Sunday, 9 February 2014

Context

Towards the end of 2013 I was in the middle of some turmoil at work and decided to see a ’professional coach’. After a few sessions with this coach one of her sentences really stuck with me: ’Give yourself a break!’. No one has ever encouraged me to do that and being the diligent person I am, I always try to spend my time doing something „useful”. For this very reason, giving myself a break requires a real effort on my side. Nevertheless, I took her advice literally and started to explore holiday options in December to get away from my usual environment and take a “real break”.

Although initially I was quite tempted to learn surfing in Martinique, I soon realised that I am not ready to be just on holidays for the sake of being on holidays. It was about this time when I found ‘Blue Ventures’, a British NGO working in Madagascar (and in Belize) on population-health-environmental objectives. All three issues combined! Their website and project description was so amazing, that I almost immediately contacted them and signalled that I was interested. After a couple of emails and discussions over Skype, I found myself in the middle of buying airplane tickets, looking for travel insurance and exploring Decathlon for suited (small size) fins.

Over the course of six weeks I will work on a community health project called Safidy (means ‘choice’ in Malagasy, the local language). This project aims to provide information and health services to the coastal  communities who are already involved in Blue Ventures’ environmental work. Such health services include ante- and postnatal care, education about water, sanitation, hygiene and family planning.

Blue Ventures started their work on the South-Western coast of Madagascar about ten years ago. Initially, they were a marine research project on the almost incredible, 100km long coral reef, but it soon became obvious that environmental protection in the traditional sense (excluding people from a certain area altogether) was not going to yield long lasting results. The more suited, inclusive approach resulted in the Indian Ocean’s largest community managed marine protected area, and sub-projects on aquaculture, mangroves, health and environmental education. At the core of Blue Ventures’ work lies the understanding that the environment and people’s wellbeing (both in health and in economic terms) are strongly interlinked. To give you a concrete example, today, Blue Ventures’ support enables about 200 local students to receive quality education and dozens of villages to have access to health services. Another detail I deeply respect about their work: they place high importance on educating girls.

Based on our exchange so far, I will developing education materials ranging from t-shirt designs to posters/graphics and small picture stories. I might even get to collaborate with an artist from a local town! Additionally, there are some radio spots and community theater plans in the pipeline, so clearly a whole range of creative opportunities! ;-)

Safidy also trains “community based distributors”, a group of local women who are the local “health focal points” in over 40 villages. Such training is of very high value in this remote region where most people have no access to medical care at all. The project leads visit the villages on a regular basis to assess how their work is evolving and what impacts it has and if everything goes well, I also might join a village tour like that.
Last, but not least, I will have the opportunity to work with children, youth and women’s groups in the framework of weekly English and environmental classes.

I wanted to do something different and creative- well, here I have it! I look forward to starting and hope to be able to contribute in a meaningful way.

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