“I don’t even know where to find that on a map.”
“Are there people there?”
“Oh, you mean the place from the cartoon?”
These sentiments were not uncommon when I told people that I was going to Madagascar. Of all the places I’ve traveled in my life, Madagascar is the one most people had never heard of or even believed was real. So, when I learned that the theme for this study tour was “No One Left Behind,” I couldn’t fathom what to expect of a place that doesn’t even exist in the minds of most of the world.
I took that over 25-hour journey with no expectations, but open to what was before me.
Through these photos and stories I hope readers will see just a glimpse of the beauty behind us in Madagascar. And maybe, just maybe, recognize how important it is in our global community to leave no one behind.
One of the two classes I was taking in Madagascar was Poverty Analysis & Reduction Strategies. One of the most fascinating ways to address poverty was this eco-village, Tsaratanana, created through the organization Yo Contigo Espérance. We spent most of the day walking through this village that is a beautiful example of how equity is just as necessary as equality.
Most people know of Madagascar because of the lemurs. The lemurs here are just one part of the amazing bio-diversity this 2,200 km island holds.
Perspective depends on your vantage point.
Tonight I saw what the city looks like from a “royal” perspective. Standing just below the old queen’s palace, I saw how she would’ve seen this city. It was breathtaking to take in the vast expanse of lights, to listen to the calmer city sounds that are nothing like the noise of crowds in the daytime or the small streets filled with cars. This is Tana.
Tonight I also saw the many women and girls who are sex workers, standing outside of hotels and on street corners. I saw the crowds of young prostitutes and young men, drinking and standing around Independence Boulevard. I saw the rows of homeless sleeping on the sidewalks, their bodies covered in sheets like corpses lining the streets. I saw the decades old public housing and the streets of rural women who came to the city on a promise only to find themselves on corners, pleasuring men for less than $1 USD. This too is Tana.
It’s all about perspective.
I was walking across the basketball court when a little hand slipped into mine. I looked down and saw the beautiful, round face of this little girl, no more than 8- or 9-years-old. She told me her name, then said, “It means precious. Call me Precious.”
For the rest of our tour of this privately-owned facility that is home to 148 children who have been abandoned or abused, Precious held my hand. I looked across at my classmate and saw that Precious had placed herself between the two of us. She held my hand all the way until I bent down to look her in her eyes and say “Veloma.”*
A beautiful Malagasy woman and mother of 10 held my hand as my bare feet struggled to find the sure places that her feet seemed to know automatically. I worried that my weight would be too much, but her sure grasp kept me steady as we waded through the flowing river.
After our trek we ascended a hill and I saw this flag, proudly waving in front of a small school building, just two classrooms. Many of the villagers gathered in the classroom with us, young and old, men and women, toddlers and nursing babies as we talked about their community, their needs and their foreseeable solutions.
I haven’t been in Madagascar long but this community, Ambatolampy, in an isolated part of Tamatave, was well worth the trek. Hearing the children sing and take pictures, laughing as we all stumbled back to the main road, slipping in the mud as my bare feet sank deeper and deeper into the earth. I would call today a spiritual experience, with this beautiful, black woman as my guide in light and in darkness, I experienced a grounding like never before.
We began our journey along Canale des Pangalanes early this morning. We’ve spent quite a bit of time in more rural areas, but this was the first day observing the interactions between life under the water and the life above that depends on it. It is my belief that water is sacred as it is a source of life, production, and sustenance for many.
Observing the village communities along the river I saw lives wholly connected to their location. Their livelihoods are connected to fishing, rice fields, and animal husbandry all of which thrive because of the water.
Water is sacred as are the lives which it sustains.
“The government provided the building, but other than that …”
Dr. Suzy (first photo, middle)
*Goodbye in Malagasy
Danielle M. Barnard is currently completing her MS in Community and International Development on the campus of Andrews University and working towards peace and justice as Coordinator for Southwest Michigan Interfaith Action. She attended the 2019 Madagascar Study Tour as part of her graduate studies.
All images courtesy of the author.
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