Imperiled youth in Madagascar

I thought I would chip in and write the blog posting this week. I just got done reading this very important report from UNICEF regarding the status of children and adolescents in Madagascar in the wake of the recent unrest.

The link is here: UNICEF Report on youth in Madagascar

Hard as it is to believe, due to the paucity of media coverage, the crisis in Madagascar continues. The two sides are not talking anymore, former President Ravolomanana is still in exile in Swaziland and Madagascar has been suspended from all of the region’s most important international organizations like the African Union and the SADC.

This report by UNICEF highlights the precarious situation that the country is currently living in. Radicalization of the youth in Madagascar would be a disaster, and the report shows how quickly the country is slipping down that slope. We have seen too many other African nations fall victim to unemployment, street crime and chaos.

There are some diplomatic efforts in the works, but there is so little incentive for the people in power in Antananarivo to return to the bargaining table because they then risk losing power altogether.

It is a depressing situation, to say the least, but the country has a history of stepping back from the brink in the past. Clearly, the children of Madagascar and the future of the country depends on it doing so again.


Who needs shoes?

I was talking with my younger brother the other day and we were reminiscing about his trip last summer to Madagascar. As you can tell from the photo, he loved being a “vazaha”, the Malagasy word for foreigner. But parts of the things he experienced there still bother him.

Because Alison and I know it so well, we are sometimes surprised by the things that affect the people that come to visit us in Madagascar. Since we started in Peace Corps in 2003, we’ve had many visitors: parents, a best friend, a sister, and a brother. And each of them had their own fresh take on the country.

Most couldn’t get over the poverty. This is a natural reaction for anyone, we went through it as well. But Alison and I are always amazed at how quickly kids without shoes or in ratty clothes become so commonplace that you don’t even notice it anymore. It can be bothersome, because you would hope that it would always be shocking to see that sort of poverty.

But I think a big part of becoming immune to those sights is moving beyond seeing just someone’s appearance to getting to know them as a person: with names and dreams and lives just like you or me. Not being able to afford shoes, let alone basic medicines and food, is only an external circumstance: their hearts are exquisitely human.

It has been a great privilege to be able to experience Madagascar through the eyes of those who have come to visit us. The monthly interviews with our micro-lending clients reminds us that these women, though they are poor and lack education, have the same hopeful dreams for their children that our parents have for us.

For me that is the beauty of travel and new experiences. While the world is a big, complex place, every person has a little spark of that common humanity waiting to be discovered. With or without our shoes, don’t we all dream the same?

Curse of being bright

Meet Beta, an endearing, bright, 8 year old Malagasy girl. She lived right down the street from us in Ambalavao, with her mother and four other siblings. She would be the one her mother would send to the market to do errands. She would be the one dragging a bag of charcoal home from a neighbor for her mother to cook with. And, despite such skinny legs and frame, she would usually be doing these tasks with her younger sibling tied to her back.

On school days, I would sometimes see her doing chores when she should have been in class. I would ask her why she wasn’t at school. She would tell me that her mother needed help with one thing or another. This never seemed to be the case though for her cousin, Pelota, who lived next door to her. Pelota was always in school when she was supposed to be. Yet, I noticed, Pelota was never given the responsibility to buy the vegetables for the day’s meals.

There are already so many reasons that children drop out of school and miss out on the education they so badly need. Being bright shouldn’t be one of those reasons. Yet, little Beta, who could be the superstar student, is destined to being a superstar Cinderella.