Normally our project reports are for specific project. We decided this time to focus on a behind the scenes look what it means to make our reports possible.
Zahana is a very small NGO and does not have an office in the capital or rent or own any space or vehicles. This means we need to hire a car with a driver every time we do a site visit. Cars are far too valuable in Madagascar and nobody in their right mind would just hand the car keys to a stranger (like rental car companies do in many countries). Consequently, cars always come with a driver. The driver knows the car and the roads very well and normally stays with the car for the duration of the visit. Over the years many of our drivers have become friends and are supporters of our project. Like during the Xmas celebration they brought clothes their own kids didn’t use anymore for the children in our schools. One of the wonderful and unexpected side benefits.
At our site visits we are normally joined by other experts. One particularity in Madagascar: ‘site vists’ are always called ‘missions’ in English a word borrowed from the French. The idea is to come as a lager group, especially for security reasons, as we were recommended to do so and not to travel alone. Often one or two medical doctors or a sociologist with solid experience in community development, join us, in addition to our founder Dr. Ihanta (an MD). They lend us their expertise and for example in the case of medical doctors can very informally provide medical services if needed, as a bonus. This is not an official medical mission, or an agricultural mission, more an exchange of ideas where they get to see what we do, and we learn from them.
Coming to each of the villages is not just intended to see people or to plant trees but to talk to them and to discuss many aspects of our cooperation. One person alone couldn’t do that as more people request to talk to us. Besides community wide meetings some want to talk about a very personal affair or matter and want someone to listen to them. In some villages, they even formed a line to meet us before we even got there.
Many times, we mention about visiting our projects, but it is difficult to imagine what this means during rainy season. In 2022/23 the rainy season was especially strong so far and started earlier than usual. This might be influenced by the many cyclones that hit Madagascar in the past few months and/or the impact of climate change. The rainy season is expected to last until June in our area.
It meant that more rain, many times in unusual months, makes traveling a big challenge. A good part of the site visit from town to town are on paved roads. The last part of our side visit is on unpaved roads. In distance they make up may be 15% of the tip, but in time over 50%. So, we have assembled a collection of photos of the roads and driving conditions in the last six months. A journey that should take and hour in dry condition could become five or more. We hope they might give a small insight into what it entails to make our site visits possible.
We hope you had a good holiday season. The Christmas celebrations in Madagascar are always an occasion to get together and celebrate our achievements. All of our actvities are connected to each other, and all are celebrated at the festivities, so we decided to list them here all. Looking back at the holidays it becomes clear that it is now part of the xmas culture in our villages to start every celebration with reforestation. This is to show how important reforestation is for Zahana and it is a visual manifestation to revitalize the hope for a friendly environment. Reforestation is not an effort undertaken to please Zahana. It’s for the benefit of the local community and for the future generation to come to understand the value of the reforestation in their lives. During the celebrations in every village the entire community was involved in reforestation. In the past years these efforts were lead by the women’s association, or a soccer club, but this time everybody participated.
The launch of the community wide reforestation efforts in 2022 already started in November of 2022 (with a much earlier start of the rainy season than usual). In 2021 there wasn’t enough rain left in the rainy season to water the baby trees that were only planted during or after the Christmas celebrations, so we decided to already start with reforestation over a month before the celebrations this year. Consequently, people are encouraged during the Xmas celebrations to keep planting trees at least until January.
This proved to be good decision, because this year the rainy season extended into March, providing a lot more water for the baby trees then the year before.
4 persons from Analakely, Shalom, Fiarenana and Tsaramandroso received an award from Zahana as leaders in family gardening and number of trees planted last season. (See website)
The Christmas Show 2022:
It has been a long time since Santa visited the students in 2007 for the first time. Since then, the Christmas celebration has become a big event, not just for our students, but neighboring villages join the activities and fun.
Students from both of our schools in Fiadanana and Fiarenana performed Xmas shows and carols for everybody.
As it has become also a tradition, ccandies, cookies, a personal cup for the tea time at school and clothes were given to our students in Fiadanana and Fiarenana. New clothes were made by Zahana staff plus some second hand clothes we bought in the city. This year also for the first time gifts included the village of Analakely to their very needy people.
Zahana provided mutton for our students as a very special treat for the Xmas lunch. This was the first time we offered such a treat swigth meat. In conjunction with the festivities, Zahana worked with the local health center to run its program of DMM (distribution de masse de medicament)which was scheduled for December in Madagascar. DMM is a Ministry of Health program to fight schistosomiasis by giving medicine to children between 5 to 15 years of age. To avoid side effects, as reported during DMM, children must have something in their stomach before taking the medicine, so Zahana provided a good xmas lunch that also was a solid basis for the DMM. Combining health prevention outreach with good nutrition makes it much easier for our students to swallow the pills.
In our past project reports we covered the soccer tournament last June. Working together on a common goal has generated new ideas for the new generation of village youth. New groups of young people are getting together, not just to play soccer/football, but to make a difference in their communities by participating in reforestation and a microcredit culture. Their ideas brought Zahana back to its philosophy on rural university we envisioned almost two decades ago. This exciting new project will be covered in future project reports.
