Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Tantely's Story!

If you have been following this blog since we first went to Madagascar in 2014, you may remember that Matthew and I took photos for the invitations to the church wedding of Zafy and Tantely.  Zafy was our translator in 2014, 2015 and 2016, and is now in Antananarivo training to be a priest. Tantely was quite shy when we met her. 

In 2016, Tantely was in the Days for Girls sewing class, and was accepted as one of the women who work for the Days for Girls Enterprise sewing kits, but that class had an even bigger impact on her life.  I found her in the Cathedral in the morning after the kit distribution explaining the menstrual cycle to other young women. 

She realised that she wanted to be a midwife.  So last year she went back to school, and successfully passed her high school diploma in September. 

It was so exciting to see her at the DfG distributions this year and the confidence she now exhibits as she teaches others about what is happening to their bodies each month.

This week, she started her three year midwifery training in Toliara!  May God bless her as she follows her calling.

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Banner for St Philip's Church in Ambohitsabo

Earlier this year, Bishop Todd held  a competition for the local churches;  the prize for which was a specially commissioned banner and Sue was asked to make it.  Santa Filipo in Ambohitsabo (just off the road from Toliara to Ifaty) won the competition.  

The banner was designed to be the same size as their other three banners and depict the encounter between St Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts chapter 8 - the start of Christianity in Africa. 

It was presented to the Church on Sunday November 18th. These  photos in St Philip's also show the new tiled floor in the church building.  The members of the church raised all the funds for this themselves.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

And the work goes on!

Even though it has been three months since we were in Madagascar we continue to work for and with the people on an almost daily basis. 

It has been very exciting for me (Sue) to see the changes in confidence amongst the women in regard to the Days for Girls Enterprise since the visit this year.  Having Harisoa work as a dedicated DfG assistant with Chretienne at the Women's Center has meant we can make much more progress with Days for Girls. 

Harisoa in pink skirt

Last month was very busy for the women, as they had received an order from DfG International as part of DfG's 10th birthday celebrations.  They made 500 DfG basics kits (1 shield and 4 liners in each) and then travelled to 9 different villages to distribute them.  757 women and girls listened to the health and hygiene talks, and so now understand more of how their bodies work.  500 of them were lucky enough to receive these free kits!

This month, Harisoa is travelling north to Mahabo to do more distributions there and Oliviah has been in the capital talking at a couple of churches about DfG. 

We are in communications with a Malagasy business who are thinking of placing an order each month for a year, with Projet Jeune who have applied for a grant which will enable them to order 1,800 kits from the Enterprise, and with a group from a school in New Zealand.  Prayers that some of these projects succeed would be much appreciated.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

End of Trip - Days for Girls Overview

Our mission trip this year was another great step forward for the Days for Girls Enterprise , based at the Women’s Center at the Anglican Cathedral in Toliara.  When we visited in 2016, we taught many women to sew the kits, but did not have time to address marketing as well. 

This year’s visit gave us the opportunity to translate into Malagasy the Days for Girls lessons on female health and hygiene.  We were then able to train around 35 women, from all parts of the Diocese of Toliara, to go out into the community and teach these lessons to others, and explain the benefits of the Days for Girls washable feminine hygiene kits.

The women were able to practice what they learned in class by teaching at various distributions in Toliara and Fort Dauphin areas.  Over 900 women and girls (and a few men) heard the teachings.  Over the four weeks, we distributed 437 kits in 13 churches and villages, 6 medical clinics and 1 school.  (School exams and vacations meant we could not go into more schools).  

At the end of the first week’s training, Ms. Harisoa was appointed DfG Assistant Coordinator at the Women’s Center for one year.  We are hoping that this will enable the Enterprise to grow and many more kits to be distributed. She is a brave young woman, happy to demonstrate the ease of running and dancing while wearing a kit!  Reports back from the women, who have had the kits for 2 years, were very positive.  They love the fact that the plastic barrier prevents leaks and stains showing through.

Harisoa on left in red trousers

We have been contacted by a Toliara business, which is talking of ordering 100 kits a month to be made by the enterprise, which will mean we can offer regular employment to women.  If this is successful, we will then contact other businesses to see if they would like to follow suit. 

We were also able to meet with representative of two UK not-for-profits: Blue Ventures ( and SEED Madagascar ( both of whom have community health programmes which dovetail nicely with the work we are doing with Days for Girls.  SEED also has an embroidery project which sells internationally, and we are exploring the possibility of collaborating with them in relation to the paper bead products that are made at the Cathedral.

Thank you all so much for your prayers and support which made this trip possible!

Friday, August 10, 2018

Five out of Five!

Today, Friday August 4th, we were thrilled to see all five lemur species here at Berenty reserve – ringtails, Verreaux’s sifakas, red-fronted brown lemurs, white-footed sportive lemurs and a dwarf mouse lemur.  (It is the smallest of all the lemurs - about the size of a small hamster).  The latter two are nocturnal, and involved a hike in the spiny forest at night.  We were fortunate enough to see a white-footed sportive lemur by day. They are so cute!

White-footed sportive lemur in fork of tree
While out on our night walk, we also caught a glimpse of an owl in the forest and at the end saw the most wonderful display of stars and the most visible band of the Milky Way I think I have ever seen.  Somehow the sky seemed closer than ever!

