Donné is the first student of Zahana’s schools to graduate with a baccalaureate in his village! We all need good news, in these strange times of COVID-19 and asked our partners in Madagascar for a story from a Malagasy perspective.
Let me share with you the life story of one of our students from Fiadanana: Donné.
His story, deeply rooted in the history of Zahana, deserves to be told, to highlight the importance of education. Living in a small, remote village in the high plateau does not mean that you are doomed to remain illiterate.
At the opening of our first school built by the community and Zahana in his village (link), a few dozen children registered at first, and Donné was one of them.
Our teachers received a special training by our educational specialist Jane. It was based on a German strategy focusing on a tailor-made curriculum for a community that never had a school before, adapted to their local reality (see website). Jane assured us, that if the method is followed by the teachers, the students should be able to achieve a higher standard compared to those in the public schools.
3 years later, first just as a test case, we made the decision to send 7 students to take the CEPE, a nationwide exam. In fact, the CEPE can be taken normally after 5 years of primary schooling (CEPE webpage).
The result was amazing: 6 out of the 7 students, including Donné and his brother Doré passed the CEPE exam with success. Having obtained his CEPE among the best in his region, Donne wanted to continue his secondary studies with the dream to become a medical doctor.
Zahana's philosophy is to train young people where they live so that they can prepare for their better future there, not to train them to leave the village for an unsure adventure in the city. We made an exception by sending him and two others to the public secondary school a two-hours walk from their home at CEG (see website). He obtained his BEPC after 4 years, the best of his class we may add, allowing him to attend high school.
Schools at this level (high school) are based in a city only and he was forced to move there to continue his education (a 5-hours walk from his village). The difference between the way of living in his village and the city life didn’t disturb him in his dream.
At the beginning, facing living in a city, he initially wanted to become a priest. With time, as he got used to the new rhythm of life he changed his mind and wanted to become an agricultural engineer.
Based on his choice, he continued his studies at a private technical agricultural college and obtained his technical baccalaureate after 3 years of studies making him the first person to hold such a diploma in his village. His brother Doré was supposed to graduate later in 2020, but with all colleges closed at the moment due to COVID-19, this remains to be seen.
While his father was still alive he wanted his children to be able to study and was very supportive of his sons. Donne worked diligently in this direction to make this dream come true, and even after his father’s untimely passing, Donne continued on to honor the memory of his father.
The baccalaureate, his highest degree, allows him to continue to attend the University, but given the current situation, by mutual agreement, we have opted for another approach.
After he graduated agricultural school he moved back in his village to be closer to his mother and siblings. For now he stays in the village to apply what he learned and to start his own business. To achieve this, he is supported by technicians of our improved cookstove team in the field (management, farming business, animal husbandry). Many in our team have decades of experience teaching at the local collage, the Lycée Technique Professionnel Tsiroanomandidy (Technical Professional College of Tsiroanomandidy) and have taken Donné under their wing. He accompanies them on their training workshops and they mentor him with tailormade hands-on trainings.
For the moment he loves his job thus making Zahana proud.
Dr. Ihanta, Founder of Zahana
Why does the Seneca Park Zoo in Rochester, New York show the Zahana video Combining reforestation with locally made improved cook stoves in Madagascar?
We live in an interconnected world and the Seneca Park zoo is a supporter of our reforestation efforts. A zoo involved in reforestation in Madagascar you may wonder? Think lemurs. Which kid (or adult) in a zoo does not make a b-line to the Lemurs? Lemurs need trees in their habitat, if they are to survive in the wild. The zoo supports another incredible innovative reforestation project next to a national park, because zoos are major players in conservation efforts world-wide, as we learned through this relationship.
Seneca Park Zoo’s goal is to support the reforestation efforts of other Malagasy NGOs like Zahana as well. They generously included us as recipients in their annual Madagascar event for the first time in 2019. During a site visit to their reforestation project in Madagascar, they had to chance to meet our founder Dr. Ihanta in person in 2019.
But that was then, when one still took airplanes and traveled internationally.
This is now. ‘Now’ did not stop the Seneca Park Zoo to set up a virtual fundraiser: Party Mad(agascar) 2020 (now its 17th year). With many of us working from home, it is actually easier to join a fundraiser via zoom, thousands of miles away in upstate New York, than around the corner.
The zoo invited us to create a five-minute video to present Zahana to the audience. Short videos introduced the different NGOs, followed by live question and answer during ‘Party Mad 2020‘. We hope you enjoy this five-minute video Combining reforestation with locally made improved cook stoves in Madagascar. It is a good 2020 Zahana snapshot, which includes drone footage from the village in October 2019.
