A community school for all (children) in Fiarenana

by Zahana
Solar cooker infornt of our school
Solar cooker infornt of our school

The solar box cookers have been well accepted in the schools by the teachers and their students. The students like their solar box cookers a lot. They have been experimenting and cooking as many things as possible with he energy of the sun. It was exactly this opportunity to experiment and to eat the fruit of the research that made us want to use the solar cookers in the curriculum. Keeping time of the cooking process, measuring temperature, observing temperature over time, comparing temperature increases on full sun and overcast days, all require mathematical skills applied in a real life situation.

In the latest text message from the village, we received a little synopsis of the cooking efforts by the students. The students have been encouraged to keep notes:

Solar cooker: time to cook for
Rice: 2h30
Zebu: 2h30 (zebu is beef eaten in Madagascar)
Fish: 2h
Cassava: 2h30
Dried bean: 3h
Boiling water for coffee: 1h
Madeleine (small cake): 1h
Cassava cake: 2h

Note: they let the internal temperature in the cook box go up (pre-heat) to 100 degree C (216F) before the pot gets put in the solar cooker. (See out video how solar box cookers work)

Introducing solar cookers in the schools was a long-term project. The solar cookers have generated a lot of interest, because a solar cooker does not require firewood to make food for the children at the school and there is no smoke in the cooking process, as with traditional firewood stoves.

GlobalGiving's newest addition:  Microprojects. A Microproject is a clearly defined project, with a funding goal dedicated to accomplish this one task. Microprojects will be active on  GlobalGiving for a maximum of 90 days, or just until funded.

A Micoproject is part of our larger 'parent' projects with GlobalGiving, but gives us the flexibility to dedicate funds to a specific goal (with unique URL), such as
Send a student to secondary school for a $1 a day.

Explaining how it works
Explaining how it works
Sun on the reflector of the solar cooker
Sun on the reflector of the solar cooker


Certificate for Donne as best of his class
Certificate for Donne as best of his class

His parents chose wisely, when they named their son Donné, a French term, loosely translated as "given" or "gift".

Our Donné has been attending secondary school in the district seat of Bevato for over a year now. He was among the first seven students to ever pass the CEPE (see website) in his village. Thanks to a generous in-country donor, Donné and his brother received a scholarship to live in Bevato. There they live together in a rented house, and prepare their own food in the morning, so they have something to eat for breakfast, and take along as lunch to school. One of Zahana’s founder’s sister looks in on the boys every once in a while, but they're very much left to take care of themselves.

Not only have they mastered living on their own successfully, but Donné rose to the best of his class! We have attached his certificate of attendance that he proudly presented to Zahana. 

Donné has great plans for the future. His dream is to become a doctor, so he can help his community. He has been inspired by seeing Dr. Ihanta, Zahana’s founder, work in his community most of his life. Flattered by his compliment, she told him, that if he wants to better himself and not become a rice farmer as his ancestors before him:  “he should study hard”.

And the advice he took to heart. Indeed.

Donne with his proud father smiling in the back
Donne with his proud father smiling in the back


Inside the classroom
Inside the classroom

The new school year started this year in September. It is the seventh year for the school in Faidanana and the third for the school in Fiarenana.

Traditionally, the school was closed for the month of July, but this year was closed for the month of August. This was a result of the teachers strike in the rest of the country that delayed the national CEPE exam for a few weeks (see website and last years progress report). Since our teacher had been training students for the CEPE exam once again, he kept the school open until exam time. This year six students from our school participated in the nationwide CEPE exam, and three of them passed successfully. Our teacher and the students are very sad about this result, but we assured them, that they tried their best, and to remember that the national average failure rate is over 50%.

Note: We found an explanation of the Malagasy school system (which is based on a French model) on-line. Please note that in many rural areas there are no schools for the children to attend, despite the "right" to compulsory schooling.

Education is compulsory between 6 and 14 years of age. Primary education lasts for five years, leading to the Certificat d'Etudes primaires élémentaires (CEPE). Secondary education then covers seven years divided into a four-year first cycle and a three-year second cycle. On completion of the first cycle of secondary education in a general or technical Collège, pupils obtain the Brevet d'Etudes du premier Cycle (BEPC).

Inside Fiadanana
Inside Fiadanana's school - in the 7th year
Squash in the school garden
Squash in the school garden

The Tscherman Chef cooks something up again: a video with the community effort as ingredients.

Who says development work needs to be serious? (Although the issues sure still are.) Participatory development means to work together, if you spent 1 minute and 40 seconds watching the video on Youtube (and later on our project page), you'll find out. Please feel free to leave a comment on YouTube. 

And quick reminder: Bonus Day begins at 12:01 am Eastern Daylight Time on Wednesday June 13, 2012. (That is one minute after midnight on June 13 in the New York time zone).

The formula is simple: your donations to Zahana will be matched at 50%. Last time GlobalGiving ran out of matching funds, please try early in the day if you want to super size you donation by 50% with the click of a mouse. There is a total of $75,000 in matching funds available. Once funds have been depleted, no more donations will be matched by GlobalGiving. Details

Best regards,



Building the water reservoir on the mountain 2006
Building the water reservoir on the mountain 2006

Dear friends: In this report we wanted to take a step back, and look at the bigger picture. We apologize for cross-postings in our GlobalGiving projects.

