The people of Madagascar

It’s been a month now since we have returned from Madagascar but it still feels like yesterday. There hasn’t been a single day that I haven’t thought about the wonderful experience that we had in Madagascar.

Roadside view near Maroantsetra

Most of us know Madagascar from the cartoon ‘Madagascar’. And it is not surprising that the makers of the movie based their story on the creatures that only live on this island: the lemurs. They look so cute and cuddly – I just wanted to pack some in my bag to take back home!


As Magnus already pointed out in his blog before the trip: while Madagascar is characterised as a biodiversity hotspot, and BBC documentaries pay so much attention to the unique wildlife of the island – and we had the chance to spot quite a bunch! – there is surprisingly little information on its population.


And that is a pity. Because it was the people of Madagascar that made our trip truly unforgettable.

Students in Madagascar

If the company of co-workers was delightful and fun, and the UNICEF team from Madagascar fantastic, the welcome that we got from the people of Madagascar was simply mindblowing. There were several instances that we couldn’t keep our tears in, overwhelmed by the hospitality and the singing and dancing with which we were received in the villages.

Children peek through a fence

It is humbling to be received in such a grand way, the more so when you think about the living conditions of the people. In Madagascar, 7 out of 10 people live below the poverty line of 1 dollar per day. Despite the fact that people live in such poverty, we saw that they are very eager to send their children to school. Many teachers are appointed by the community and some of these teachers are being paid by the government (though these teachers were on strike when we visited the project site because they had not received their salaries for months) and some by the community – mostly in bags of rice since people simple don’t have cash.

Roadside stall Maroantsetra

There is no such thing as a pre-service training course for teachers in Madagascar so that means that no teacher actually had any training before starting as a teacher. To help the teachers to be more effective in their work, UNICEF  provides training to the teachers. However, the needs are very big and pupils don’t even have schoolbooks; the number of books available is insufficient and the books are kept at school and reused for many years.

Madagascar school book

Under these circumstances, it is amazing what people can still do. For instance, I was impressed by this school teacher, who had a very good interactive style of teaching.

Still, it is hard to imagine how people live and work under these circumstances. We visited a health centre on the way and found that it hardly had any medicines to treat people but more shockingly, it had no running water. The health centre was mainly used by women who came to give birth: can you imagine a maternity hospital that does not have clean running water?

Children in Madagascar

The birth rate in the country is high and currently 50% of the people are 18 years or younger. You can imagine the strain this puts on the education sector: even more schools need to be built, more teachers trained and more material provided to make sure that this young population get a quality education and the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their family.

A girl in a Madagascar classroom

There are many challenges ahead for the people of Madagascar but I am very glad that we are supporting the work of UNICEF in a very important area: that of education. Because the children of Madagascar have the right to receive a good education and to opportunities to make a better life for themselves and their family.

To all the wonderful people that we met in Madagascar I would like to say: Misoatra! Thank you!