Some of you read or might soon read about Madagascar in the news. some of you contacted us already, so we wanted to send a short message.
Thanks to email, text messaging and Skype we have been in constant contact with our partners in Madagascar and they are fine. One thing becomes obvious: we have to increase our efforts in rural participatory development and education.
Zahana has been focusing on making village life more attractive and livable so people don't have to leave their village in the first place in search of a better life. This can be done for example by providing development partnerships to built access to clean water or a school for their children.
Almost a decade back Madagascar experienced a very tumultuous political situation and as a result many people fled the cities in search of safety in countryside. In the case of the village of Fiadanana, Zahana's pilot village, its population increased by 20% and after the political situation stabilized most of the newcomers decided to stay, since they discovered the advantages of the rural over the city life.
We encourage you to frequent your trusted news sources for more information. We find http://www.newsnow.co.uk/h/?search=madagascar&searchheadlines=1
useful, since it lists many languages as links.
Please write to us directly if you want more information.
But despite the disturbing news out participatory development efforts in two villages in Madagascar continue.
Based on the ties established with the community of Fiarenana in October 2008 a formal meeting was held in February 2009.
To demonstrate their willingness to collaborate with Zahana they have already made 13,000 bricks for a future school building. In contrast to many other villages over 80% of the parents had gone to school as children themselves, can all read and write, and see the value and need for education for their children. The community envisions a school building that could become a leaning center for agriculture, health education and rural improvement that would function more as a rural university than a grade school in the traditional sense.
Decisions made at the February meeting:
As with most villages, safe drinking water is the biggest need. In this meeting it was decided to first improve the existing community well (see photos on the website) by building a permanent, covered structure, using the bricks that can support the hand pump supplied by Zahana. Since this community well represents their history and tradition, improving it was decided to be better then digging a new one.
Each family will plant 7 papaya trees: 2 trees for the family's consumption and 5 where the fruits can be sold, either as dried fruits or fresh in the market in nearby Bevato.
The community requested training in SRI, the System of Rice Intensification. SRI was developed over two decades ago in Madagascar and can dramatically improve yields, doubling or even tripling crop yields at times. (Cornell University SRI http://ciifad.cornell.edu/sri/). SRI has been very successful around the globe, but only works if a community is willing to learn about and adopt new planting techniques.
Increasing coffee production
Coffee is already grown in the village, but also consumed there. This is a great savings as cash does not leave the community to buy coffee. This cultivation will be intensified to supply neighboring villages and the community of Bevato. Traditionally farmers must supply coffee at harvest time to everybody working in their fields, so then the need for coffee is great.
Staying in touch, or the marvels of modern technology:
Staying in touch with remote village communities can be challenging when Zahana members have to travel for over 5 hours to get there, if the roads are passable and there is no mail service or busses that go there. Fortunately the village of Fiarenana has cell phone coverage.
Zahana bought a cell/mobile phone for the community of Fiarenana. They formed a committee of 4 representatives that are entitled to use it. If they have an issue to discuss with Zahana they send a text message/SMS and Zahana calls them back.
All cell phones in Madagascar only work with pre paid minutes, but incoming calls are free, since the caller pays for the calls. Therefore the cost for the villagers to talk to Zahana is minimal (just for the SMS) and Zahana pays for the minutes of the call on their end. All Zahana needs to do is to recharge the phone with more minutes every few months, so the number does not expire and there is now a direct lifeline to exchange ideas and news with Fiarenana.
But Fiarenana has no electricity. To recharge the cell phone's battery they need to walk over and hour to the next small town of Bevato to pay to get it recharged there. This service currently costs 2500 FMG (about 25 US cents) per charge with the use of a generator.
This is the first time that such a fancy high tech device has been available for the villagers.