When I began my DukeEngage program, I had high expectations for my nonprofit community partner, Friends of Madagascar. I knew all about their philosophies—how education breaks the cycle of poverty and leads to environmental stewardship, and the importance of solution-oriented action. But when I actually laid eyes on the work this nonprofit has done, I was blown away. Friends of Madagascar has built or refurbished 38 schools in biodiversity areas throughout Madagascar. These schools employ local construction workers, administrators, and teachers, and they serve children who would not otherwise have the opportunity to gain an education. In addition to building schools, Friends of Madagascar is committed to recognizing and overcoming barriers to education. Their schools have lunch programs that take pressure off of parents by ensuring the children receive a nutritious midday meal. Some schools also have small farms where students and employees experiment with sustainable farming practices, and they emphasize health lessons and sports programs that teach the kids how to improve their own lives.
I had to actually go to Madagascar and lay eyes on the schools before I realized the extent of the incredible work being done. As I walked into classrooms of enthusiastic schoolchildren, I thought, “Why isn’t all of this hard work publicized?”
When I first knew I wanted to work with Friends of Madagascar, my knowledge of the nonprofit was based off of information from Dr. Luke Dollar, an American researcher who has been working with them since their beginnings. The nonprofit’s online presence is basically nonexistent—no website, an unmaintained Facebook page, and a single YouTube video from 2009. Although I trusted that Friends of Madagascar was legitimate, a small part of me remained wary, and I wasn’t the only one. Even the DukeEngage staff expressed some concern over the scarcity of online information. I had to actually go to Madagascar and lay eyes on the schools before I realized the extent of the incredible work being done. As I walked into classrooms of enthusiastic schoolchildren, I thought, “Why isn’t all of this hard work publicized?”
Pierrot, the Malagasy coordinator of the nonprofit, answered my question, explaining that most of the Malagasy nonprofit workers do not have cameras or social media, or the time and experience to work on online publicity. The lack of publicity can be an issue, especially since the nonprofit relies on foreign donors who want to see the impact of their contributions. This issue isn’t unique to Madagascar—it affects nonprofits in developing countries everywhere.
When I arrived in Madagascar, I wasn’t quite sure how I would help out with the schools, especially considering the language barrier and my lack of teaching experience. I did, however, have my camera, and modest experience in making videos. I decided to use my resources and skills to make a video that would allow the voices of the hardworking Malagasy people to be heard by people across the world. With Pierrot’s help, I interviewed teachers, administrators, and employees, and I am now in the process of editing and organizing the footage. I’m excited for the opportunity to fulfill a need and give Friends of Madagascar more of the publicity it deserves. I feel as if my eyes have been opened to some of the unique challenges that nonprofits in developing countries face.