Blog by MBP Volunteer, Sam
It’s crazy to think that I arrived 1 year ago at the beginning of September to start my volunteership with MBP. I was a volunteer for the reforestation project and was just learning the ropes. I originally applied to help on the Simus team (Greater bamboo lemur), but was glad that I changed this decision to gain different skills through reforestation. Before I applied to MBP, I worked in Ranomafana National Park assisting a PhD project on red-bellied lemurs whereby I was a research assistant for 6 months. So as I had already done behavioural work with a lemur species, I wanted to gain different experience to help me figure out which direction I wanted to go in life.
The reforestation project in the Kianjavato commune is only 2 hours away from Ranomafana and had previously heard about it through working with scientists at Centre Valbio the previous year. I always heard Dr. Ed Louis’s name mentioned and the amazing work that he was doing in Kianjavato, so I was so excited to find a volunteer position online after I had finished university. I knew that I wanted to come back to Madagascar, so when I found this position unintentionally, it was fate.
The reforestation project always kept me on my toes, from 2 planting events a week consisting of around 4-5,000 trees to plant, collecting seeds and sorting these, visiting the 6 nurseries present here at the moment, entering data such as GPS and tree species names, writing reports and keeping track of a massive budget. These duties were shared by all the volunteers on this project which could have been up to 4 volunteers. I was so excited to be given the opportunity to work for Ed Louis and what he has already accomplished here in Madagascar and this project did not disappoint! I was able to get the full experience of living in a tent on a platform, waking up to the sounds of the birds in the morning, showered from a bucket with well water and eating Malagasy style meals which mainly consists of rice and beans. This suited me perfectly.
Not only was I able to gain skills in my own project, I was able to visit the forest fragments where volunteers on 2 lemur team (Black and white ruffed lemur and greater bamboo lemur) where collecting research for MBP and a PhD student at the time. This meant that I was able to learn how they were collecting research, why and what this research meant for the species, and at the same time being able to get some incredible photos of habituated lemur species.
The amount of projects I have been able to get involved in with not only MBP, but also Conservation Fusion has been one of my highlights. I was able to attend schools with Susie (CF’s director) to help teach the children about extinct species and protecting their forests through fun activities including painting, picture taking and rein acting time travel with tunnels. Through MBP I have been able to come up close to important species such as the fossa, ring-tailed mongoose, black and white ruffed lemur, fat-tailed dwarf lemur, greater bamboo lemur, wholly lemur and my favourite… the aye-aye.
In my time as a volunteer, I have been able to attend the Sambatra in Mananjary on the coast which is a circumcision festival that only happens every 7 years, attending traditional burials, turning of the bones and cleaning rituals, Malagasy concerts, travel for 3 weeks over the Christmas period, and most importantly contribute to creating a corridor between 2 species rich forest fragments in a beautiful area.
In March 2015, I was offered a job as the Reforestation Manager, which of course I could not reject. I was looking forward to the challenges ahead and the work that it involved.I started this job in May after 2 months at home for a rest. This job has been incredibly challenging and sometimes has been out of my comfort zone, which is just what I needed to keep my on my toes.I am gaining new skills and knowledge, able to experiment with ideas and thoughts and deal with issues in an appropriate manor and with a bit more power. I have also been able to start my own research project which is looking at the suitability and growth of native species by comparing species on north and east facing hillsides (variability of sun exposure), planting styles and through native species planted on the hillside in the middle of the corridor compared to next to the forest fragments. My main roles include budgeting, organizing planting events, keeping track of data, sending reports, ensuring productivity, training volunteers, dealing with problems and generally keeping the team motivated and moving forward with our goals. Recently I have been ensuring my team are happy within their jobs, creating new roles and responsibilities for them, teaching them news skills and knowledge for the future and being able to discuss ideas with them for the progression of a larger reforestation effort and to also adapt and expand this project for the future.
My biggest Challenge: Language barrier!
What I am most looking forward to:
- Fruit season
- Hot rains and the rainy season and how it brings more productivity
- The new contract with Arbor Day Foundation
And of course going home at Christmas to see my family, who will all be together this Christmas for the first time in a long time. This job has shown me a new way in life, what I can really be passionate about and the goals I want to achieve for the future. I feel very lucky to have been given this opportunity and hope that I can contribute as much as possible into helping improve and build this already incredible project. I hope to see more success in the future and maybe even one day return to see these accomplishments and help Ed Louis achieve his goals, but more importantly help him create his dreams!
I will forever be saying Mandra Pihaona (see you soon) and never Veloma (goodbye). I have never felt so at home and happy that I have a purpose in life somewhere like this before, I will forever return.