Happy, healthy, educated children are for us SEEDS OF HOPE! writes Patricia de Nava
“Seed Project” “Tsiry Project” – Southeast Madagascar
The idea for this project started on the train going from Fianarantsoa, from the central highlands down to the coastal town of Manakara, the cradle and headquarters of AIC Madagascar – an 8 hour ride with 17 stops in small towns and villages, most of them with no other access to transportation than this train twice a week. At all of the small stations where the train stopped for long pauses to load and unload people and goods, we could see the same images of poverty, of women trying to sell fruit, fish or cookies, men waiting desperately to be chosen for the unloading of goods, and the masses of children who had never gone to school, begging for money and sweets.
We, AIC-Volunteers, realized that it was necessary to begin a project different from the existing ineffective government projects. So, we thought that villagers should take over the responsibility for “schools” and put the process into a written contract; that the teachers in these schools should not come from Universities in the capital, but should be local people who would be trained to teach in their village or neighborhood, bringing with them their own knowledge about local poverty, culture and capabilities. These teachers would live in the community with their own families and their activities would be monitored by a village board.
The training of these teachers would be provided, in small regional groups, by specialized teachers. The Bishop of Farafangana, Mgr. Benjamin Ramaroson, C.M., liked the proposal and suggested collaboration with the diocesan Caritas which was trying to integrate already existing activities. The Daughters of Charity also expressed an interest in collaborating. That was the first step toward co-responsibility.
We decided to create a local Diocesan Board. We looked for partners, involved the local radio station, evaluated the need for education and finally decided to start with 11 “schools”. We visited the areas, talked to the people, looked for rooms (one village even built a big hut for the classes) and the contracts were signed. Local people took over responsibility for their education. Everyone, from local and national authorities, the Ministry of Education, mayors, school managers, villagers, members of the community, and the diocesan committee, accepted the plan. Even the poorest people received the opportunity to become teachers in their own communities and earn a living.
When the program was to start, we faced two problems: 1) an increasing social, economic and political instability due to the overthrow of the government and 2) poverty and famine due to a typhoon which had devastated large parts of the diocese, destroying recently planted rice-fields, hitting the poor especially hard. We quickly realized that without providing a school-meal, the children would not be able to continue their lessons, and therefore many would return to working in the fields or the streets to earn their food.
We also came to the realization that more than half of the people requesting an education were adults who had never been to school before. We started several classes to address this need, and in the end, 805 adults at 11 sites joined the program and 574 received certificates. In addition, 240 poor children who had abandoned school because of poverty were educated and a total of 91 could go to public primary schools. A total of 260 children took classes and 147 of them participated in the examination to receive a certificate (CEPE). Seventy-nine received their primary certificate (for many, the first exam taken in their life!).
We feel very happy with the results of the project:
Thanks to the daily nutrition they receive, the children are happy and more motivated. They work better at school and, of course, they are healthier. We should add that they benefit from spiritual formation, too.
The adults have been trained in reading, writing and math. They have been formed to become completely educated people and full citizens, knowing their rights and responsibilities (spiritually, intellectually, etc.). Education in the administration of small businesses is given so that they will be able to manage their own small enterprises. At the end of the program, a small sum of money is given so that they can create a common developmental project, such as poultry raising, vegetable planting, a fish cooperative, etc.
The GREEN DIOCESE of Farafangana, so named because of its concern to promote ecology and respect for the environment, collaborates with the project by providing formation to the pupils and villagers in the area of sustainable agriculture. Now, after more than two years, we can say that our work is blessed by St. Vincent. We received additional financing for vocational training and development from UNESCO and donations from AIC groups such as AIC-Italy, branches of the Vincentian Family in Italy and Australia, and some national agencies in Madagascar that have provided us with school materials, copybooks, etc.
Our challenges for the future will be to provide school meals for the children, to offer income-generating training and opportunities to the adults, and to continue with the project, responding to an increasing demand from more and more villages and people, especially women and children. In the beginning, it was our intention that, with economic development achieved through education, training and financial support through micro-credit, poor communities would be able to finance the village schools by themselves. We now think that this idea is impractical because of the political situation in the country. However, we hope and pray that St. Vincent will not abandon the poorest of the poor in the Southeast of Madagascar, longing for education, development and dignity for themselves and their children.
Happy, healthy, educated children are for us SEEDS OF HOPE!
For more on this project of the AIC visit With Women, towards a fairer world…
Vincent Seeds graphic courtesy of David Serrano.