The Journey of a Moringa (nutrition) Volunteer

Written by Annastiina, Nutrition volunteer

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When Josepha, my Moringa project partner at Honko, told me that we would start our project that day by meeting the president of one of the five project villages, I felt excited but nervous. Josepha had told me a bit about the living style of the local people and Tess had showed me how to harvest a Moringa tree to demonstrate more what I would be talking about, but I didn’t know what to expect. The contrast of people living back home in Finland to the people living in the rural areas of the poorest of Madagascar, a country where 92% of the population live below the poverty line was imminent and habits very different. I was worried that I would accidently forget to respect the local taboos “fadis”, that I would upset someone by misunderstanding the community president, or that I would not be able to know everything about what I was supposed to lecture about.

However, as soon as we joined the president waiting for us under a canopy in front of his house my nervousness was gone. He was playing with his children in front of similar small straw hut as everyone else, enjoying the daily life by observing the life around him, and like all the others in the village spending his days by supplying his family the food he could get. He was very friendly and eager to hear details of the life in my strange Nordic home country of ice and snow. He was laughing and rolling his eyes when I described how cold the temperature could get and how pitch-black winters were in Finland. Josepha loyally translating every description into Malagasy. The president was wondering how anyone could live in such cold conditions or be able to cultivate anything within such short period of summer. We were both marveling how different countries could be, but how they all had their problems. I wanted to ask questions about his life; what he did during his free-time, but realized that replies that I could expect in Finland such as reading books or doing sports were not relevant over there. So I settled for thanking him for meeting us and for accepting us to lecture in his village.

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Some of the other presidents were difficult to reach and therefore, as simple thing as asking for a permission to enter a village, that would be easily dealt with by e-mails back home in a day, took over two weeks in Madagascar. We had to drive by motorcycle to each village on a terrible road, through bushes and sand piles to see if we were able to find the president or not. This also had to be done rather early as we had to take into account that the motorcycle might broke down, as it once did, and would not be able to make it back to the center before sunset. As a set-back we also found out that we were not able to have a lecture in one of the villages as we did not pay money for the villagers for return for the time they would spend listening to our presentation. It felt such a pity to be refused from what we thought would be a great solution for people’s health and lack of nutrition.

When we finally started the actual lectures, it turned out to be very fun and every lecture was different from another. The lectures did not always go as planned, making each one an experience. The presentation was made of understandable pictures showing how to plant and cook the Moringa tree (leaves, pods, flowers). With Josepha we tried to make the presentation as animated as possible, I used tools to demonstrate how deep the planting hole must be and how to pound dried leaves to make powder. I taught how Moringa, also known as a “Miracle tree”, is a tree that grows in the tropical climate, up to 4 meters per year even in the poorest soil qualities and climates without much need for water. I told how all the parts of the tree can be used in variety of ways and only one big spoon of dried leaves was enough to keep a person healthy because it includes 7 times as much C-vitamin as oranges, 4 times as much as protein as eggs, 7 times more potassium than bananas as well as calcium, iron, B vitamins, and all the essential amino acids. Especially the tree was healthy for pregnant and breast-feeding women. The villagers were very interested in the fact that it could also be used as natural medicine for headaches, wounds, rheumatism etc., definitely deserving to be merited as a miracle tree.

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Once we had to hold the lecture to a busy afternoon market because people did not gather to the planned lecture venue. So there I was, amused by the fact that I was trying to shout the details of the Moringa to the people passing by to buy their vegetables or fish. Surprisingly, many of them however stopped and sat down to listen. Another lecture we were having under a big tree accompanied by a local older gentleman sitting next to us rather intoxicated, chanting his knowledge about Moringa. In the audience women were breastfeeding their babies without any embarrassment for nudity, so shunned back home. There were chickens surrounding the audience and taxi-brousses going by behind us. The best lecture was however the visit in the village of Belitzeke, where I held the lecture on an amazing white beach, looking at the sparkling sea under us parked with colorful wooden piroques waiting for fishing next morning. The president next to us was preparing his fishing hooks with his feet from used iron wire listening careful among the women, men and children. The presentation seemed to raise enthusiasm and people had many questions. We were thanked warmly after the presentation and left accompanied by giggles and whoops of the children as we speeded with the moto back towards Honko.

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Now, when the project is over from my part I feel we succeeded to raise awareness in people as we wanted and to create desire for healthier diet with Moringa. During the presentations the villagers seemed very interested; they listened carefully and asked many questions about the details. Our help seemed to be appreciated. Some of the villagers who already were growing and using the tree shared their experiences in their improved state of health. Also the worries I had in the beginning of the project revealed to be unnecessary. I feel that speaking to a president wouldn’t now seem frightening and presenting to tens of villagers would be only enjoyable. I gained lot of experience about the living conditions of the rural people in a less-developed country and learned how NGO’s work; how amazing job they do helping the communities to get self-sustainable and on their feet even in the poorest conditions. My worry in the beginning was whether it would be possible as an outsider to make any difference in these people lives, but I feel like through this kind of efforts, even small, especially if added together, a change can be made. I hope that after I left the project will continue, seeds of the Moringa will reach the people and that, as the presentation concluded, families can have “happier and healthier life thanks to Moringa”.

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