Friday, 4 April 2014

My Madagascar Experience

The Malagasy Experience

The WWF Madagascar and Western Indian Oceans Programmes Office (WWF MWIOPO) had the privilege to co-host several international volunteers through the Global EXPLORE! Programme in the year 2013. The volunteers also dubbed as explorers or youth ambassadors were selected through a rigorous and very competitive process that seeks to select the best fit professional’s for the projects under need. This programme is a 3 – 6 month programme run by WWF International in coordination with its country and regional offices; with an aim of empowering local communities in the management and protection of natural resources that have been transferred to them; foster the emergence of a committed and motivated youth; sensitize the population for the use of renewable energy; develop awareness campaign on fuel wood plantations and the use of efficient cooking stoves; protection of  rare species and helping set up climate-smart management plans for vulnerable habitats.

Michael Murunga (Micah) a Kenyan national and an immediate former International Explorer with the WWF MWIOPO (Madagascar and Western Indian Ocean Programme Office) , and the Second participant  from Kenya since 2005 after Ms. Hellen Makuu ( ) when the EXPLORE! Programme began. He is also a recent graduate from the University of Nairobi, Chiromo Campus, Kenya; having successfully completed a bachelor’s of Science degree in Environmental Conservation and Natural resources Management. Michael recently completed his assignment with WWF MWIOPO under the Explore Programme in December 2013 from Madagascar; Working on an Adaptation to Climate Change Project.

He was among a team of 3 Explorers who were working in the village Ankazomborona, a coastal fisheries community located in Northern Madagascar, Region Diana in the District of Ambilobe. They represented the third wave of Intervention in Madagascar for the year 2013 and the pioneers to introduce the international explore Programme in northern Madagascar; Working under the guidance of the Explore Coordinator Ms. Malalatiana Rakotonarivo, Diana Station Coordinator Ms. Vola Ramahery and Ms. Moia Hartrop Soutter the WWF International Explore Programme Coordinator. Once at the project location, the team was expected to participate in a number of aspects of the WWF project in the local community in order to gain an overall picture of the conservation project and its social context. That included assisting WWF staff with specific tasks and, engaging with adjacent communities (such as assisting local community organizations or schools).

The Gasy Journey

The Journey to Madagascar began from a simple and humble telephone conversation with Moia hartrop soutter (WWF Youth International Coordinator). It was inadvently exciting the call for assignment to participate in this noble programme. She went straight to the point the words still linger in my mind as she said” Hi Michael, we have reviewed your application and we see that you best fit for a project with WWF Madagascar; I would like to offer you a position in the EXPLORE! Madagascar programme, do you accept?” My answer was pretty obvious, with no second thoughts I said ‘YES’. That marked the turning point in my life as an individual and opened a new and fresh chapter of success – so I believed, the reality is that it did. This opportunity brought chills on my spine as the days progressed as the reality set in that you had no idea on what you will be expecting in the country.

The Madagascan experience brought in a new array of thoughts that shaped how I handled and reacted to short hand information. Ankazomborona, is a very remote village with limited global interactions. The community is engulfed into traditional fishing and subsistence farming; rice is the staple food. The village presented a new set of challenges from understanding how best to address problems of solid waste management, knowledge disparity, gender mainstreaming and above all climate change linkages. This is a place that cell phone reception is available on a Mango tree or at the water tank behind our small house. The language difference clubbed by changing cultures was a memorable feat to blow steam on numerous occasions. The thoughts that I had limited knowledge in French even made it worse as the communities could only understand Malagasy and bits of French.

