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.
This is a project report that is a great pleasure to post. It affects every facet of our work as it impacts everybody living in our villages. It is our great privilege and honor to announce that the Health Center in our village of Fiadanana has been officially inaugurated at the end of May 2014! As you cann see in the pictures and on our website, the students of Zahana's school played a key role in welcoming the visitors and dignitaries from governmental and regional agencies. Now, after an official ribbon cutting ceremony, the healthcare center is ready to see patients. One of our proudest achievements is that the new health center will host the community’s own traditional healer Raleva to work side-by-side with a Ministry of Health certified trained midwife. To have such a true healing center in our village has been a dream for the community and Zahana since our very first community meeting over a decade ago. (See health center’s groundbreaking 2013.)Raleva is one of the most respected and revered traditional healers in this part of the country. People travel far to see him and solicit his treatment advice. To honor him, and to pay him the respect that is due by providing him with a modern building where he can practice his healing art, is a very joyous occasion for Zahana. Zahana’s founder, Dr. Ihanta, told us laughingly, in a Skype conversation: “most people assume that a traditional healer is there to assist the Western trained midwife. I'm quite sure, in our case this will be the other way around and the Western trained person will work with or may be under the guidance off our highly respected traditional healer. We really like the English expression hand-in-hand to describe this relationship. Yes, we will, for instance, vaccinate all of our children with the help of the paramedic, or use antibiotics where this is the best treatment option, as part of integrating Western medicine in our Health Center. ‘Do no harm’ is our guiding principal in all of this”. This health center inauguration gives us again a great opportunity to showcase to everybody visiting our village the importance of access to clean and safe water. There are thousands of communities in Madagascar that desperately need access to basic healthcare, but the fact that our village does indeed already have access to clean and safe drinking water made the French NGO decided to build the health center in our village.Clean and safe drinking water remains the most effective public health measure for Zahana. It was priority #1 for the community, when we started with our participatory development in 2005. This is again illustrated in the fact, as Dr. Ihanta, Zahana's founder and a physician herself, said: "We don't need diarrhea medication or prevention, because we don't have diarrhea anymore, since the village has clean drinking water. For me as a medical doctor the most rewarding result is that no child, or adult for that matter, has died of water borne diseases, since we have clean water. It could well be that the villagers themselves are not aware of that, but for me as a physician and a parent, this is the most important and significant indicator I can think of. We determined this very important finding already over two years ago, and I am very happy this has not changed since.” Later in the conversation she added: “It is also a great savings for the Ministry of Health if we don’t have to spend money on medication or treatment of preventable diseases. This may not be too familiar for a Western audience, but in a country with scares resources this is an important factor”. As you can see in the photos, dignitaries and representatives from different branches of government attended our health center opening. The actual ribbon cutting was by a representative of the Ministry of Water. We thought it was very important to show them firsthand by having them come into our village, that a community built water system is not only feasible, but also working very well. (See water story.) It is a great honor for us and the community he was joined (in the photo) by the brother of the President of Madagascar and his wife.In some of the other pictures you see that Zahana was able to show to the visiting dignitaries the solar water pasteurization in action. The school of our sister village Fiarenana has been using solar water pasteurization successfully for over two years for all of the drinking water needs for their students. Since solar water pasteurization only works if the sun is shining, they have to resort to boiling water on cloudy or rainy days. Again, at Zahana we believe that seeing the results of our work might have bigger impact than just hearing about an abstract concept of solar water pasteurization.We have posted more photos on our website, since it is hard to choose only six from so many. It is especially wonderful to see all the students proudly welcoming the visitors to their village. Ihanta and Markus
Since three of Zahana’s students attend secondary school in Bevato, it galvanized the other kids in the village to attend school regularly. The three students have now been living for almost two years in Bevato, a two hours walk from their home in Fiadanana. They are walking home every weekend, to spend time with their family and help in the rice fields.
Seeing that it is indeed possible for their peers to graduate with a CEPE and pursue secondary education one village over, our students are now more willing to go far and study hard.
(See our website about more information on the CEPE the Certificat d'etudes primaires élémentaires or Certificate of Primary Studies).
For Zahana in our efforts of community wide education our school is one very important aspect. But there are also more immidiate and frighting educational moments.
There was a plague epidemic (yes, the bubonic plague) in Madagascar starting in November 2013. Zahana actively strengthened the fight against this disease through sensitization of our villagers. In the photo Dr Evelyn, the leader of Zahana's community health outreach program is explaining to the assembled villagers on how to avoid the disease and what to do if some symptoms may appear. Unfortunatelly some plague cases were been recorded in our region: in Tsiroanomandidy, the next town with a hospital, a four hours walk away. But we were very lucky and our 2 villages stayed free from the disease.
As a comment from us: It is always a good sign, when the reports from the schools are uneventful and children ‘just’ can go the school every day and learn (and eat). Here is a quick end of the year review we got from Madagascar:
Current Students enrollment in Zahana’s schools:
At Zahana’s school our head teacher Mparany, based on your recommendation, does not to accept children under 5 of age at our school anymore (in his single classroom). This has worked out very well for him, since he can now focus on teaching instead of childcare for little ones. The public school in Fiadanana also now also finally open and this way more children can go to this school as well, which is very good for us. The solar cookers in the schools are working all day.
In other important community news: the Health Center for Fiadanana is almost finished (see the groundbreaking in July). We just got this photo of an almost completed building, with our traditional healer Raleva checking out its progress.
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