by Jeremy Pivor, Blue Ventures volunteer, Madagascar
Last Saturday (4th Feb) I had the fortunate opportunity to go to a festival put on by kids from Club Aloalo. For those that don’t know, Club Aloalo is an environmental youth club in the Velondriake Locally Managed Marine Area. Every Saturday, kids from Andavadoaka go to Club Aloalo to learn about the environment and ways to protect it, this ranges from learning about responsible fishing practices to proper health and sanitation behaviour. Having done a lot of work on environmental education with the organisation Roots and Shoots back in the United States, Blue Ventures (BV) conservation education program was one of the main things I wanted to learn about as a volunteer here in Madagascar. The festival was definitely a great way to be exposed to Blue Ventures’ education work and it was entirely organised by the hard work and creativity of the kids. From what I was told, a couple months ago the kids had decided they wanted to put on a festival for the people in the village to teach about the importance of environmental and sanitation issues that they had been learning about. From there they began preparing skits, songs and dances to convey their messages in a fun and interesting way.
At times, Andavadoaka can feel pretty foreign, but going to the festival made me feel right at home – it reminded me of festivals back at my hometown in Massachusetts. The stage was set up right behind the Club Aloalo building, on the building hung a Club Aloalo banner that one of the other volunteers, Neils, had made especially for the festival. There was an amplification system set up, a drum set made from old barrels, and a guitar player, it seemed as if the entire village was in the audience, especially the kids. I didn’t get to see the whole festival, but there were skits ranging from kids pretending to be the teacher and students talking about the importance of washing hands to pretending to be Nahoodas (the village elders) talking about sustainable vs. destructive fishing practices. In-between the acts there were question & answer sessions where kids from the audience would go up and answer questions about health and the environment. A highlight was this young boy who answered one of the sanitation questions correctly and received one of the BV condom protection shirts, he put it on and wore it proudly for the rest of the night! Aside from skits, there were also several songs and dances and it seems as if every person in Andavadoaka is a great singer, well at least better than me. Right before I had to leave for dinner, all of the kids came out together to sing. Christi (BV education program director) translated the song for me. The song was about the importance of protecting the environment, both the land and the sea because the environment is their home. It called upon everyone to protect the ocean by fishing sustainably and protecting the reef, and to stop cutting down the forests because current and future generations depend on the resources the reefs and forests provide.
Even though I couldn’t understand most of what was being said throughout the festival since it was all in Malagasy, I still felt moved by the entire experience; everyone there was smiling, laughing, and having a great time. I was amazed by the creativity and energy the kids had, and you could see how proud they were for putting together the festival. Club Aloalo and the education work Blue Ventures is doing is what I believe to be some of the most important work being done here in Andavadoaka. In less than ten years the kids who are putting on skits about hand washing and beach seining will be the adults going out fishing and making the important decisions regarding the management of the reefs. In order for any of Blue Ventures work to be sustainable in the long run, these kids must be the leaders advocating for conservation and sustainability. Most of these kids don’t know of anything else besides the work Blue Ventures has done. They go to Club Aloalo every Saturday and put together this festival because they truly understand, at times better than the adults, that protecting the environment means protecting the homes and people of Andavadoaka. After seeing this festival and the passion and energy the kids have, I have hope that the conservation work being done here will continue long after Blue Ventures leaves.