Madagascar Volunteering in Madagascar

Volunteering in Madagascar: Third-World Thoughts

By on September 25, 2015


As I sit in my hotel room; fresh in bed after a long, warm shower; happy to have hooked up to wifi for the first time in weeks to connect with family and friends on the other side of the planet; I feel comfortable and, of course, happy.

IMG_8154But that isn’t to say that my time in rural Madagascar wasn’t comfortable – or happy. In fact, there were moments when I sat under the Madagascan sun, surrounded by children, and a few geese and chicken, completely disconnected from the outside world, overwhelmed with a strange feeling of contentment. Something I never imagined being able to experience when I first arrived in the small village mere weeks earlier.

Arriving in Ambohitrakely was nothing short of overwhelming. I suddenly realised how much I had to now live without: running water, electricity, a bathroom… Wifi and showers seemed like distant memories in a different world. Because being thrown into a third-world lifestyle is basically being thrown into a different world. A world which is labelled to have the third, and lowest, economic situation. A world where people live without so much – yet live with so much more…

IMG_7998It is easy to adopt the typical first-world mindset in the third-world. You can put yourself on a pedestal and fool yourself into thinking you are a privileged white girl who has a much greater understanding of life due to your first-world upbringing and education. But the truth is money really doesn’t buy happiness – it just makes filling your life with the objects and luxurious we associate with happiness much easier. Money buys convenience. Money buys accessories to our first world ‘happiness’.

But money bought me the opportunity to be in Ambohitrakely, and experience a happiness that money can’t buy…

There were days in the village when I would watch the children so overwhelmingly joyful – so excited to be outside playing – so thrilled that you are sharing a smile and a giggle with them that it was impossible to believe that money is really the source of happiness. I have never experienced a happier group of children in the first world… Or maybe I just couldn’t see if they were happy or not behind their iPad screens…

IMG_8005One day my fellow volunteer brought back footballs and a Pétanque set for the village. Simple ball games that would amuse Australian children for a half hour or so. I can honestly say there was not a moment of the day when those balls weren’t being played with. All day our house/library was surrounded by laughter and games as the kids played for hours on end. In barefoot these children under 10 would impress me with their tricks and seemingly never run out of energy – or happiness.

You could say that this happiness was bought. Without the small amount of money spent on the balls maybe the kids wouldn’t have had shiny new balls to amuse themselves with and laugh over. But I doubt that they would be any less happy…

Even without these new toys the kids would find happiness through an old tyre or handmade football. Even just running around outside was enough to bring smiles and laughter to the children for hours on end, and I never witnessed any kind of bullying or selfishness among the children – there was a strong sense of equality and harmony amongst them all.

As the kids grow older maybe it will be harder to have so much happiness with so little – but I doubt it. Because even the villagers over the age of ten never passed me without a smile on their face.

IMG_8272There was an ignorance among the adults and older children that shocked me at first. Discovering that people older than myself could believe in dragons and that Gorbatjov was the president of the USA, whilst Obama was the president of France was almost outrageous to hear. But I wasn’t there to teach politics… Or mythical creatures… And this ignorance of the world didn’t mean that the people were any less intelligent – or happy. Just misinformed and perhaps ignorantly blissful…

There was one major thing that the people of Ambohitrakely had in their lives that I lacked – spirituality. The people of the village were highly religious and even though religion can have a bad reputation for provoking hate and war throughout our world, in Ambohitrakely it brought a great deal of happiness.

This isn’t to say I found Jesus, or suddenly believed in God – but I did develop an appreciation for faith and the ability it has to bestow such an isolated place a sense of community, a source of common interest and a great deal of happiness. Without electricity and running water I can understand why this aspect of their lives is held with such high regard.

But as I sit here with my wifi – fresh from that hot shower – I wonder whether I can ever really understand the happiness I witnessed in Ambohitrakely. A happiness that must be developed through years of going without western privileges and knowledge. It is impossible to imagine giving up my first-world luxuries permanently and seeking the happiness I have only witnessed as a visiting outsider. But maybe I can imagine a version of myself brave enough to make such sacrifices, and maybe I can keep my memories and experiences in Ambohitrakely fresh in my mind when I flick a light on, and turn on the tap, and maybe I can appreciate my own happiness much more – minus any sense of superiority or privilege…

  1. Reply

    Terry van Enter

    September 28, 2015

    Stunning writing and great thoughts – soooo glad you have experienced this and probably like me – every time you shower for too long, apologize to the cosmos!

    I am sure, though you are looking forward to coming home soon.



About Me

Kat Knapp

Hello! I am a 22-year old Australian currently training to be a pilot and studying journalism and sociology I have visited 69 countries across all 7 continents and love to explore. Here is where I share my adventures.