(This blog is from the Summer of 2016.)
It’s been five weeks out here in the bush in Southeastern Madagascar, and I have been thoroughly engaged with the conservation and community work that Seed Madagascar (my partner organization) has been organizing over the past couple of years. We are currently based in Sainte Luce, roughly 35 km north of the town of Fort Dauphin, an important port city during the French colonization of Madagascar. Sainte Luce comprises of several fragments of littoral forest (17 to be specific) and 3 Hamlets – Ambandrika, Ampanasanatomboka and Manafiafy.
To give you a better idea of the work done out here, let me first briefly walk through what a typical day in the bush is like.
0630 — Wake up to the sound of birds calling; get out of the tent and wash up.
0700 — Bush Breakfast. This consists of rice pudding, mofo (pronounced ‘moo-foo’; a breakfast staple here that are essentially the Malagasy version of a doughnut ball), Banana cake and fruits. All of that is coupled with a delicious cup of coffee, a daily staple for me.
0800 — Volunteers head out for our first activity. Morning activities typically consist of some form of biodiversity monitoring (lemurs, insects, plants) in the various forest fragments, surveying fishermen by the beach in Manafiafy to determine if their harvest is sustainable, or planting critically endangered plants of the littoral forest in a bid to restore their dwindling population.
1200 — We get back to camp for our bush lunch of rice and beans (another Malagasy staple). This is typically flavored with a spoonful of ‘shakai’ (local chilli sauce) and roasted peanuts. We then take an hour off after lunch to rest and recover for the next activity.
1400 — Volunteers head out for the second activity of the day, which typically involves more monitoring work, as well as English lessons with the local guides and environment education lessons (dubbed ‘Club A’) with the kids living in the surrounding village. This is an important part of our conservation work as effective conservation involves engaging the community as partners in our projects.
1800 — We get back to the Campsite for dinner which comprises of rice and dishes (zebu meat, greens, pumpkin or fish) and have a review of our day’s work.
1900 — Last official activity of the day. This largely involves surveys of nocturnal animals such as frogs, bats and nocturnal lemurs, which we hardly encounter during the day.
2100 — After getting back from a long day of various activities, we hangout in the ‘long house’ (a little hut where we have our meals), play some card games and chit chat before we retire back to our tents for a good night’s rest.
Although being constantly engaged in activity gets tiring at times, I am thankful that it is allowing me to make the most out of my eight week stay here. At this middle juncture, I’ve thought a lot more about what conservation comprises and how difficult it is to achieve that delicate balance between protecting natural habitats while providing for the needs of the local community. Living in the ‘developed world’ for the most part of my life, it’s easy for me to fall into the trap of distancing myself from the impact I have of the environment and pointing fingers at others as the ones who are responsible for environmental degradation. It’s so easy for me to say, “Sure, people should stop cutting down trees and polluting rivers and that all remaining natural areas should be designated National Parks where extraction is strictly disallowed.” Yet, after spending a month of here, the realization that many impoverished communities depend directly on these resources for their livelihoods (e.g. wood for charcoal, reeds for making lobster baskets, palm leaves for making shelters) has become a lot more apparent to me. As the world moves forward in tackling both conservation and development, it is essential to find solutions that are complementary, allowing for both needs to be met concurrently, rather than compromising on one to solve the other. It is my hope that my remaining time here will continue to demonstrate to me how this can be done and that by the end of stint I will have a more concrete conception of how this can be achieved. I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you again then!
Signing off from the bush,