Three months can be a long time, when you think about going to another country, missing birthdays of your family and best friends or trying to pack clothes etc. for that time period. When you look back, three months can feel really short, even though you experienced a lot. These are my last days in our “mosquito infested swamp”, as a fellow volunteer often describes it. Actually, I will miss the mangroves and the people in the local villages, which have started to recognize me. Three of the other volunteers and one staff member, with whom I spend most of my time in here, already went back home. The “Honko-family” has shrunk from 7 to 4 people. For one thing it is nice, as we get a lot in contact with people from the local communities and make much use of the few Malagasy words we picked up. On the other hand, it is hard to see people leaving and then find yourself eventually in the same situation.
A lot to take in
Looking back, I am more than grateful for all the new experiences, tons of knowledge about Madagascar(Newsletter firstname.lastname@example.org) and the local Vezo tribe, as well as the relationships built. Originally, I came here to analyse the sustainability of the NGO Honko under the conditions of climate change, as part of my studying program. I first analysed all the ongoing projects by Honko, as well as noted their efficiency and mapped them. It still amazes me, how such a small NGO with such a tight budget can do so much and actually succeed in most of the projects. It was also interesting, to see the everyday struggles in the work in this rural environment,surrounded by some of the economically poorest people in the world. Seeing more and more of the whole picture, there are so many threats that it is hard to know where to start. 40% of the governmental budget of Madagascar vanishes every year (News Mada, 2015), and its people only plan from day to day due to a lack of education and the 5thhighest poverty rates worldwide (Matin, 2015). The unique ecosystems (coral reef, mangroves and spiny forest) are highly degraded and international development aid mostly gets lost as extra expenses for government, police and bureaucracy.
Take a single mangrove tree, you want to protect from logging, usage for charcoal or construction of housing. You cannot just build a fence around your precious mangrove tree! The surrounding ecosystem will be even more degraded and your tree might die. So try to find alternative livelihoods for the local people and do some awareness rising, so that the people stop overusing the mangroves. Unfortunately, this is not the way it works. The population in the region of Toliara increases constantly and so does the resource use. Can you prevent people from having children? No, because there is a lack of social security and no functioning health system, so people keep on getting many children.
Furthermore, there are threats which might be caused outside the project area but could be destructive to your work. For the mangroves of Ambondrolava, it is a massivesand dune along the channel of Mozambique, which might at some point take over the main channel. This would block the water flow into the mangroves which then might die out and take the communities with them, if they do not decide to move elsewhere. Where does the sand dune from? The sand dune is caused by currents and winds along the coast which take sediments from the nearby river Fiherenana northwards. The sediments increased horrifyingly over the last decades, as the South-West experienced the highest deforestation rate throughout Madagascar. The spiny forest behind the RN9 resembles nowadays more a spiny desert, with only few octopus trees remaining. The coast in the village Tsongoritello erodes massively, and only white stumps of chopped off mangrovesremain aswitnesses of the massive logging. The old RN9 is already touched by the waves and the new one is built more inland. It is quite a lot to take in at first. It can make you very miserable actually!
A lot to give
So why, is Honko still there trying? Honko makes small changes which in consequencemake mayor improvements. During my time here, I went monitoring in the mangroves and saw the successful replantation’s since 2008. It is amazing how the area changed over time. I explored the abandoned salt pans which are now taken over by birds and watched the kingfisher at the viewport. Only a few metres into the forest you can see so many different animals, and you know that this is worth fighting for!
I got quite engaged with the Women´s Association, visited some of their workshops and did portraits of all 49 women. Doing an overview of all the 50 products and the catalogue for possible export overseas, it really impressed me, how much potential there actually is. The women use local plants which grow like weeds, and can generate a higher income and profit than just from selling the raw material.
I continued the Junior Guides program which was started by a former volunteer and improved it as much as I could. The intensive cooperation and exchange with our partner organisationReef Doctor helped a lot. Together with Nikki, I developed various educational materials from scratch. I hope in a few months’ time, when the first generation of junior guides has finished the program, they will spread the word among their communities and eventually lead to some changes in resource use and lifestyles. Maybe it is a cliché but seeing the new roof of the school in Ambotsibotsike, which my family has donated, and all the laughing children is really heart-warming.
With another volunteer, I started translating the complete Honko webpage in 2 more languages and hope thereby to attract more interns and volunteers, and especially tourists and sponsors, to support this hidden gem in Madagascar.
Apart from my official internship, I learned scuba diving and improved my French a bit. I tried new food (like sugar cane) and used various kinds of new transport (likethe Pousse-Pousse). I think I got more self-confident in doing things for the first time in a culture, which differentiates so much from good old Germany. I did some blogging about my time in here and whomever is interested might check it out.
Thanks Honko and all the best for the future!