Volunteering in Madagascar: My Experience with the Bookfeeding Project
When I first decided to look for a volunteer opportunity I had two things I was searching for in an organisation:
- That it was non-profit and all donations and contributions were being directly put into the project.
- That as a volunteer I would have the opportunity to really contribute in some small way…
I do not have a medical degree or any specific training that would enable me to help with environmental projects so I focused on the ‘teaching english’ idea. As a native English speaker I believe that even without formal training it is possible to assist in English teaching in some small way.
Through my Googling I stumbled upon the Bookfeeding Project – it was exactly what I wanted to be a part of and it almost seemed too good to be true…
The project itself is an entirely non-profit initiative – every cent and every penny donated goes directly towards the communities it strives to help. There are no paid administrators, no church backing the project and collecting a share and no financial support from local authorities – it is raw volunteering.
Apart from being a wonderful organisation, the project is also an incredible concept. The basic intention of the projects is simple and wonderful: providing rural parts of the world with low literacy levels and communities in need with access to books and educational resources – as well as inviting volunteers to assist with the management and development of the self-sustainable libraries.
As soon as I read into the project and Skyped the organiser, Alena, I knew that Bookfeeding was the opportunity I had been searching for. From then on it was only a matter of making my way to Madagascar with an open mind and heart.
Finding the village, Ambohitrakely, itself is a challenge. After an intimidating first journey on Madagascan public transport and either a long walk, or daunting taxi-journey to little Ambohitrakely I was immediately greeted by a crowd of children. With an exasperating language barrier and an immediate culture shock it took me a few days to recover from my arrival in the village – and adapt to life without electricity, running water and the other seemingly ‘small’ luxuries of the more connected Madagascan capital.
But once I had adjusted myself to village-life my first few days in Ambohitrakely became an exciting personal trial and in the days that followed it became a relaxing retreat from my regular restless lifestyle.
While I was a part of the project we would open the library for 2 hours every day – we would open the library at 2pm and finish up at around 4pm – it doesn’t sound like very long but with two rooms full of eager children and avid older students committed to English study – library time required more energy than you might expect.
I found myself drawn to the older students and adults and would spend my library hours teaching English to the more mature library visitors. Some of the other volunteers preferred the younger crowd and the children are always eager to have someone to draw with them – and sometimes even practise their vocabulary through the power of doodles.
Teaching English turned out to be much more rewarding than I had ever expected. Being able to share grammatical explanations and help expand on the vocabulary of my keen students whilst improving my own French, and occasionally Malagasy, always made me feel warm and fuzzy by four o’clock. And hearing the locals use the expressions and phrases you had spoken about when you met them out of library hours made me feel that on some small level I had contributed to the pool of knowledge within the community.
But other than contributing knowledge there is so much more that you can give to this small village through volunteering – you have the ability to reveal a part of the outside world to those who have never had the opportunity to experience it for themselves. Being able to post at a map and describe the cultural differences from your corner of the earth is a gift that I honestly believe the village can value. While I was volunteering with the Project I was living side-by-side people from America, France and China – in the space of a month the village was exposed to the cultures of four continents outside of Africa.
The people of Ambohitrakely are incredible and they taught me so much more than I taught them. They exposed me to a whole new world and shared their lifestyle and happiness with me every day during my time in the village.
The Bookfeeding Project is without a doubt one of the most challenging and wonderful things I have ever been a part of and having the opportunity to be a part of such an inspiring concept will remain as a very remarkable chapter in my own life.
Thank you for a novel feast of an adventure Ambohitrakely. I have never felt more sated from a life experience…
Check out the Bookfeeding Project’s website to discover how you can contribute and participate.