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Goldfish are in Madagascar and building a preschool!

Ampotsehy Pre School – An island on its own

Goldfish have been working on a project close to our hearts – raising funds through our products and personal endeavors to develop a school in beautiful Madagascar and are pleased to say that the preschool project is underway!

The community has already begun collecting rock for construction (1.5 loads and counting). Their meeting concerning the responsibilities of the community in construction proved rather interesting. The most important decision reached was in establishing a “dina”, or “penalty”, of several thousand Ariary for those community members who refuse to participate in the construction. However grudgingly, this should help to ensure that the community remains involved.

SACOM, the local employer and land owner, has started the process of legally handing over title of the school grounds to the village. This, it appears, will be the only contribution they will be able to make.

The village of Ampotsehy is at the whims of sugar cane and especially SACOM. Unfortunately for the community, the industry has been wracked in recent years by politics, markets, and inconsistent management (not all local, to be sure).

What is left at present is a shell of the former employer that once existed.

We should not forget that the 80+ children which will be learning there in the coming year are, of course, the focus of this effort. They and their parents will benefit every single day from this new school. Perhaps for some the road to an education is no longer kilometers, but meters long.
Perhaps for others, the concerns of safety that kept them at home will be lifted by the school construction.

Madagascar is the oldest and fourth largest island in the world. It is an island of tropical forests, extreme desserts, and unique geographical features. A remarkable 80 percent of the flora and fauna of Madagascar is endemic, meaning it is not found anywhere else on earth. While much attention is focused on protecting Madagascar’s natural ecosystems, little attention is paid to the people who inhabit the large red island. Like the landscape they live on and the wildlife they live with, the people of Madagascar are both diverse and distinctive. Ethnically, Malagasy people are a mix of African, Asian, and Polynesian decent. The 18 tribes in Madagascar reflect these diverse ethnic backgrounds both in appearance and in language; each tribe has a distinct dialect of the Malagasy language.

Madagascar has also been both a British and French colony, and the language reflects these colonial roots with many words adapted from both English and French.

Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in the world. According to the World Bank the majority of the population lives on less than US$1.50 per day and ¾ of the population lives below the poverty line. Lack of water, sanitation and hygiene is a serious health risk with only 15 percent of the urban population having access to sanitation facilities and a mere 22 percent of the rural population having access to any improved water sources. To add to this, failing school conditions due to lack of infrastructure and frequent cyclones, coupled with high rates of illiteracy, prevent many people from achieving a higher quality of life. With almost half of the population under the age of 15, access to better education and health care must be a priority in order for the Malagasy people to improve their living conditions and increase opportunities.

Ankarana – The Southern Ankarana tsingy.

The Ankarana region is located in Northwest Madagascar, 150 km south of the northern city of Antsiranana/Diego Suarez. The region is best known for the Ankarana Special Reserve, a protected area famous for its scenic limestone formations known as tsingy. The word “Ankarana” refers to these pinnacle limestone formations that are locally called harana.

Beneath the tsingy, or harana, are caves which are a sacred burial site for Antakarana royalty.

The Antsaravibe commune in the Southern Ankarana is a rural area with a population of approximately 15,000 people. It is a diverse commune both culturally and geographically. The Ankarana tsingy extend into the commune from the Reserve to the north, mangrove swamps and fishing communities lie to the west, and the Mahavavy River cuts through the commune as one of the major water ways.

The traditional dialect of Malagasy spoken in the Ankarana Region is Sakalava. However, the Ankarana region has become a hotspot of immigration, attracting many people from other tribes in Madagascar, especially from the Southwest. Immigration is partly due to SACOM, a sugar plantation that operated in the 1990s in the town of Ampotsehy.

However, SACOM shut down in 2003, leaving many people jobless. Ecotourism increased in the Antsaravibe area around 2005 as adventurous tourists passed through on their way to the remote western entrance of Ankarana. Unfortunately, despite two functioning lodges that are now in the commune, the local community has seen little benefit from the increase in tourism. The majority of people in the Southern Ankarana are subsistence farmers with little education or income. Many people sell cash crops or commodities in the nearby city of Ambilobe but income from this is minimal at best. As a result many children remain uneducated and many families are unable to buy basic necessities.

Exploring the Ankarana tsingy – Fady, Religion, and the Ancestors

The Malagasy culture is governed by a set of fady, or cultural taboos, known to each region. As a vahaza (foreigner), these fady can seem puzzling and often unfounded, but to the Malagasy fady are not something to be questioned. Most fady are rooted in respect for the ancestors who are central to Malagasy culture. Although Malagasy are Protestant, Catholic, and Muslim, all are linked by the razana, i.e. the ancestors. In the Ankarana region people consider the tsingy and its caves to be sacred given that it is the burial place of certain ancestors. Therefore a strict system fady is connected with the caves and tsingy.

Education

Education in the Anstaravibe commune is incredibly underfunded. Schools lack learning materials and overcrowding of classes is a problem in all schools. Many schools face crumbling structures due to cyclones or other acts of nature but lack the funds to fix school buildings. When it rains, many classrooms get rained on. In addition to problems of Ampotsehy Pre School infrastructure, 20 percent of students may be absent due to illness or work on any given day.

Many children do not make it past primary school for various reasons, leaving the vast majority of the commune undereducated. Fortunately many people still value education and would like to see their children through school when possible. FRAMs, the parent-teacher associations of the region, often put their own money and time into fixing up schools. School fees run between US$ 10-20 per year.

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