In April 2019, four members of Zonta International traveled to southern Madagascar with UNICEF USA to visit Let Us Learn Madagascar project sites. Read updates, thoughts and reflections from the group through the blog posts below. Read more about the Let Us Learn program in the May 2019 issue of The Zontian magazine.
UNICEF’s Let Us Learn is an integrated education program that is creating opportunities for vulnerable and excluded children, particularly girls, in Madagascar to realize their right to an education in a secure and protective environment. The project is focused on reaching out-of-school children, expanding girls’ education and improving quality outcomes for learners. Learn more about the Let Us Learn Madagascar Project.
"Access to appropriately vented pit latrines is a big upgrade," was one of Dr. Tamara Hagen’s conclusions on Day 1 of the Zonta field visit to Let Us Learn sites in Madagascar. Together with our UNICEF USA partners, a Zonta team of four drove to Amboasary in the south of the country. The group got their first glimpses of the Let Us Learn program in a village where new school classrooms and a WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) facility were built with the support of Zonta International.
Dr. Tamara Hagen, Past District 6 Governor and Zonta international Foundation supporter, shared her impressions of the facilities. "The school building was well-constructed, open and airy, and light. Teaching tools were displayed on the wall and some math problems on the board. There was plenty of desk space, but we learned they had to use the schoolroom in shifts. The students related how much better this school was than their old school: more room, better instruction, closer to home so safer (no crossing the river during flood season and avoiding highway bandits). Even the...vented pit latrine was a big upgrade. These structures are well built and maintained with the classes taking turns cleaning the latrine daily. It is an appropriately vented pit latrine with a cement base. It was only after several more stops and the use of other latrines that the scope of how much better that WASH facility was over everything else we saw. Unfortunately, it did not have a water source associated with it since the well that was dug was 'negative,' i.e. either dry or too salty to use."
Before departing, the team spoke to the mayor of the village, who described the new school as a medicine for both the children and the village and presented the Zonta International team with a male sheep, a very high honor according to local customs. The sheep was in turn given to the school to have a feast for the children. Due to the prolonged drought in the south of Madagascar, food insecurity and malnutrition are a big issue. Many children only receive one meal a day so the feast was a real benefit for all the students.
Life skill classes make a difference, was one on the conclusions on Day 2 of the Madagascar field visit. The Zonta team talked with the girls and boys and met cash transfer recipients.
Past Zonta International Director Judy Kautz shared her impressions of the Life Skills Programme after talking with the peer educators and the participants. "We met some amazing young women and this concept really does seem to be making a difference. They seem to really like these classes, and they spoke to us comfortably about their experiences with early marriage, early pregnancy, abortion and violence against women. We also got to speak to mothers of the participants about their feelings about these classes. Those we spoke to were positive, stating they learned from the students, and their other children did too. They were glad that topics like early marriage and pregnancy were being discussed, as they were uncomfortable discussing these issues with their children themselves."
Later the same day, the team traveled to Tanandava where they met with cash transfer recipients and mother leaders in the community. "Cash transfers enable families to build up their own existence, to be independent and send their children to school," said Vice President Ute Scholz. "One family bought a sheep from the cash transfer money to have their own milk and cheese; when we visited the village, this sheep had just born two baby lambs."
Meeting members of the Junior Reporter Club in Fort Dauphin was the highlight of Day 3 in Madagascar. Members of the Junior Reporter Club meet twice a week to decide on the topic of the show, write the script and then record the show to be broadcast that week. Topics that have been discussed include the environment, the measles outbreak, importance of education, child marriage and sexual violence, among other community-related topics.
Participants worked with support staff from the radio station, including a graduate of a former class. They learn interview techniques, how to research topics and find individuals to interview, and the logistics of recording and editing the material.
Students expressed to the Zonta team that they had learned significant lessons on how to better communicate with others and used these skills in other aspects of life. They were recognized at their schools as being on the radio and had become the "experts" that other children looked to for information.
“The participants are spunky, confident and have incredible aspirations about what they want to do. What fun we had with them,” said Past International Director Judy Kautz.
Day 4 was a travel day.
Sexual violence, rape, child prostitution and child marriage are all problems in Madagascar, as the Zonta team learned through their observation of a child protection club in Fort Dauphin and visit to a child protection one-stop center in the capital of Madagascar.
The child protection club is a group of 60+ girls and boys who discuss issues of sexual violence and rape through song and dance and call and response, which they demonstrated for the Zonta team during their visit.
During the youth-led discussion, the participants shared that sexual violence, rape and child prostitution are common, while two girls shared their own experiences with their parents wanting them to marry early. The students felt that their open discussion of these issues and learning about their options was valuable. When queried, the boys felt they had learned techniques to intervene in a situation if they saw a girl in danger. Both boys and girls related that they shared what they had learned with others, including classmates who were not in the club, siblings and friends.
“We were asked if we had these types of problems in our countries and what Zonta was doing about it there,” shared Past Governor Tammy Hagen. “Our interpreter, who knew the culture of the region well, was very taken by how open and engaged the children were in the discussion. He related that the cultural norm was being quiet and not usually engaging with strangers.”
The one-stop center model, which Zonta International is familiar with from its work to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV and gender-based violence in Rwanda, provides children victims of violence with the medical, psychosocial and judicial support they need all in one location.