Madagascar has experienced an exceptionally devastating cyclone season in early 2015. The severe weather and rain caused a lot of damage. Our team had tried to visit our villages in late January to make sure they were OK after the first big cyclone. They were unable to reach the villages and the driver had to turn around, since the roads were impassable and unsafe. We later sent our founder’s nephew, a strong young man, who had to walk the last 20 kilometers on foot to reach our villages. “The roof and the door of our school in Fiarenana was damaged by the cyclone (it will be repaired by the community, financed by their school treasury). The parents’ association and students are in the process of replacing, respectively replanting, some trees in the school yard that were broken down by the cyclone. Some rice paddy were invaded by sand-flooding”Dr. Ihanta, Zahana’s founder, sent us this explanatory background note: “The weather was terrible and most of people were forced to stay in their houses most of the time. In our capital many houses collapsed due to the rain and mudslides on the steep hillsides. Unbelievable, but since January it was raining everyday. We learnt that the last previous similar flood in Madagascar was in 1959 and it was also very serious. Many of students came to the school in the hope of finding food (bad weather combined with the fear of starvation), so Zahana provide noodles for soup. On a happier note we have included the latest photos (taken with my nephew’s cell phone) of the food being served in the courtyard of our school in Fiarenana.” Note: if you look at the ground you can see that it is still very wet, even if the weather looks ‘nice’.
We got these great photos with the Christmas trees in our schools in Fiarenana. We have so many beautiful pictures, it is hard to choose just six. We let them speak for themselves.
Since 2006 Santa has been visiting our schools in rural Madagascar. This year he brought gifts with him of cookies, sweets, bread and clothes. About half of the lucky ones also got a doll or a toy car. And yes, Santa is impressive. He is probably the tallest Malagasy the children might ever see in their lives.
If you are in a position to decide about your end-of-the-year donation, we hope you will think of our villages in Madagascar and Zahana. Thank you!
GlobalGiving offers options with just a few clicks:
And to sweeten the pie, if you set up a recurring donation to Zahana, the amount of your December donation will be doubled by GlobalGiving (up to $200), making your gift twice as big.
GlobalGiving has an end-of-the-year campaign for 2014. To get one of the cash prizes, Zahana needs to raise at least $1,000 from 30 different donors. So if you would like to support e.g. our reforestation efforts you can do this with a few clicks and help us get closer to our additional monies goal.
Looking for a gift in honor of somebody? Why not consider a gift in her or his name (with an e-card or physical card sent to the lucky recipient by GlobalGiving)
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Since 2007 Santa has started his worldwide tour by visiting our schools in rural Madagascar. This year again his long-awaited visit was celebrated on December 20. You can see the excitement of the children (and parents), while they are lining up to receive their Santa gifts.
We wanted to share the pictures that arrived this morning via email with you. There should be more to come, but the reality in Madagascar can be challenging as this email from Monday, Dec. 22 illustrates: “the rain was so heavy yesterday cutting the power to all our devices, so I couldn't upload some new photos from Santa’s visit. I'll try to send some photos from my office tomorrow, if possible.”
Ihanta, Jeannette and Markus
PS: We updated our project page on GlobalGiving to reflect the changes since we first started trying to build a school.
And yes, it is the season again: If you are in a position to decide about your end-of-the-year giving, we hope you will think of our villages in Madagascar and donate to Zahana. Thank you!
A few weeks back we recieved an invitation by GlobalGiving to post 'fail forward stories'. It gave us a chance to look at our work from an outside perspective, and at the same time provides us with a venue to write a thought piece or a critical reflection that does not focus directly on achievements or goals like other project reports. The gardners have become an important corner stone of Zahana's activities and their role as teachers in our school gardens is vital for their communities' future. Now let us look back to our humble beginnings: 2007 was a great year for Zahana. First of all, we raised the funds needed to launch our project. Rooted in our participatory development approach, we successfully built a clean water system (still running today in its 8th year) and, once again together with the community, their school. (This is explained in more detail on our website). Because of this success we had a very good standing in the community, as we had built the trust that our joint projects deliver what we set out to accomplish.We were ready to tackle the third priority of the development goals the community set: crop improvement. Based on our philosophy that local problems require local solutions, we hired an agricultural expert who lived in the community nearby. As it so happened, he was the father of one of our teachers, which assured us that he knew the people, social networks, taboos, climate and agricultural conditions in our rural village. We paid him at the time a fair consultant wage, which was quite a hefty sum (much more than a teacher's monthly salary) and asked him to conduct a hands-on workshop. He showed up on a motorbike, which for the local context is a very impressive status symbol (comparable to a fundraising advisor for a small nonprofit in the US showing up in a Maserati.) We assembled the women's group and all the interested farmers for a workshop. Our water system had been completed the year before. A water faucet located right next to the school gave easy unlimited access to watering needs. He selected a piece of land right next to the school. It was very flat and had not been farmed before. He recommended growing a variety of crops (see website report), last but not least potatoes as the main new crop. Nobody in the village had planted potatoes before. He assured us that this was the ideal location and that with some judicious watering, a completely new crop could be introduced in the village overnight, one that could be grown outside of the rice growing cycle. The women's group dug up the land (by hand of course) and planted potatoes under his supervision.To make a long story short: the potato crop was an utter failure. Exposed to the blazing sun on top of the mountain, the newly planted potatoes grew very well in the beginning and later withered away in the heat. Not a single potato was harvested.The