By Elodie L’homme, UNSA volunteer in Madagascar in summer 2015 with Maventy Health International
Our days in Anivorano were usually similar to this: in the mornings, we worked with the children and did screening, and in the afternoon we were supposed to fill in the database or help in any other way we could. In Madagascar, the sun rises at 6:30 and the sunset is at 17:30-18:00 in the winter (July-August). It is because it gets dark so early that we did most of the work in the early morning. We had to wake up at 6:00 and started volunteering at 6:30 or 7:00 when we went screening to countryside villages a bit later depending on whether the villages were close by or we had a means of transportation. The latter was pretty rare though because transportation is quite expensive and the NGO is still very small and needs lots of funding to move forward. So what we did was walking for a few hours to reach the more secluded villages. They were composed of a few wooden “houses” that the people built themselves with poles made of thin branches, the roof tops were composed of either palm trees or a tree called “the traveler’s tree”. The houses looked very unstable but you felt surprisingly safe when inside. Screening meant measuring the height and weight (and head circumference for children under 24 months). After the screening we entered the measurements into an app that calculated a Z-score based on the weight and depending on the result, we gave the children multivitamins.
Each child received home-made peanut butter (when available). Each one of us volunteers had a different role: secretary, entering the data in the smartphone, measuring, taking pictures, handing out the peanut butter… Our Malagasy partner from the NGO, Bootsy, gave the mothers nutritional advice, but also helped us to communicate with them. We did learn the basics of the Malagasy language. However, it was the dialect from the north they taught us, so when we traveled more south, people laughed because we were not speaking the right dialect! On Tuesdays, we had to buy peanuts at the local market and roast them on a small charcoal “barbecue”. It took one hour to roast five cups! Cooking in general takes a long time in Madagascar because they do everything on these small barbecues. Patience is a virtue, which you will learn every day in Madagascar. People are often late, traveling takes much time because the places are very distant from one another and the roads are in very bad condition in the north. It could take up to 2 or 3 hours to drive 20 km.
Friday was usually vaccination day, so we worked from the clinic. Some children cried a lot, seemingly really afraid of “vazaha” (= foreigners) while others were very easy to screen since they came every month and know the procedure already. Many parents were also really grateful for what we did, shaking our hand to express their gratitude. They were very amused every time they saw how we put the children in a swing to weigh them, since apparently it kind of looked as if they were floating around.
Another task we had to do was painting the clinic. That took us an entire week because we first had to wash it. They did not have any proper equipment so we used buckets of water that we had to fill up from the hose a few meters away, we scrubbed with a broom and then we painted. Since the building is so high we had to climb on the windows and the roof to do the upper parts (the wooden ladder was not always enough). We also made up longer painting rolls by taping the broom stick to it. It was actually a blast and we were all very proud (and tired) of our accomplishment. Overall, it was a great experience with lots of cute babies. One of them did not want to leave me once! And also lots of crying babies even though it is understandable that they are not extremely delighted to see foreigners with odd instruments coming to them…
I would recommend this trip to anyone who is ready to live out of their comfort zone for a while, who is not afraid to experience and attempt to understand a different culture, and is waiting for a new challenge.
If you want to find out more about our partner NGO’s and the development committee, have a look at our website. You can be a volunteer also as passive member, or help sending volunteers abroad as active member of the Development committee!