PS: We also added a short one-minute video Reforestation with Moringa in Madagascar by Zahana
May be in these strange COVID-19 times a movie documenting our reforestation efforts in Madagascar, now finally available with English subtitles as well, might provide a welcome insight in two rural villages in October 2019. The images of the students planting trees in this documantary are from our first and bigger school in Fiadanana Its main focus is our improved cookstoves and bio-charcoal project we started in 2019 that goes hand in hand with our reforestation efforts.
If anything good is coming out of this COVID-19 roller-coaster is the fact that the inequalities for humans on our beautiful planet become more obvious every day and rethinking the so called 'normal', and if we ever would like to return to it in the first place, is in order. May be the needed change could be a few steps away from your front door and/or half around the globe, because they are indeed not mutually exclusive. In my book access to clean water should be a given, if you live in Flint Michigan, a slum in Brazil or in rural … (fill in your priority). For us at Zahana this location is rural Madagascar.
The documentary was made by Eberhard Rühle, who joined us for a site visit to Madagascar in 2019. It is available in French and German though ARTE. In a very twisted, bizarre way COVID-19 might been helpful for Zahana, since many more people watch TV documentaries lately and we may reach a wider audience. Doctors for Madagascar, another non-profit from Germany with personal ties to us in Berlin and Antananarivo, does amazing work, and we are honored to feature in the same movie with them. But that you can see it for yourself, if you click on the 'ARTE in English' documentary Madagascar: fighting poverty.
Aloha and stay safe!
As a response to the Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, the government of Madagascar closed all schools* and declared a lock-down for major cities, including the capital of Antananarivo in April 2020.
This has a major impact on the food supply in the cities, but fortunatelly our remote villages are remote, and this remoteness might be a blessing is disguise. We assured out teachers that they will be paid by Zahana during the mandatory school closures. Teaching is their only income, and since they have no time for farming, they are forced to buy food to eat. We are all in this together and besides distributing school meals, the teachers keep an eye on the school garden and the tree nursery, replanting and watering, a task ‘normally’ done by our students.
Consequently, our two schools in the villages remain closed as well to comply with the national requirements. A closed school forces most of our students to go hungry. The mandatory school closure came rather unexpectedly, leaving especially the younger students in limbo, roaming around the village freely, while their parents are very busy during the rice harvest season, leaving for the fields before day break. Zahana decided to assemble our students every day at school to continue to offer the daily school meal.
Starting with this new school year (September 2019) Zahana provides, once again, a meal every day for our students. For most it is still the first meal of their day. The traditional mofo gassy, similar to a rice cake (see website) is a major treat, and a motivating draw for students to attend school. When possible, the mofo gasy is accompanied by powdered milk, or, like in these photos, by moringa tea, cooked on a improved cookstove.
Last holiday season Santa brought a cup for every child so they could drink something at their school with their very own cup. After the onset of the rainy season, moringa trees started to produce leaves, and this made fresh moringa leaf tea in the school possible again.
Wearing a face mask in public has been made mandatory by the Malagasy government. Leading by example might be the best educational message. Cloth face masks have been provided by Zahana to our teachers and everybody else involved in making and distributing the school meal. We did this in close collaboration with our midwife at the villages’ CARMMA (health center), who does the public health educational outreach about coronavirus prevention measures. She has also been trained to watch for symptoms, such as a possible surge of unusual coughs or fevers. Clinical diagnosis is the only viable option available to her.
Last but not least, both of Zahana’s schools have running water, and students are actually in the very fortunate position to be able to wash their hands before they eat. Something that is far from been taken for granted in many places on our planet. But this is, after all, one of the reasons why platforms like GlobalGiving send you reports like these, because we hope to change this once and for all.
Thank you for your continued support in these strange times without a road map.
* The government just announced that school will reopen next week, but only for the grades that are preparing for national exams.
Once again, to celebrate International Women's Day 2020 on March 8 a great community-wide tree planting festival, including dancing and cultural performances took place in both of our villages.
The best part of the sentence is the ‘once again’. It has become a cherished tradition that on every International Women’s Day, initiated and driven by the women’s group, the entire community gets together to plant trees. As an added bonus, for the first time ever, a group from the neighboring village joined the festivities because they want to be part of it. But the women said: if you wanna dance you also need to participate in planting trees.
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