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DREAM BIG: Paving the Way to a Better Future

Conservation Fusion is an active non-profit environmental organization promoting education for the protection and conservation of our environment. For years we have been implementing conservation programsmainly In the Island of Madagascar, which isfamous for its rich and unique biodiversity. Madagascar also has challenging multifaceted aspects which are rooted to the high rate of poverty and inequalities, leading advocacy, and community mobilization. Conservation Fusion’s outreach programs within local communities teach conservation education in order to protect the environment.

We are partnering with Madagascar Biodiversity Partnership, an organization thatleads scientific researches on species diversity in order to help agencies & organizations maximize the impact of their conservation efforts. When we talk about enhancing environment conservation and protection,research is the main component because it helps us to identify the key issuesand know what is there before we can protect species and forests. Complementary to the research is education because research without education cannot help us save our biodiversity.

It takes approximately three (3) days to reach the village of Lavavolowhich is a dry spiny forest in southwestern Madagascar. This region is one of the few remaining homes of the Critically Endangered radiated and spider tortoises known to the Malagasy as sokake. We have a long way to go to engage the local community to protect their heritage. The current economic and social conditions of Madagascar is such that more than 80% of the population lives under the poverty line and worsened by the cycled political crisis that led to a vicious circle of socio-economic issues that trapped Madagascar’s development. The southern part of Madagascar also faces various daily challenges- mainly access to water, access to quality education and health care services,and food security. The southern endemic biodiversity as well is facing pressing challenges that may lead to the extinction of the radiated tortoise, predicted to be in 20 years, due mostly to illegal pet trade, illegal hunting for illegal exportation, and slash and burn.

The village of Lavavolo, about 8 kilometers from Itampolo, embodies the typical landscape of the south with simple and little houses home to several households which include mainly members of the same tribe with strongholds on traditions and customs that make their pride. It has the most beautiful beach I’ve seen with a beautiful landscape and beautiful people we have had the chance to interact with. They live a simple life and some people have never seen their faces in the mirror. No fancy hotel or any sign of luxury is around. Water is what they qualify as luxurious simply because they have to walk for hours to fetch waters.In our expedition we live in tents and set them up near the village and for sure you do not need an alarm to wake up in the morning because the chickens and the sheep will do it for you.

For several years we have worked in this village and we are now considered as part of the community. We do not only come there and tell people “do not cut trees , do not hunt animals, do not practice slash and burn . . . Protect lemurs . . . ”, we come to teach a better way to survive and yet protect the environment. Most of the children of the village do not go to school, they stay at home helping their parents to get foods because school is located in Itampolo and children have to walk far to attend school back and forth and typically from the South the temperature can reach 38°C, and moreover they do not have enough food, if they are lucky enough they can have two meals a day if not once or nothing a day. In those conditions, parents and children prefer to stay in their villages.

But we like to engage the community in our work, we come to them to talk and get their insights and aspirations. Children of this remote village dreamed of having a school in their village, they thought their dreams would never be a reality as they thought this will be impossible. Most of these children dream of becoming a responsible adult with job that will allow them to lift themselves and their community out of poverty…they dream big. Then the idea of a dream school come naturally to us because their dream was contagious and affected us. We do not really know where to get the funds to make this dream a reality but westarted to raise funds and mobilize donors of all kinds to help us give hope to those kids of Lavavolo.

In 2014, the local people offered the property on which to build the school and we start the building construction. Construction materials were to be bought and carried from Toliara to the Village and had a long way to go but this didn’t stop us dreaming of a school. In several months the building was there and we then neededto paint it and finish all the details which would really cost a lot but we were just near to completing the dream so we would not give up now. The local community was very excited and also helped us a lot and we mobilized them to finish it with us. Last November we proceed with its official inauguration according to the Malagasy culture, the Malagasy fomba during which all the community members, leaders and officials are invited and all kinds of kabary or speeches are given and importantly the tso-drano or the benediction from the community elders. Malagasy people put high value and respect on elders’ benediction for everything they do or happens in their life and not to forget the Omby or the cow with the famous vary be menaka (literally translated Rice with fat from the cow = famous Malagasy dish for ceremony) for all the people to celebrate the school building.

The official inauguration of the school was a day to remember because far beyond the school walls, tables and benches, we did not only want to make the dream comes true but also to really give them the opportunity to better thrive because we know the importance of education and how it can unlock opportunities for all. When we come to talk about environmental education it is also linked to health, to education, to human rights… it touches every aspects of the life of the community with whom we are working because at the end of the day the overall goal is that nature and people can thrive together as it is interdependent, we have to make sure we have the balance.

Our pride is that we have been given the opportunity to work with wonderful and amazing partners, locally and internationally, with an amazing local and international team… with people who share the same vision as we, people who are dedicated and engaged in bringing their contribution not only to protect and conserve our environment but also willing to help others to improve in life. The building of the school is not an end in itself; actually it is just a start of a BIG DREAM! We are continuing to dream big with our Lavavolo Lunch Project because even though they have the school, children cannot learn when do not have nothing to eat. Through this project we want to leave our footprint to the benefit of the local community to identify ways for the project’s sustainability and once again because it is all connected. Conservation Fusion is not there to save the planet - we are also limited by means, but we are there to support, to enhance, to strengthen local community leadership skills and abilities so they will be able to take ownership of their natural heritage.

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