“From July 1st to August 1st, I worked alongside the Madagascar project in construction and wildlife conservation in the Anosy region. The first two weeks I spent in the village of Manambaro constructing a primary school for the children along with three other volunteers and Malagasy locals hired by the project. We spent the bulk of our days moving granite rocks into the building and laying them together to build the floor. After the floors were started, we mixed cement by shovel for hours and passed it off to the Malagasy workers to lay down over the rocks and create a smooth flooring. The rest of our work consisted of painting the interior walls of the school and building desks for the children.
We all really enjoyed this work despite how physically challenging it could be. It was fulfilling to see our progress after only a few hours of work, and have tangible results as proof of our efforts. The children and older residents of Manambaro expressed their thanks to us by welcoming us into their home and offering us a meal, saying that our work made an important difference to the community.
After construction, they transported us to Sainte Luce Reserve to aid in wildlife conservation. This work primarily consisted of long forest walks to record data on lemurs, frogs, geckos, logging, tree growth, and other indicators of a healthy natural environment. This work was at a much slower pace and overall less exciting than the construction work. For someone interested in herpetology or nature – the work is interesting. However I did not enjoy it as much. Nonetheless, I made the most of my time and am glad I got to experience both areas of the volunteer work.
The hardest part of the entire experience was probably the physical adjustment to the environment; everyone got diarrhea (some more than others) or other sicknesses. It rained every day for three weeks, which really developed a somber mood within the camp. Showering was only possible every 2-3 days due to the rain and was usually cold as a result of the dreary weather. Rice was the base of all of our meals, which was to be expected, but the lack of flavor and variety after 3-4 weeks was frustrating. The cooks did their best to switch it up by adding cabbage, pumpkin, chicken, or vegetables every day. But overall, rice based meals for 4 weeks was the hardest part for me.
The showering, sleeping, and eating conditions were expected and disclosed to us before travelling, and it was all doable without complaints because there was no alternative. This taught me to reject negative thoughts about my circumstances in Madagascar and acknowledge the contrast between my every day lifestyle in America and that of the Malagasy people. I definitely feel stronger and tougher in character after my time in the country, and I have a new found appreciation for the things I once took for granted such as a hot shower, plumbing, air conditioning and electricity, a comfortable bed, and full meals at any given time.
As for my expectations with the project – I thought wildlife conservation would be my favorite part of the entire trip, when really, construction took the spotlight. I did not expect to become so close to my fellow volunteers and to miss them so much when our time in Madagascar ended. I am thankful that this project brought us together from different corners of the world and connected us. I am grateful to the staff and our Malagasy guides for taking such good care of us at all times and treating us not as subordinates, but as equals. One thing I did not predict was the amount of laughter we all shared on the daily, and they are my favorite memories to share with those back home.
I would recommend this project to someone who wants to experience a culture unlike one they have seen before. This program is not for someone who is unable to adapt to a completely different way of living than that of a first world country. I would also not suggest this to someone who is highly impatient, because everything in the country does take a considerable amount of time. For those who love natural beauty and friendly and welcoming citizens, this country has plenty of it.
Overall, I am glad I signed up for this adventure. Though in the future I may choose a shorter amount of time in a third world country, I am grateful for the full experience and will remember my time in Madagascar for the rest of my life.”
by Regan Beauchamp 2018