worst unanticipated consequence for us was that we lost all credibility with the community. They equated Zahana with the agricultural expert. It took us quite a while to gain the community's trust again. Not only did we spend a sizable amount of our scarce donations at the time on a local agricultural expert, the much higher price was the community's trust.Now to the solution. We want to tell the reader in advance: this is a story within stories, but rest assured, we will return to potatoes.One of the saving graces in this entire fiasco was: one of the farmers ignored to the agricultural experts advice. He planted his potatoes down by the creek and former water hole next to the shade of a mango tree. His potato harvest was phenomenal. Two years in a row. At the same time it showed that growing a new crop was indeed feasible –with the right conditions. In addition, potatoes are highly sought-after in the market and the bigger village nearby. In talking with the villagers we found out that the agricultural expert had also overlooked teaching the villagers that you can only eat the tubers in the ground, the actual potatoes, but not the fruit that grows on the green plant looking surprisingly like tomatoes (both nightshades). These are toxic. When potatoes were introduced in Prussia in the 17th century farmers ate the fruits on top by mistake. Rumor has it that quite a few died. King Frederick II of Prussia had to eat potatoes in public to prove to his subjects that humans can indeed eat potatoes. The villagers were amazed when we told them this story. While most likely nobody knows who the King of Prussia was, it had a great impact that a King needed to publically eat eating something to prove that it's edible. But since this fact comes with a story that everybody will re-tell, everybody, not only in our village, will know very soon not to eat the poisonous fruits on top of the potato plant, should they ever plant it. Educational message accomplished, failure to mention a dangerous fact was remedied. But now to the real solution: In our second village of Fiarenana Jean was a well-trained master gardener. Years back he had been sent for an extensive agricultural training far away from his village. But that project failed because the NGO’s funding ran out and all his expertise went untapped. He approached us with the proposal to hire him. Again, with microcredit in mind, we thought we pay him for the initial 6 to 12 month and after he's established he can sell his seedlings in his village and the neighboring communities and earn a living this way. In addition, we thought that while he was on Zahana’s payroll, he should spend half of his time teaching gardening at our school. Basically a two-for-one deal for us. Results where phenomenal. He has an incredible green thumb and he provided the community with seedlings and training. With the help of the parents and students, he grew a huge variety of vegetables in the school gardens (photos on our website). After twelve months came the moment of truth: it was time to cut the ties and let the budding entrepreneur walk on his own. Little did we know that the next failure was lurking. Very politely Jean, our master gardener, explained to us that he was not inclined to go on his own. He felt uncomfortable charging his friends and neighbors for seeds, seedlings and expertise. He explained he’d rather return to rice farming, not his first choice, than working with the insecurity of a self-employed gardener in the community and potentially be faced with no income and starvation. The dilemma: microcredit philosophy requires that projects become sustainable by supporting themselves. We could either lose a brilliant gardener and schoolteacher, or reconsider our own assumptions and continue to employ him. After much deliberation and discussion, we chose the latter. Paying the salary for by now two master gardeners, has become an integral part of our annual microcredit budget. The payoff of this small investment, employing truly local community advisors, has paid back our investment tenfold ever since (just think reforestation).In 2009 our master gardener Jean approached us with the idea of planting potatoes. Based on the prior fiasco, we thought: “not potatoes again”. But this time it was different. Different, first and foremost because the request came from the community; not for the community from an outside expert advisor. In participatory development requests from the community have priority, or it would not be participatory.To make this long story short, since it is documented on our website (link): we provided Jean with 100 kg of potatoes. They were bought locally in a market in Madagascar's prime potato growing region. He distributed 2 kilos to every family in the village. Over 2 tons of potatoes were harvested only a few months later, making this a 20-fold return on our investment. But if you want to find out why this story also has a mini failure built-in, since no potatoes were sold for much needed cash, you need to go to our website and read the story in full. Just a hint: with 2 tons of potatoes harvested nobody went hungry during the season that is called ‘époque dure’ or ‘hard times’, with is a nice euphemism for ‘going hungry’. What is fit for Kings, is fit for our villagers anytime.Best regards,Markus Faigle
Over two years ago we reported that three of Zahana's students, who successfully passed the CEPE were able to attend secondary school in Bevato, a two hours walk from the village.
The two boys are doing extremely well. A little bit embarrassed Donne reported that last school year he 'only' finished second in his class, while Dore, the other student was a close third. Unfortunately, despite the best efforts, not all projects finish according to plan. The third student, at the time a girl, was also allowed by their parents to attend school, after much discussion and deliberation with Zahana. Unfortunately the parent’s worst fears became true and she became pregnant. Her parents blame it on being in school, far away from home. They immediately took her back home and won't allow her to ever attend school again. This is very sad and also disappointing for us. Dr. Ihanta was head of the maternity ward for seven years in Madagascar's biggest hospital, and said: “I had quite a few frank discussions with her about this issue, since before she even started secondary school". She had hopes for such discussions. It is very common for young women in villages between 14 to 16 years of age to become mothers for the first time (all over in rural Madagascar) and our Zahana student is no exception. We had been hoping, the chance of a secondary education would enable her to break the cycle of early motherhood.
Currently, Donne, the older of the two male students is still hoping to become a physician one day. We assured him: he will have Zahana’s support all the way.
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