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 February 2016, a still burning stove was left alone for no longer than a few minutes. Within seconds a fire spread, burning down five houses in the centre of Andavadoaka village. The southerly winds were strong that night, making it easy for the fire to jump from one grass hut to the next. The damage would have been worse had it not been for the fast reactions and solidarity of the neighborhood – children and adults alike, racing down to the sea to fetch bucket after bucket of water to put out the blaze. Fortunately, nobody was hurt, but the loss was huge… Food, notebooks, clothes blankets, money and homes. From this tragedy we came to know Stephan.
Stephan has three sisters and two brothers. His mother and father go out fishing every day, and what they can provide for their children depends on what they bring home. When they do not catch anything, the family has nothing to eat. On good days, after saving a few fish for themselves, they are able to sell their fish to a collector in order to buy rice and cooking oil.
At age 15, Stephan should have been entering his last year of primary school, instead he had no option but to help his parents support the family.
Living day-to-day like this has made it difficult for Stephan’s parents to support their children in school. Through the help of a Blue Ventures scholarship one of his sisters was able to attend school, and Stephan himself had his education funded by a private donor until 2014 when they were no longer able to continue the support. At age 15, Stephan should have been entering his last year of primary school, instead he had no option but to help his parents support the family.
When bad weather prevented Stephan from fishing, he would pass by the primary schoolyard and peer through the fence at his former classmates studying. On occasion, Sister Mary Jeanne, the Directress of the primary school at St. Famille, would approach him.
“Sister”, he would tell me, “you’ll see! I’ll be back next year. I’m going to make enough money to pay for school myself. I’m going to make it all the way through school.” I’ve never seen a young person in circumstances like his so determined to finish his studies.
In the summer of 2015, Stephan realized that, despite his best efforts, he would not have saved enough money to be able to return to school in the autumn. He would need to pay school fees for the year, and buy notebooks and pens – but the majority of the money he was making was still going to help feed himself and his family. His cousins were going north to Maintirano to free dive for sea cucumbers, and Stephan realised that going with them would be his best chance of saving enough money to afford school on his return.
What was supposed to be a couple of months in Maintirano turned into six, and on his return to Andavadoaka in January 2016, the school would not allow him to enter the last grade of primary school halfway through the year. If he wanted to return to school this year he would have to repeat the last grade he was in. Despite this setback, Stephan had no doubts about going back to school, and he started buying the necessary materials…
That was when disaster struck. His house was burnt down in the fire, and the school materials he’d bought and the modest amount of money he’d saved in Maintirano were reduced to ashes.
Stephan no longer had the money to return to school, and was left wondering what he could do.
In an act that touched the hearts of everyone in Andavadoaka, the classmates of Stephan’s sister in Saturday School decided to pitch in money to buy notebooks and pens to replace what had been burned. The rest of the community soon followed their lead, donating clothes, cookware, food, and housing materials to aid the families that had been affected by the fire. Despite this kindness, Stephan no longer had the money to return to school, and was left wondering what he could do.
Thanks to the generous support from all of our individual donors, we were able to provide this very deserving young man with a Blue Ventures scholarship. He was able to return to Sainte Famille primary school, and within a couple weeks he was near the top of his class after the end of trimester exams.
Stephan is now 18 years old. He will be 25 years old by the time he finishes high school, and his sister, despite being three years younger than him, is actually a grade ahead of him. The fact that he is a bit older than his classmates doesn’t bother him at all.
“I’m in school to learn, to gain knowledge. No one is judging me for my age; it’s not what’s important.”
The value that Stephan sees in education is also reflected in his aims for the future.
“I would like to become a teacher, maybe in Ambalorao or Ankilimalinike [nearby inland villages] because kids out there tend not to get a very good education or to leave school early.”
A selfless goal from a remarkable person, and we wish him the best of luck in achieving it!
Donations to Blue Ventures education programme will help to support the hundreds of young people like Stephan, who are fighting for their rights to study in the Velondriake area. 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.
Through your donations, we will be able to increase our support, helping students with essential expenses and allowing them to continue their education.
With a donation of £3 per month or £30 per year, you can support a middle school student for an entire year, allowing them to realise their full potential and advance marine conservation within their communities.