In coastal communities in the southwest of Madagascar only one in three children go to school, and most do not make it beyond primary level. Our Education programme has been supporting young people in the Velondriake area for 10 years, and to mark this achievement we’re releasing a series of student profiles. Each profile will share the inspiring story of a student who has benefitted from the financial support of a Blue Ventures Scholarship.
In the mornings, Emilienne and I fetch water from the same well. I fill my bucket and struggle to carry it back to my house 50 metres away while she fills a jug twice the size and carries it back, seemingly effortlessly, to her house, twice as far away. Yet if we were to stand next to each other you would see that I am significantly taller! Initially, all I really knew about Emilienne was that she was mother to a young boy, and had been filling these water jugs since she was a young girl herself.
During the ten years of providing scholarships for the youth in the Velondriake area, Blue Ventures has supported more than five hundred young people. Having worked in the Velondriake area myself for almost two years now, I’ve undoubtedly passed through villages and encountered beneficiaries of the scholarships programme without even knowing it. Emilienne was one of those people. It wasn’t until she joined the team this year that I found out about her lengthy history with Blue Ventures, not only as a scholar but also as an active volunteer since her graduation from high school.
At 23 years old, Emilienne is now one of the youngest full-time staff members working for Blue Ventures. In January 2017, she was accepted for the highly competitive role of logistics assistant and peer educator for the Safidy community health programme – a role which involves working with youth throughout the entire 32 village Velondriake region and beyond, leading participatory activities relating to personal health and environmentally friendly choices.
Emilienne graduated high school in 2014, having been a Blue Ventures scholar for four years. She was an active member of the student-led environmental clubs, always had a knack for maths and science, and dreamt of becoming marine scientist one day. Following her graduation from high school, she hoped this dream could become a reality, taking the entrance exams to the top marine science university programme in the country. Unfortunately, this programme only accepts 40 students, and despite always having been first in her class at school, this time she didn’t make the cut. However, Emilienne was never discouraged. She came home from the big city and got a temporary job working on social surveys with Blue Ventures, covering various topics from health and family life to fishing materials and views on conservation.
Our Outreach Coordinator Paul recalls her time as a surveyor:
Before they went out into the community, we set up mock surveys to see how the surveyors would react to different answers given by the community members. Emilienne was in a group with three other surveyors, all much older and more experienced. We purposely chose answers to try and throw them off. The other three struggled to keep the conversation flowing, talking over me as the interviewee, and jumping to other questions on the list before getting the answers they needed to get. Emilienne, however, stayed calm, listened intently, and referencing what I’d said earlier on in the survey, probed for the answers while engaging me and making me feel comfortable. It was as if she had been doing it for years.
Not long after this, Emilienne channeled her listening skills in a new direction, one that would eventually lead her to where she is now:
My favourite time spent with Blue Ventures was when I helped Emily and Marie to translate from French into Vezo in the Health Centre of Andavadoaka! These were great moments for me to improve my language skills, and to learn about health in general. There were women in the village who came every Tuesday to consult and get some advice from the community health agents. I liked it so much that it inspired me to take an interest in health care and think about it as a possible path for my future. This experience was valuable for me in the work that I am doing now.
Her time at the Blue Ventures clinic led Emilienne to want to pursue studies in medicine. However, her single mother, a seaweed farmer and community leader in a village south of Andavadoaka, still had another child to put through school. Though always very supportive of education, Emilienne’s mother and grandmother wouldn’t have been able to bear the costs of university, which not only includes expensive fees, but the much higher costs of living in a bigger city.
Knowing that she would not be able to continue school, and having gained an increased understanding of maternal and child health, Emilienne decided to start a family of her own. She has spent the greater part of the last two years going through pregnancy, raising her child, and investing in her family, while still working various small jobs. When the job opening with Safidy was posted in the village, Emilienne jumped on the opportunity to contribute to the field that she had grown so attached to.
Now my job is to share health information with my peers and so far, I feel at ease doing so. What I like the most in my job is that I can discuss and guide young people like myself on sexual and reproductive health!
Emilienne is just one example of over 500 former Blue Ventures scholarship beneficiaries, but there are many more young people in the Velondriake area who are financially unable to continue their education.
An education provides these young people with future livelihood alternatives beyond fishing, and the majority of students wish to use the skills and knowledge they’ve acquired through years of study to give back to the communities that have done so much for them.
With a donation of £5 per month or £50 per year, you can support a high school student for an entire year, allowing them to realise their full potential and advance marine conservation within their communities.