Lessons Learnt

I learnt several things out of my experience and noted that the challenges that we face as a nation or continent are strongly intertwined into a unique invisible cord of interdependence. The Island of Madagascar being isolated had numerous unique biodiversity, cultural integrations platform, huge indo-pacific influence; the problems of water, sanitation, deforestation, sustainable energy and climate change proved that they were not unique to a specific region but their impacts are felt as well in the remotest of places in the World. The question of how vulnerable island states are to changing climatic conditions were always in my mind and I came to realize that every community or society has its unique responsibility to effectively and efficiently play its part in abating the growing global challenges. We have a duty to play our roles; some of the lessons learnt in Madagascar are summarized as:

1.      Unique Biodiversity – The Island Country had unique biodiversity with an amazing set of chameleons, frogs and snakes being seen each day at the camp. This animals displayed an endless and remarkable view of the magnificent Madagascar. The country also treated us to an array of the Lemurs of Madagascar. It was my first experience to actually interact with Bamboo lemurs and Ring tailed lemurs in the Wild; this presented a unique moment in the country. Madagascar is dubbed as the only country that you can find the 7 species of the 8 species of the Bamboo, it was remarkable to see at least 6 of the species. The brilliance of the park national d’Ankarana is crowned by the majestic and endemic baobabs such as Adansonia madagascarensis, spiraling lianas such as Adenia lapiazicola and some unique vegetation occupying the tsingy with red flowers Euphobia ankarensis endemic to the reserve and of the family Euphobiaceae.

2.      Remarkable Places: The Team had a chance to visit two of the three world heritage sites recognized by UNESCO and Some of the oldest monuments in the country. The island had more to offer however notable among them were those tours to:

·      Antsiranana
Antsiranana, situated in the extreme north of Madagascar, known as Diego Suarez until 1975 and still called Diego by many, is the capital of Madagascar's northernmost province.  It has one of the world's most beautiful deep-water harbours, complete with beautiful beaches and breath taking mountains such as the sacred sugarloaf. This is the largest city of the north with a huge cosy market, a range of fine restaurants and some fantastic places and national parks to visit nearby. The legend of Libertalia is said to have its origin here. Libertalia is said to have consisted of a free commune forged by adventurers under the leadership of Captain James Misson in the late 1600s.

·          Emerald Bay
Emerald Bay is just one of 3 enclosed bays in Diego Suarez (others are: Pigeons’ Bay, the Duns’ Bay and the Sakalava Bay). It is round shaped, about 20 km in boundary, shallow in the first few meters- hence the “emerald” appellation and just moderately deep at the centre to change the colour to turquoise and not blue black. The bay comprises several pristine and empty beaches with almost no tourist activities (except for a few public shared cottages built by the Madagascar government). The Emerald bay is located north of the passage to the city of Diego Suarez the capital of Madagascar Province of Antsiranana; it’s one of the most beautiful and largest natural bays in the world. The region of Diego Suarez is known to contain a huge historical wealth for instance in 1973, Antsiranana served as a defense port for French fleets against the British. The Bay of Antsiranana is one of largest and most breathtakingly beautiful lagoons in the world.

·         Ramena Beach
The volunteers had trips to the nearby beach at Ramena; Ramena is a small village with a sandy and uncrowded beach, which does not seem to have benefited much from the tourists, flush in Madagascar. The beaches offer comfort for team retreats. The kindness and polite nature of people made the stay worth the travel. On the side roads on route to Ramena one couldn’t stop but notice the magnificence and beauty of the Baobab trees.

3.  Cultural Diversity – The island boosts of a diverse array of cultures ranging from the Chinese, Indians, Comorians, Mauritians, French and little bit of Anglophone influences. This made the island have a unique set of integration. Though the interactions were more local the influence of other cultures due to intermarriage was seen in a greater context.
In conclusion of our expedition in Madagascar it became apparent that none of us wanted to leave as we had been accustomed to the people and the unique sets of livelihoods that the island had exposed us to; however we had played our part and it had come to a time we had to leave. Notable among which can be summarized into success stories out of the activities that we engaged successfully the communities into initiatives such as solid waste management, fish catch monitoring, mangrove conservation, gardening and culinary exchange  and finally English and French lessons.

I would encourage able Kenyans with a passion and zeal to engage your time constructively into community conservation either through the WWF Kenya or through the WWF International. To get further details on the same link up to and find further information on the same and join this remarkable team of WWF Global Youth Ambassadors.
By: Michael Murunga

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