“These youths now have all the skills and tools they need to implement their project. Now they can start earning a living without using fire. Less fire means more habitat for protecting Mangabe’s lemurs species”, comments Jessica Raharimalala of Madagasikara Voakajy (MV).
Reflecting on the boost in confidence and know-how of community members who participated in the project after several months’ outreach work in the villages around Mangabe protected area, Jessica regards a series of photos depicting three girls and five boys.
For ten months, these eight youths have been competing as Team Fandrefiala with other teams from villages in the vicinity to promote lemur conservation, especially of two Critically Endangered species: Indri (Indri indri) and the Diademed Sifaka (Propithecus diadema). In return they all gain access to farming skills training and equipment, such as shovels, as well as a chance to attend the World Lemur Festival in Antananarivo in October 2017 – but only if they win!
The transformation from camera-shy teenagers to lemur ambassadors is remarkable, says Jessica. By the time the MV team returned in December, Team Fandrefiala had coordinated and executed 2 mass meetings. The initial daunting task was to perform at least 1 group sensitization to reach at least 30 people, conducting a series of focus groups with 15 people at a time and then following it up with one on one door-to-door visits. Two group sensitizations creates opportunities for further public speaking practice and even deeper community engagement as well.
Overall the project’s objective is to protect the lemur species of Mangabe protected area from the pressures caused by habitat loss, habitat degradation and even hunting. To do this the MV project helps youth become responsible adults in three respects of their lives: to earn a living through sustainable agricultural practices including chicken rearing and upland rice farming, to conserve nature through conscientiousness and tree planting and to develop team-working skills through the competition.
And for all concerned it has been a learning-by-doing process all along the way. For example, even before the farm skills training in September and October, it became apparent that instead of theory, focusing on demonstrations supported by visual memory aids would help bypass literacy issues among participants. During the training itself, the MV team’s agricultural specialist, Diane compressed an entire 2-week tree-planting process into an afternoon’s demonstration. Reviewing learning MV could ensure the key messages, processes and timings were understood by all.
While adaptation to circumstances has been a hallmark of progress to date, there have been challenges too. Just eight of the initial fifteen teams remain in the game – some leaving because of misunderstandings about the terms and conditions of the game, some for lack of interest elaborates Jessica.
Is this a problem? “Not at all!” she explains. It simply ensures that we are working with the most engaged individuals in these villages. And in any case it provided us with another valuable lesson which could be summed up in a simple lesson: communicate! Keep communicating clearly from start to finish, sharing the vision and learn as you go.