In 2015 Ando, Andreas and me founded the NGO “Tia Diavolana”. Our goal is to create a better future for kids in Madagascar by providing quality education. Up to 40 kids regularly visit our daycare-center which is located in a village just outside the capital Antananarivo. In spring 2018 I finally had the chance to meet them.
Looking out of the plane window the thick, red river veins wildly winding all across the island take my breath away. Ando had already told me a lot about Madagascar and its people. However I could not quite imagine what was expecting me on the island. Honestly speaking the insecure political situation and the high crime rate left me a bit nervous. One week before my arrival at least two people were killed during protests in the capital. Presidential elections are planned for 2018. In the run-up the government repeatedly stirs up the anger of the population with unjustified actions.
A warm welcome and the first traffic jam
Ando and her Mum, who has also been supporting the NGO for many years, welcome me at the airport. Together we drive back to their home in a village 20 kilometers outside the capital Antananarivo. The Tia Diavolana daycare-center is within walking distance from their house. Traffic is heavy and the so called “Taxi B” old Mercedes buses from Europe are moving slowly towards their goal. It takes two hours until we finally arrive.
Malagassy hospitality is truly incredible. Ando’s mum insists on carrying my huge backpack through half of the village. I am following her with lowered head. She explains that it is a great honor to host a vazaha (=stranger) in her house. People in the village learn fast about my visit. However some react surprised when they see me in the streets. Vazaha, vazaha! the kids are whispering to each other.
Abject poverty in the streets
I knew Madagascar is one of the poorest countries in this world, but the poverty of the people is far worse than i expected it to be. Many families live in dire conditions in the streets. Parents send their kids to beg for money and food in order to survive. One scene in Antananarivo left me in shock. A woman was sitting on the sidewalk in a dark tunnel – her few months old baby on her lap and another kid sitting next to her. The air was so bad that my eyes were burning and my lungs hurt with each breath i took. Also traffic was incredibly loud. She was sitting there all day long and asked pass-byers for money.
This scene makes clear how hopeless the situation for many people in this country is. They know nothing but the rough life in the streets. That’s how they grew up and that’s how their children will grow up. They have no education and therefore no prospects. Hopelessness, hunger and renunciation are written into their DNA.
Finally I meet the kids!
In April it slowly gets colder in Madagascar. Winter starts on the southern hemisphere. Most children who come to the Tia Diavolana Day Center have few or no warm clothes to wear. That’s why we get cuddly sweaters for everyone at the market in Tana. It’s super busy and Ando’s mum steers me with a certain gait through the bustling crowd. With the donations from Austria we buy 35 sweaters in all sizes and colors.
The weekend is finally here. Saturday afternoon we are spending at the center. I’m pretty excited. What will expect me? Will we be able to communicate at all? When we arrive there are already a few children. We are playing some games to break the ice. The children are insecure, as most have never had anything to do with a vazaha in their lives. They have only heard stories about white people which are not always positive. Understandably there are many prejudices towards white people due to the french colonization.
And so we are standing there in a circle holding hands – all feeling a bit nervous. The children introduce themselves in English. They tell me about their hobbies, about school and their friends. The lessons at the center are effective – their English is really good and I am very proud. After a round of “hide and seek” I feel that the kids trust me more and more. The playful measures were successful 😉
After that the children show me the classroom. Kiki, a teacher who has also been working for the NGO for many years, provides her private garage. Of course this is not a permanent solution. With the donations from Europe we want to buy a small plot of land and build our own school.
The kids always get something to eat at the center. In addition to rice and vegetables, there is something very special on this day: we ordered pizza. For many, the first pizza of their lives. In the beginning the children don’t really know how to eat the slices. I show them how to do it and grab a piece with my hand. But they are too shy to do the same and scrape off the topping with their spoons.
Later, we give out the sweaters, which the kids put on immediately. They thank us with a song. It’s so nice to see their happy faces. Many of the children come from very poor families. It’s normal for them to help out at home and to take care of their little siblings. I’m impressed how helpful and respectful they interact with each other.
We play Memory in English. I try to remember the English words and where the couples are hiding. However, the children are a way better than me. We laugh a lot and I realize that they are slowly gaining confidence in me. A nice feeling. Unfortunately, the afternoon passes much too fast. At the end of the day I am quite tired but happy. Before going home I get a lot of hugs.
25 hugs and 1 promise
Seven days later, I spend another afternoon with the children. Unfortunately, our center is currently open only once a week. That should change in the future. We want to be there for the children at least five days a week.
The children made presents and greeting cards for our donors. I get a card with personal messages from everyone and photos of our time together. While reading my eyes fill with tears. A girl writes: “When I grow up I want to be like you and travel the world.” I hope so much that this will be possible for her. Therefore, we will continue to work hard for our goal. Each of these children deserves a happy future. We want to give them a perspective and help them to build a positive and successful life.
Saying goodbye is anything but easy for me. I will really miss the kids. I promise that we will not stop fighting for our goals and that we will see each other again soon.