#amillionhands | Becky's Madagascar blog - day five
UK Youth Commissioner Hannah Kentish and members of the Community Impact Group, Jack Abrey and Becky Alexander, have embarked on an adventure to Madagascar with WaterAid - one of our partners for #amillionhands - to help improve access to clean water and good sanitation across the country.
Becky will be blogging the trip, so make sure you check back for updates.
Today has been a rollercoaster of emotions, as we were taken to two communities to see for ourselves why the work of WaterAid and Scouts in Madagascar is so important.
First we went to a rural community where WaterAid will shortly be working to bring clean water and toilets. On arrival we were greeted by the village elder, along with a huge group of children who seemed really excited to see us! A few of the girls showed us the place where they collect their water.
Despite having been warned, nothing could quite prepare us for what we saw; their water came not from a tap or even a well, but from a small dirty pond. To get there, we had to walk down a nearly vertical slope, which was slippery and overgrown. The water was full of insects, and each time the jerry can was filled, it disturbed more silt and mud.
The girls explained to us that one side of the pond was used for collecting drinking water, the other side for washing clothes, including babies nappies, sanitary towels and more. It seemed logical, but in reality the two sides were only separated by a thin strip of muddy, boggy ground, insufficient to prevent the spread of bacteria from one side to the other.
It was heartbreaking to see the girls collecting water from such a dirty pond. Once full, we tried lifting the cans, but could barely get them off the ground, let alone onto our heads and back up the steep slope to the village. It's hard to imagine how difficult it must be during the rainy season, when the slope must turn into a mud slide!
Speaking to the girls, we soon discovered how difficult their lives are everyday. They get up at 5am each day, and go to collect water, before cooking for their family and helping with the household chores. Some of the children (those who can afford it) then walk for an hour to school, before coming home to do more chores and collect even more water. Some days they make the journey to the pond four or even five times.
With mixed emotions, we waved a fond farewell to the community, and headed to another village a short drive away. This time, we saw how people's lives have been changed by WaterAid's work, which had led to the installation of five water taps in the village, alongside toilets and education on good hygiene practices. The difference was incredible.
The water tap in the second village
The community all told us how clean water had meant fewer illnesses for everyone, and how much healthier they feel. The community have formed a management group, who are responsible for maintaining the water points, which were beautifully decorated with flowers and plants. The whole community gathered to show us the new taps, and their pride and joy was evident.
It filled me with hope to know that soon the children we had visited this morning would also have clean, safe drinking water, and what a huge difference this would make to their lives. Joining the village children for a game of football in front of the incredible view was a perfect end to the day!
How can you get involved?
Try the Hike Challenge with your section and learn about the impact of having to travel so far for regular access to water.
This morning began with the Dobodoboka (a bit like a carnival), where Scouts from five Associations gathered to share their lessons on good hygiene practices with their local community. It was market day, so people had come from miles away, and the Scouts set up educational stalls on different aspects of keeping clean and healthy.
They proved hugely popular, especially the puppet show where a large group of children had gathered. It was amazing to see so many Scouts working alongside their community, and it made me realise how even small actions can have a really significant impact on other people.
As the market wound down, the Scouts began singing and cheering, encouraging people to follow them up the hill to the local school, where a ceremony was being held with speeches and performances. The local mayor, along with other community leaders, spoke about hygiene and pledged to help ensure everyone in the area would have access to clean water and sanitation. This was a huge result for WaterAid and the Scouts, who have been advocating for this change over recent months.
The Scouts here have really mastered community impact; they've built good relationships with local people, and identified the need, before taking a practical (but still really fun) action to help improve people's lives.
You could tell they had made a significant impact simply by speaking to the local people, who all had stories to share about how knowledge and education has helped protect their families from disease. It was incredible to see, and I hope we in the UK can learn from their amazing example.
Sadly, we had to leave the excitement of the Dobodoboka, which would continue on for the next couple of days, and head to Andasibe National Park. Here we saw a brilliant project Malagasy and UK Scouts worked together on, planting native trees in a stretch of the rainforest that was home to one of Madagascar's many lemur species. In doing so, they not only helped preserve and extend the habitat (the only area where this particular species is still found), but also encouraged rainfall and natural processes of water purification.
Speaking to the Scouts there, I was blown away by their passion for community impact. It is impressive that more than 70% of the Scout Programme here focuses on community impact!
How can you get involved?
Try the Water Relay from the A Million Hands WaterAid resource pack to talk to your section about the importance of having daily access to clean water.
This morning started back at the same Scout leaders' training camp we visited yesterday. We joined them for their flag break, and then they sat down for a session on menstrual hygiene management (MHM). Periods are a taboo subject here, with many women not knowing how to manage them hygienically, and some even facing discrimination when they’re on their period. It was amazing to see them all, both men and women, sharing their experiences.
