By Vik Mohan, Medical Director
This year, my annual trip to Madagascar coincided with two important anniversaries. Not only is Safidy, our community health programme, six years old, but we are also celebrating ten years of Blue Ventures’ work in Madagascar! I’ve been involved for eight years out of those ten, and have witnessed the growth of Blue Ventures into one of the most highly respected conservation organisations in Madagascar.
Our ten year anniversary conference, held last month in Andavadoaka, provided me with an excellent opportunity to get to know the ever expanding Madagascar team and learn more about our various projects. As approximately 60 people descended upon Andavadoaka on the first evening, the excited anticipation was palpable, as was everybody’s pleasure in catching up with old friends and colleagues.
Shawn Peabody, our Madagascar Country Director, opened the conference the next morning with a powerful and inspiring address; mapping out the challenges we face in marine conservation and the progress we have made, both as an organisation and with our partners. The ensuing four-day conference was an intense mixture of project updates, sharing of lessons learned, practical skills development sessions, open discussions and light-hearted recreation. By the end of the conference, we had a much clearer understanding of each other’s work and the progress we have all made over the last year.
Proving that we can play just as hard as we can work, formal sessions were interspersed with volleyball and an assortment of unfeasibly complex beach games. The end of conference party was every bit as ambitious as the conference, and the fact that we were celebrating ten years of working in Madagascar naturally served to fuel the revelry. The party was kicked off by cutting the biggest birthday cake that any of us had ever seen, a slide show featuring ten years of activity in Madagascar and a fantastic song by Paul Antion, our Education Coordinator, celebrating our achievements. This was followed by very impressive dancing demonstrations from all over Madagascar, and the annual Blue Ventures staff dance competition. Needless to say, it was a late night.
Everyone agreed that the conference had been both valuable and enjoyable, and that Shawn Peabody and Minnie Lanting had done an amazing job at planning and organising it. We parted having strengthened relationships with our colleagues, and deepened our understanding of Blue Venture’s work. Personally I came away inspired by the talent and commitment of our team, and feeling more positive than ever about Blue Ventures as an organisation.
With the conference over it was time to focus once again on Safidy, and PHE. It was great to have the Belo sur Mer team with us, as it provided them with an invaluable opportunity to see Safidy, and PHE, in action in Velondriake. As ever, the Safidy team has achieved an incredible amount over the last year. One of the most rewarding aspects of any of my visits is the opportunity to witness the impact we are having, and how much our work is valued by the communities we serve. A powerful example of this for me was the overwhelming reception we received from the Mayor of the commune within which we work. On our village outreach tour to Befandefa, he and his wife hosted lunch and dinner for all of us at their home and at their own expense, and reinforced our educational messages to the community. I cannot imagine ever receiving a warmer welcome, or a witnessing a greater expression of support for our work.
As my time in Andavadoaka drew to a close, it was time to agree Safidy’s priorities for the year ahead. As we approach the end of our current period of funding for the programme, our thoughts inevitably turned to evaluation, and how we can ensure that we are able to demonstrate the impact that we have made, both as a stand-alone community health programme and as part of an integrated PHE approach. My recent visit to the US has reminded me that perhaps evaluation is the most important advocacy tool for the PHE community. We are extremely grateful to funders like the MacArthur Foundation for believing in us, and our integrated PHE approach, and investing in us accordingly. As the person responsible for the effective implementation of our community health programme, I feel that we owe it to our funders and beneficiaries to ensure that our programme is having the greatest possible impact. There is also something bigger at stake, because if we can demonstrate the benefits of working in this holistic way, it should encourage others to do the same, or to continue funding integrated programmes.