Like so many people, myself and my husband Bernard had always wanted to volunteer overseas but were never quite sure what we had to offer. On short volunteering trips to Madagascar with Habitat for Humanity in 2005, 06 and 07, we were introduced to an amazingly beautiful country, a nation of hard-working, friendly people who reminded us that we Irish didn’t have the monopoly on friendliness, especially when it comes to making visitors welcome. These trips provided us with an opportunity to meet local people, who advised us on short-term volunteering such as teaching arts and crafts, carrying out general maintenance in a children’s centre and supporting local English language clubs, which we followed up five years later.
For the past three years we have travelled to Madagascar working as freelance volunteers for three months annually and we are totally self-funded. During this time we have witnessed the daily struggles of people while making many friends and meeting hard-working small communities endeavouring to advance their circumstances, usually through education and always with a genuine desire to help themselves. On our return home we are challenged to raise both awareness and funding for small projects that we felt were viable from a fund-raising perspective. We have held a coffee morning and two craft and cake sales in our home which have been hugely supported by Friends in Eustace Street and further afield and the Church of Ireland community in Castleknock. We have also twice taken part in Tesco’s (Cabra) annual Christmas Craft Fair. All these events raised a total of approximately €5,000 for projects in Madagascar.
In 2013 and 2014 Eustace Street Friends guided and supported us in successful applications to Dublin Monthly Meeting Concerns Fund (for the sum of €5,000) and the Robert and Kezia Stanley Chapman Trust (£1,956 sterling) for projects in Madagascar. DMMC funding was overseen by the UK charity Money for Madagascar who supervised a school vegetable-garden project which saw the purchase of garden tools such as wheelbarrows and spades and taught children cultivation skills while providing their families with much-needed nutrition. The balance was also used for educational purposes and included the purchase and distribution of school books, help in the education of street-children, the provision of speech and language therapy for children with special needs and funding of a workshop in environmental studies for teachers. The latter grant, from The Robert and Kezia Stanley Chapman Trust, covered the cost of a professional photographer, Paul Kelly, who visited Madagascar in 2014 and photographed families making a living from recycled rubbish at the city dumps. His subsequent exhibition was opened to the public at Dublin’s City Hall and later at Saint Michan’s, Church of Ireland, Church Street. Our fundraising efforts have also been energetically supported by Gloria, Dublin’s Lesbian and Gay Choir and Rockmount Choir.
Madagascar has a population of 22 million, and according to a World Bank report, 92% of the population live on under US $2 a day, making it one of the poorest countries in the world.
Approximately 80% of the flora and fauna of Madagascar is found nowhere else on the planet. It is a country draped in a kaleidoscope of the most amazing colour, alongside unique rural beauty. Deep blue cloudless skies are the backdrop to small village communities dotted along busy roads into the city. Red mud-brick houses, like steps of stairs, huddle together while others spill down to the green fertile rice fields where Zebu graze, children play and men in flat-bottomed boats cast and reel in the hot midday sun. Golden sunrise and sunsets illuminate the myriad of narrow rice paths that takes the teeming masses of people and animals home before dark. But don’t take my word for it; why not pay Madagascar a visit, as tourism is a small but valuable source of income for many, especially those living outside the cities.