make the connection with the global community accessible to any student who wishes to expand his or her world view, regardless of economic status.