Several members of Development and Peace along with two Regional Animators are currently on a solidarity tour of Madagascar to visit with local organizations supported by Development and Peace. Over the next few weeks, they will be writing about their visits and experiences.
We had the opportunity to go to the Antananarivo (Tana) Cathedral for an audience with Archbishop Odon of Tana. During our visit, he commented that family is a critical element for any positive, successful development in Madagascar.
This view was supported by my Malagasy interpreter Mahery, who is completing a Master’s degree in biology, and who is steeped in the culture and history of his homeland of Madagascar. Mahery explained that in Malagasy culture, the children are the pride of the family – indeed the value of a woman is measured in part by the number of children she has.
These values were immediately evident from the first morning of our tour, when we were awakened by the energetic voices of children beginning their school day at a centre run by the Development Council of Andohatapenaka (CDA), a Development and Peace partner. These students are cared for, fed and educated by the CDA. The following day, I had the privilege of participating in the “canteen,” which is when more than 700 students are given a lunchtime meal, which for many is their only meal of the day. My job was to stamp the cards that each student presented to show that they had received their lunch. Looking into the faces and seeing the smiles and hearing the greetings of these beautiful children was a moving experience.
As our time here has progressed, no matter where we go, the presence of children is everywhere – playing in small groups, wrapped ‘footi’ and carried on the backs of their mothers or older sisters, riding high in the arms of their fathers, coached along and tended by siblings not much older than themselves, or working at any number of jobs necessary for the well-being of their families. There are literally hundreds of children visible each and every day.
Included in Archbishop Odon’s conversation with us was the comment that children and youth form half to two-thirds of Madagascar’s population and that they are the new generation, the hope for the future. We are part of that future through the support we give to organizations like CDA.
The CDA networks with numerous other groups, such as the Don Bosco radio station that broadcasts information for families; the Auxilliatrices, the order of sisters associated with the Salesians, who teach girls sewing, embroidery, accounting, and cooking in addition to boarding 50 youngsters whose families can’t afford to keep them at home; and the Salesians, whose members train youth in metalwork, woodworking, auto mechanics, tree planting and construction.