On the morning walk, we saw nocturnal fruit bats slumbering in the distance, enjoying the warmth of the sun at the top of a huge tamarind tree.  These are big bats – around 1.2m (4 feet) wingspan) so could be seen and heard from quite a way a way.  As we observed them a troop of brown lemurs came through their tree which set the bats off with quite a flying display.

This warty chameleon was also spotted on the morning walk.  This variety do change colour to blend in with their surroundings

We were also fortunate enough to have a Giant Coua walk by our bungalow door:

And watch Madagascar bee-eaters fly and catch insects repeatedly:

And on our final morning (Sunday August 6) we were granted close-up viewing of a mother sifaka and her sleeping baby in the small tree in front of our bungalow):

On drugs

No -- this is not a confessional piece!   It’s about drugs, or more precisely their prices.

It’s advisable when traveling, even in countries far more developed than Madagascar, to be supplied with a powerful antibiotic against “traveler’s tummy”.  The “in” drug at the moment is azithromycin, which appears to have displaced the previous “in” drug, ciproflaxin.

Glenview Travel Clinic had helpfully provided prescriptions for three days’ doses of azithromycin, which we duly took to a convenient branch of CVS (one of the major US pharmacy chains).  CVS warned us that the drug could be pricey – up to $180 for each of us, depending on the policies of our health insurer.  We were therefore delighted that, under our health insurance plan, we were able to fill each prescription for a “mere” $20.

With over a week remaining of our time in Madagascar, Sue and I had had occasion to use half our joint supplies of azithromycin.  With the rest of our stay and long international homeward flights ahead, we wondered if it might it possible to obtain fresh supplies.  It seemed unlikely in small-town southern Madagascar, but Rev Patsy offered to call in at a pharmacy in Amboasary to give it a try.  Not only did the pharmacy stock it, but three days’ doses cost us 7,500 Ariary – a tad under $2.50.  All neatly blister-packed and labeled, with the notes from the manufacturer in Chennai, India, to confirm that each tablet contained the 500mg daily dose specified in our US prescriptions.

What is one to make of the huge price difference?  I don’t know.  The US healthcare industry would have us believe that drugs in the US should cost more on account of tighter manufacturing standards, and to reward research and development.  But $2.50 vs. $20 or even $180 ?

On roads

Tarmac roads are a blessing.  Vehicles can move swiftly and fuel-efficiently.  Produce can be readily transported to distant markets.  The sick or injured can be taken to seek medical attention in tolerable comfort.  And so forth.

Formerly-tarmac roads, whose tarmac has fallen into serious disrepair, are less of a blessing – indeed, more of a curse.

This was neatly illustrated by our journey of 65 miles from Fort Dauphin to Amboasary, and then a few miles beyond to the Berenty reserve.  Until Amboasary, we were travelling the N13.  In Madagascar, “N” roads are the major routes –  the equivalent of the routes nationales “N” roads in France, and the interstate highways of the US.  After crossing the Mandrare River at Amboasary, we turned off onto unmade farm tracks through the sisal plantations to reach Berenty.

Mandrare river

Sisal plantations

Once (and probably only once) the N13 was a tarmac road.  In most places, the tarmac now forms an irregularly-shaped median.  Some of the time, the left-hand wheels of our minibus could drive on the tarmac while the right wheels ran along the dirt alongside.  But mostly our drive avoided the tarmac as much as he could – for the strip of tarmac resists being washed out by rain, with the result that the tarmac could not only contain deep potholes, but also be edged by a drop of up to 18 inches down to the neighboring dirt.

Once we turned off the N13 onto the farm tracks, there were plenty of mostly shallow ruts, but nary a pothole.  We swooped along at what now seemed the giddy speed of 25 miles per hour, having averaged a mere 15mph on the N13.

The dirt farm tracks can turn to impassable seas of mud during the summer rains.  But the N13 becomes impassable too, with the dirt alongside the tarmac churned to mud, and water-filled potholes being of unknown depths varying  from a few inches to a foot or more.

Tonga Soa eto amin’ny Berenty (Welcome to Berenty!)

We have had a journey to the south east involving many gracious welcomes, but we were very surprised by the visitors who strolled one by one down the path, to greet us in our bungalow at Berenty Reserve.  They explained that this gallery forest was their natural home; that they greatly enjoy the warmth of the sun and that they were just placing a brief visit as it was nearly time for the sun to go down.

The leader entered very gently into the sitting area of our bungalow, sat gracefully in the middle of the floor and looked at us inquisitively.  We felt very welcomed into their environment! 

They accepted the fact that we did not have any suitable food to share with them, and settled down to provide landscaping services on the patio instead. 

We did decline their offer to sleep the night in the hammock made by the mosquito net over our king-sized bed.  They indicated that all 15 of them could climb up there easily and sleep there quite comfortably.  They would enjoy the warmth of each other’s presence and would not feel at all crowded. 

We also discouraged them from sharing our bathroom!

Their brown cousins were shyer and remained more hidden in the trees of the forest surrounding the bungalow:

We did not meet their white relatives until the following day:

Apology for lack of blog posts

We are sorry that there have not been many blog posts in the last couple of weeks, but internet was either really slow (about 5 minutes to send a short email) or totally non-existent. 

We will upload shortly a few articles which we wrote but weren't able to send