We chatted to the leaders afterwards to find out how they share the training with their Scouts and encourage open conversations about periods. They showed such passion and enthusiasm, and told us about the different songs, plays and silly sketches that they use to help remove people’s embarrassment, educate local communities and break down stigmas around periods. I think it’s something we should all be more open about to support women worldwide.
Lunchtime came all too quickly, and we had to wave goodbye to our new friends, with yet another amazing farewell song ringing in our ears. We then met with Soafara, who is the Youth Commissioner for one of the Scout Associations here. We shared our ideas about how Scouts in the UK can be better at taking action in our communities. We learnt a lot from hearing about the Malagasy approach to community impact, which is very much in line with our new Community Impact Staged Activity Badge.
The Malagasy Scouts strongly believe they should go and learn about communities and the issues they face, rather than storming straight in without having checked first what help is needed.
This evening, we visited a community campfire, where members from five different Scout Associations gathered, along with local people, to learn about good hygiene and the importance of clean water and toilets. It was fantastic to see Scouts connecting with local people; it really brought home to me that community impact doesn’t need to be remote from our everyday Scouting Programme, but can be as simple as inviting the local community to share in the activities we already enjoy.
I hope Scouts in the UK can learn from the Malagasy Scouts, who have been so successful at connecting with local people, and through this have been able to make a huge impact!
How can you get involved?
Try the Water Trail from the A Million Hands WaterAid resource pack with your section and learn about taking collective responsibility for your local canal.
Having camped overnight with the local Scouts, our second day here started at 5am, when we joined in with the morning exercises. It was a really fun start to the day, although as it was still dark it felt very early!
I, along with some of the other Scouts, was interviewed by a group of Malagasy journalists about A Million Hands and what we’re doing to supporting WaterAid. It was fab to be able to help raise awareness of the need to invest in clean water and good sanitation in the country, while also highlighting the amazing work the Scouts here are doing.
After a tasty breakfast of bread, omelette and deep fried bananas (which were delicious!), we started the day’s activities. They started by talking about the importance of clean water and hygiene, including lots of singing and dancing, before going off to improve their campsite by building tippy taps (simple hand-washing facilities) and solar distillation units, which would allow them to clean the water from the well.
Rocking A Million Hands wristbands
I joined a group of girls creating a really innovative design for their tippy tap. Sadly, we didn’t win the competition, but it was great seeing them having fun and doing something practical, while gaining a good skill they can share with their communities. I hope we can encourage Scouts in the UK to use the tippy taps on camps where the toilet blocks might be a short walk away, as these taps are perfect for eating areas and kitchens and so easy to build!
It was sad to say goodbye to the Scouts there, but they gave us a lovely farewell, complete with singing, dancing and drums.
We had another long drive down very bumpy tracks before arriving at a Scout leaders' training camp in what felt like the middle of nowhere. Their campsites, however, were really impressive and well worth the journey. They pioneered everything, from picnic benches to cooking areas and even their sleeping shelters, most of which were made of raised platforms – better than anything I’ve seen in the UK. Of course, a tippy tap (or several) was a prominent feature of every site! We then joined in with their evening flag break and another lively campfire, before dragging our tired feet to bed.
How can you get involved?
Use the A Million Hands WaterAid resource pack to create your very own tippy tap with your section!
'Our first day in Madagascar started at the WaterAid office in the hilly capital - Antananarivo - where we heard all about the fantastic work young people here are doing with the charity.
'We then had an eye-opening meeting with representatives from three Scout organisations. It was really interesting to see how progressive the Scouts are here, and how much we have in common. They spoke passionately about wanting their young people to be independent and take the lead in partnership with adults - a vision we share.
'They were also as excited to work with us as we are with them, and it was a great start to seeing how we can link up to transform lives across the world.
View from the WaterAid offices
'We then headed off to our first Scout camp. It was a long drive and really really bumpy - there was no chance of falling asleep! But it did mean we got to see some of the beautiful countryside.
'We ended our day on a massive high with an uplifting campfire. We got totally rained on but that couldn't dampen anyone's spirits as groups came into the circle to perform sketches about the importance of clean water, good sanitation and hygiene, before enthusiastically leading everyone in songs, chants and dances. Hannah, Jack and I performed Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes with a handwashing twist!
'I was inspired by how much the Scouts care about their work with WaterAid, and also how much they enjoy it. Scouting should always be good fun, and it was a useful reminder that we need to help those supporting A Million Hands to have fun while also making a difference.
'Now for our first night camping in Madagascar...'