Truth be told, we didn’t ask to come to Madagascar just for the lemurs – although they’re a pretty nice bonus. A big reason we came here because we want to try and make a difference, somewhere, in someone’s lives; to have a purpose. But Saturday was a pretty tough day.
We started the day at the dump, at 6 am. More on that in another post, but suffice to say we were there to talk to a lady who lived in a small community bordering the city dump and making their living from what they could scavenge there. She told us how, a few years ago, city officials had offered to relocate her family and provide a support package to get them started, but that the support had never materialized, so they ended up back here at the dump.
Then we went to a popular location where homeless were known to live in informal shelters, in downtown Antananarivo. Most of the people had been cleared out, apparently. We spoke to a group of about a dozen kids, barefoot, in ratty clothes and with runny noses, three women and an older man who were living under a shelter they had fashioned from tarps. They told us that city officials had come a week earlier and cleared out the location, offering its residents space in an unfurnished building that was accessible only after 4 pm daily. And then burned all of their belongings.
We went to a nearby park and did our weekly photography gig with Teach for Madagascar. The kids were being taught in the open air of the park, and traffic was going by on both sides of the park, but for three hours, the kids practiced their writing, sang songs, and listened to stories. That post will also come later. But when we left we passed a boy who was very sick and in a lot of distress, and there was little we could do for him except give his sister some money to get her brother to a hospital quickly.
From there we had a wonderful meeting and fellowship event with volunteers for the Teach for Madagascar program. But our schedule was still not complete. Our last stop of the day was to meet with a group of young people who were looking for our help and advice in getting their young NGO, “Love Your Neighbor Madagascar” off the ground. They had recently managed to get their NGO officially registered, and have a Facebook page talking about their activities.
Among other projects, the handful of young people from Love Your Neighbor Madagascar have gone out within their own neighborhood, and found a group of families suffering from poverty to such an extent that they cannot afford to send their kids to school, and have dedicated themselves to figuring out a way to get the kids educated.
They took us to the community – a group of makeshift houses with no plumbing and no running water, and introduced us to the families. Imagine 3 families – a total of 42 people – living under one roof, divided into three rooms, with a total size smaller than the average master bedroom. We were invited into the home built of bricks and plaster, with saplings holding up a corrugated tin roof, with one glassless window, and were introduced, one by one, to the 14 kids in need of schooling. One of the adults was in bed – he had been sick – for a month, they said – and with just 20 of us in the room, it felt claustrophobic.
The family earns money by washing clothes, carrying water or other heavy things for other people, odd jobs – each adult earns between 3 and 6 euros per month. Somehow they manage to provide one meal a day – often just plain rice, with salt. But amazingly, everyone was positive. The kids all have big dreams, even if they don’t quite know how they are going to get where they want to go.
It was wonderful and inspirational, after such a long day (by now it was after 3 pm) to see young Malagasy, college-educated and with a bright future, wanting to unselfishly do something for their neighbors. There is a lot of need – 92% of the people in Madagascar get by on $2 or less per day – but every life that can be changed is worthwhile. It had been a heartbreaking day, seeing kids with runny noses, in torn, patched, donated clothing and bare feet or mismatched shoes, trying to improve their future, but everywhere we see young Malagasy people trying to make a difference for their fellow citizens.
We spent the afternoon with the team that makes up Love Your Neighbor Madagascar, looking at their online marketing strategy and talking about ways they might generate more interest. They showed us their crowdfunding page, which is pretty good and really explains what they are trying to do. But over the course of talking with them, we all realized that although the crowdfunding page had been in place over a month, they had somehow forgotten to publicize the link on their Facebook page!
So they are a little behind in their goal, and could use some help. We (Anne and I) are going to see how we can make a difference by helping the kids nutritionally, . We realize it’s a tiny drop in a giant bucket, but it’s a start.
If you’re interested in helping Love Your Neighbor reach their goals – check out their BetterPlace crowdfunding page. They are looking for a little over 6,000 euros, which will get all 14 kids through school completely, including medical care, clothing, and a pair of shoes each year. This is a big number, but it breaks down to just 13 euros to send one child to school for one month. They’d love your help.
Before we left the kids, even though we hadn’t really done anything except come into their space and snap a few pictures, they insisted on singing me a song – it’s posted on the top of Love Your Neighbor’s fundraising page – check it out!