By Paul Antion, Education Coordinator, Andavadoaka/Velondriake, Madagascar

Youth in rural southwest Madagascar face numerous challenges growing up, but are relentless in their pursuit of education and dreams of bright futures. Blue Ventures currently supports more than 230 students in Velondriake through our school scholarships programme, but we have personal relationships with over 500 youth and their parents through extra-curricular activities, environmental and health education, youth clubs, and one-on-one mentoring. Here are some of photos and stories from my conversations with a few of these students about their daily lives.

Solontena is in his first year at high school in Morombe.

“I have a few younger siblings who may continue studying, but right now I’m the only one in my family who has made it to high school. I’ve been working every spare moment outside of school for the past few years, and if I left school now I wouldn’t have trouble finding some sort of work. I see how difficult life is for my parents; trying to provide for so many kids without a steady job. I’m not sure what I want to do when I’m older, but I know that staying and finishing school will help me get somewhere where I’m fully satisfied. Doing something other than living day-to-day, doing small jobs, hauling cement or moving rocks. Through school I know that I’m capable of achieving much more.”

After finishing his penultimate year of middle school in 2012, Solontena joined his cousins going north up the coast to more abundant fishing grounds. Arriving back in Andavadoaka too late for the new school year, he decided to work hauling cement and planting trees at a luxury ecolodge development on the nearby island of Nosy Hao, as a means of helping his parents support their family of twelve and saving enough money to support himself through school the next year.

Back in middle school for the 2013-2014 year, Solontena finished in the top five of his class. On the weekends and throughout his school holidays, he worked doing small jobs in order to get enough money to pay for his trip to Morombe to take his middle school diploma exams. The haircuts, however, are always given for free.

Victoire is in her second to final year at the Sainte Famille middle school in Andavadoaka.

“My girls are putting so much effort into learning. They are thirsty for knowledge like I never was. They have dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, midwives… I want them to achieve their goals, but if you had asked me before if they could become any of these things, I would have said it’s not possible. As their father I’m putting all of my effort into providing enough food for them to eat when they come home from school. School fees are rising every year and I don’t know how I could support them all on my own. But with the support we’re getting through Blue Ventures, together we can help them to achieve their goals. Now I believe that it’s possible.”

Victoire has been spending her summer with her face in the French dictionary. She and her sister were among the fourteen girls who helped start the girls’ club in Andavadoaka last August, and she has been a mainstay in our French-English club throughout the year. Her father is taking care of five children.

Rahamarolahy is in his second year of high school.

“I don’t know where I would be if I wasn’t in school. My parents passed away when I was young and since then I’ve had no one to tell me which path is the right one; I’ve only been able to do what feels right to me. It’s hard to say what choices I would have made had I not been in school, around teachers, around other students. Life can be difficult and it’s easy to feel like you don’t have any options. Who knows, I could be a malaso (cattle thief) right now. The people working for Blue Ventures have been like my parents and thanks to them, I like the person I’ve become.”

Find out more about our education and community engagement work here.

Browse more stories here.

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Blue Ventures is an award winning marine conservation charity. We rebuild tropical fisheries with coastal communities. On our Beyond Conservation blog you can hear voices from the front line of marine conservation written by our staff and volunteers.

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