Since our team’s arrival in Madagascar, the DEID Madagascar project has expanded vastly in both scope and complexity. After extensively consulting the local community and facing a series of complications with our original water source, we have decided to switch to a new water source and have designed a new pipeline and tap system that will serve not only Manantenina, but also the neighboring village of Mandena!
In addition to helping us identify a new water source, our conversations with local villagers have illustrated the community’s need for greater education about clean water; the vast majority of residents judge the cleanliness of water based on its clarity, which is dependent solely upon the concentration of sediment and visible pollutants in the water rather than the presence of waterborne pathogens.
Near the end of June, residents of Manantenina directed us to Suzette, a member of the community described as a champion of health education. The next morning, we spoke with Suzette to ask about her efforts to promote health education and if she had any educational resources related to clean water. Trained by Save the Children, Suzette is one of a handful of community health workers living in Manantenina. As a community health worker, Suzette walks door-to-door to educate community members about handwashing, maternal health, and early childhood development. While she had no educational resources related to clean water, she told us that Save the Children’s community health worker training had a module on clean water. She kindly informed us that Save the Children has an office in Andapa, a city located about an hour away by bus.
After the meeting, our translator Donatien suggested that we take the hour-long bus trip to visit Save the Children that morning, and I immediately volunteered to join him. The trip to Andapa and the meeting with Save the Children proved to be one of my most memorable experiences in Madagascar to date. The scenery surrounding Andapa was absolutely breathtaking; the city is nestled in a valley between two rows of lush mountains with wisps of clouds weaving through their peaks. After finally finding the Save the Children office, we were kindly welcomed by Eddy Alain, the office’s logistics manager, and Baholy Rakotomalala, the Health and Nutrition Coordinator for the SAVA region. Not only did Mr. Alain and Mrs. Rakotomalala graciously take the time out of their busy workday to tell us about Save the Children’s incredible work in the SAVA region, but they also offered to host a custom training on clean water, sanitation, and hygiene for the Manantenina and Mandena water committees! I could not be more grateful for their generosity.
With the insidious “Save Africa” messaging pervasive in the media and in countless charity advertisements, so many American volunteers subscribe to a western-centric approach to development; because populations of developing nations are supposedly incapable or unwilling to drive change in their own communities, western volunteers must come to execute all development work themselves. This could not be further from the truth. The DEID Madagascar project would not be possible without the innumerable contributions of the Malagasy men and women who have dedicated their time, effort, knowledge, and experience to this project. Our translators, the community health workers, the farmers who volunteered to dig trenches and transport pipe once construction begins, the engaged citizens who established water committees to ensure that their communities have sustainable access to clean water for generations to come, the representatives from water committees in neighboring villages that already have fully functioning tap systems who are advising the Manantenina and Mandena committees, the employees at the Save the Children office in Andapa – each and every one of these individuals is a native citizen of Madagascar. Women like Suzette and Mrs. Rakotomalala are much more qualified to educate in a Malagasy context than I will ever be. If my experience in Madagascar has taught me anything, it is that development work in countries like Madagascar must be driven by citizens of these countries in order to be effective. I am so grateful for the privilege to work alongside citizens of Madagascar in their mission to change their world for the better.