We made the decision to start the reforestation now, as it is raining every day already. Based on last year’s season the rain was gone by March already and we need to take advantage of the rain when we can get it. The November numbers of baby trees already in bags ready for the launching reforestation for the communities are:
With planting starting now we hope to continue until February with reforestation efforts if we get enough rain.
At our last site visit we gave an award to the person who planted to most trees in each of the four villages to keep the momentum going.
We also implemented some changes for our reforestation efforts:
Each parent who sends their children to our schools must commit to plant 10 trees, plus 3 trees for each newborn baby.
In case the rain is gone ahead of time, each person must water his/her trees during the dry time to make sure the baby trees strong enough to survive the elements.
“The sad truth is: the seedballs didn’t work” is the opening line for this report.
In the beginning of the delayed 2021 rainy season it was encouraging, and everybody followed the development with great interest. The seedball shells broke and new baby trees show up all over in the landscape. We got very promising photos documenting the early success.”
But when the rain stopped, and the dry season started all the seedball baby trees died. This was very sad for us and our students are rather disappointed. It was hard to gather the ingredients for making the seedballs and unfortunately, we did not get the results we had hoped for.
Our founder’s feedback: “I met Mahandry, the person who taught us about the seed balls in our workshop (link?) in Ranomafana, way down south in the country where he lives and works. He told me that the seedballs will work well in humid areas like Ranomafana (and national park) or in areas that are not too dry. It could well be that the seedball technique is not compatible with our local climate.
This season he will start reforestation in ‘his’ village, where he grew up. As it so happens, lucky for us, this village is near Tsididy and our villages, so we can exchange ideas and learn from each other. The focus will be implementing a good old nursery with baby trees, and planting seedlings, instead of using the seedball method."
Some things just don't work out sometimes.
In Madagascar, Independence Day, June 26, is celebrated across the country. This important holiday is marked by various cultural events such as songs, folk song contests, and visiting villages for cultural dances and sports competitions.
Zahana Soccer Cup
In our villages, young people organized a women's and a men's soccer ‘Zahana cup’ in conjunction with a folklore tournament for Independence Day. Eight participating teams for our 4 villages competed with the promise of a prize for the 2 finalists. The first qualifying match started April 10. Like a good soccer tournament, Zahana hired outside umpires to make the games as fair as possible. The men’s teams played 90 minutes, the women’s 60.
In the women's category: the score of the final game was 2 to 0 as the Tsaramandroso women’s club won 2 goals against 0 for Fiadanana.
Tsaramandroso’s women’s club won the first prize: a pig plus a brand new soccer ball. Fiadanana was entitled to a big box of pasta and biscuits and a new soccer ball. Pasta is considered a major prize and an exotic treat in a rice eating culture. The winning women’s team decided to raise the pig for breeding instead of preparing it for a big Independence Day feast. Raising pig has become a big part of our microcredit efforts. They stayed up all night in Tsaramandroso to mark their victory.
For the men's category: the Analakely club won against Tsaramandroso. During the normal time of the 90 minutes game, no goal was scored. The 2 teams demonstrated know-how worthy of professional players. As agreed, in the event of a tie, we proceed directly to the penalty shootout where each team has 5 chances to take a shot at the goal and score.
It was the Analakely team who obtained without fail their 5 goals against 3 for Tsaramandroso. The first prize for the winner in this case is a soccer ball and the equivalent of the prize of a pig. Analakely is identified as an Adventist community and a pig would not be appropriate. The second team enjoyed their new soccer ball and a big box of pasta and cookies that they displayed proudly in their dance.
We have noticed how football is the favorite sport in our villages and it is a great unifying experience that brings villages and communities together, since they visit each other to watch the games. All villages are within an hour’s walk from each other, so joining a neighbor in a game is within walking distance.
Folklore part of the Independence Day festivities
As a launching point, a vigil was organized at Fiadanana with a big campfire, to wait for June 26.
No holiday is complete without dancing and folk songs celebrating the occasion in Madagascar. (See videos on our YouTube channel.) Each community performed their folk songs and dances created for the celebration.
We only learnt during the Independence Day itself that the dances focused on Zahana activities as a theme or common thread for their folksong lyrics: Tsaramandroso made reforestation, biocharcoal and improved cookstoves a center piece of their perfomance. Analakely presented the cookstove and bio-charcoal in their dance. Plus, they gave us cakes made in the communal pastry oven and yoghurt made in the solar refrigerator - very tasty.
Moreover, the themes that each group has conveyed in their performances reflected the history of Zahana Association from its beginning: water supply, schools, health center, improved homes, bio-charcoal, reforestation, pastries, new cassava cultivation techniques and biological insect control.
Given the respective involvement and commitment of each village, and to honor their creativity, we have decided to consider all 4 groups from the 4 villages as winners: Fiarenanana, Fiadanana, Analakely and Tsaramandroso, each ‘won’ a box of pasta and cookies.
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