The report has been inspired by watching the TEDx talk by David Damberger: “What happens when an NGO admits failure” and our recent webinar hosted by GlobalGiving about the WASH Sustainability Charter.  We learned from David Damberger’s talk, that many water systems built in Africa don't function much longer than one or two years, for many reasons, eloquently explained in his TEDx talk. We encourage you to watch his outstanding 13-minutes critical analysis. He is works with Engineers Without Borders having  built many water systems over the years, but also has implemented the lessons learned in an innovative, inspiring way. Without mentioning it explicitly, if you look at the talk for our angle, he presents a good case why GlobalGiving's approach of directly matching donors with projects is better for both sides.

Bonus Day begins at 12:01 am EDT on Wednesday June 13, 2012. The formula is simple: your donations to Zahana will be matched at 50%. Last time GlobalGiving ran out of matching funds, please try early in the day if you want to supersize you donation by 50% with the click of a mouse. There is a total of $75,000 in matching funds available. Once funds have been depleted, no more donations will be matched. Details

But now to the before mentioned bigger picture (keep in mind that most water systems might not work beyond two years after being built):  Our very first participatory development effort in 2006 was to build a gravity-feed, clean, safe water system. We did this in a village that never had clean water before. This gravity-fed water system is still flowing uninterrupted for six years now, providing clean water for over 1000 people. Way up on the mountain, some 2.5 km or 1.6 miles away from the village, the clean spring coming out off the ground has been channeled with pipes in a water storage container on the mountainside. From there it flows, with the help of gravity, through PVC pipes into the village. Collected in a second large water container at the edge of the village, the water flows into seven communal faucets, accessible to all. It is still the only village with a safe clean water system far and wide in the region.

We built this water system by hiring the water engineers, and paying them to live for three months in the village. Living in the community, they built the water system together with the villagers. This way, not only did they put in (unpaid!) village sweat equity, digging trenches, cutting stones, carrying cement and sand, and laying pipe that made the system more affordable; but they also learned how their water system functioned. A crucial part of this approach is that the villagers could be trained by the water engineers how to fix the system, should it break one day. All systems built by humans are bound to break sooner or later, but now the villagers are not only prepared for what to do, but also hopefully have the skills to do it themselves without outside help. As an additional safeguard, one man, jokingly referred to as the ’water police’, has been assigned to walk up and down the water system every day, to check for leaks or potential problems. Besides recruiting and paying the salaries for the water engineers, Zahana paid for materials the villagers could not afford, such as PVC pipes, the water storage containers and cement, with the help of our donors.

It is exactly the participatory element that made it successful. Zahana worked together with the villagers to build their water system, instead of an outside organization coming in and building it for them, making it ‘their water system’, not ‘ours’. With this proud ownership of ‘their water system’, comes the responsibility to take care of it and maintain it for years to come. The only complaint that people from Fiadanana make (and that makes us proud) is that they don't like to drink the water in other places anymore, and are forced to carry their own water with them now if they are leaving their village.

It wasn't easy to find water engineers willing to live in a rural setting for many weeks, far away from home without any amenities, and work with an untrained workforce, since this was and is quite a novel concept in Madagascar. But it paid off in more ways than one as we were able to build the water system for less than 20% of comparable water systems’ (normal) cost, and it is still flowing strong for almost 6 years. Although still the single biggest success for us is that no child has died of diarrhea since the clean water system was built.

Building our schools we have used the same approach: The community contributing the bricks and their labor and local materials and Zahana paying for the rest (doors, roof, cement, etc.,) they could never afford. We also hired and trained the teachers. We found an educational expert teacher-trainer willing to live in the village and train the teachers in their school and future teaching environment. Both schools are also still teaching children every day. Another first in the village’s history: four students have moved on to secondary school (more on CEPE). Our two gardeners live and work in the community where they grow seedlings and work the school gardens with and for the children. The gardeners salaries are also paid by Zahana.

Participatory development means, and this is at the heart of it, to trust people that they will do their best when you give them a chance to take charge of their own development. That is neither easy nor commonplace in the development community. And there will always be failures and mishaps as well, as much as we would like to avoid that. And: Yes, it does require outside money, too. In a country, such as Madagascar, where a farmer may barely “makes” US$ 300 in a year growing rice with backbreaking manual labor, we will always need people like you supporting our efforts to make this participatory development possible.

And yes, everybody wants to know, including us, how do you measure success? Well, get a glass of water (most likely it comes out of a tap or even a bottle for you), and take a good long look - at this clean, crystal clear, safe drinking water - and think about it where your water comes from, before you quench your thirst.

Ihanta, Jeannette and Markus

Cutting the stones for the water reservoir
Cutting the stones for the water reservoir
The communal water tank in the village
The communal water tank in the village
Communal water faucet in the village
Communal water faucet in the village
School water faucet
School water faucet
Communal water faucet with new fence (2011)
Communal water faucet with new fence (2011)

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Organization Information


Location: Antananarivo, Capital - Madagascar
Website: http:/​/​zahana.org
Project Leader:
Markus Faigle
Honolulu, HI United States

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