Eric’s sustainable future
If one of the reasons for the massive misuse of the natural marine resources of south Madagascar is the increased number of fishermen, then there are certain analyses of human behaviour to be made. For in a culture lacking opportunity and choice, Eric will do what his brother Kyko does, which is what his father Maiky was taught by his father, and so on. In Maromena that is the tradition, where grandfathers, fathers, sons and brothers are likely to have one common life’s work: fishing.

They just perform their job, and the passion for their task is something that seems not to matter. To a certain extent, passion does not exist; at least not in this realm. As there are no other opportunities, no complaints are made. Why should they complain about the only thing that they’ve got left? Some of them do what has been taught, taking no particular pleasure, because passion becomes superfluous when one’s livelihood is chosen from necessity.

While much about the challenges of conservation and sustainable development are discussed, the main challenge is actually to combine the two with the most basic issues of human rights, not only for our generation but for those to come. Human rights become a natural priority that follows as the interdependence of these issues unfolds. They are each simultaneously a part of the other. Therefore, WWF and sponsors should look at the human element before diving into the coral reef, as the issues have their roots on the shore – at least until Eric is provided a choice to become something other than his livelihood as a fisherman.

After all, the community will have to deal with the impact of issues neither foreseen nor experienced by their ancestors: overfishing, global warming and rapid population growth, to name a few. And that requires a wiser management of their natural resource, whether or not they are, individually, particularly talented fishermen. Regardless of their level of passion in their work, these issues will affect the whole community.

Nevertheless, here we reach the impact of the human rights’ violation: the lack of education, which leads to a lack of opportunity and thus the lack of a future with choice. And with the lack of broader, longer-term aims as a community, sustainability becomes just a foreigner’s word, impossible to be translated to any comprehensible local dialect.

If policies on the conservation projects become flexible and start to include development issues such as education, we may accomplish a more sustainable management of natural resources. Despite the Government’s absence and failures, we ought to concentrate on the tools that remain, and while looking after the wildlife, mutually respecting human beings.

Perhaps then, Eric won’t be compelled to go out fishing, and so his true passion – and that of many others – will be protected, as opportunities will allow them to look and see a new horizon beyond the turquoise lagoon.

Recognizing footprints
It was a strangely tranquil morning in Maromena. Even through this silence outside of the house, I could feel an unquietness in the air. My departure was meant to be today, and the blue sky was unusually patterned with white clouds in disarray.

The backpacks feel heavier than when I arrived, full of dust and sand from neglect these last few months. It seems strange to use shoes again, let alone to prepare for the readjustment to the once familiar surroundings of basic civilization. I find my mind filled at once with a flash of three months’ worth of activities and memories, from my arrival to today. I took stock of the various challenges which I now recall fondly, as they improved my character and my mindset, from the obstacles that were overcome to the fears enriched the soul.

In a fraction of seconds, the many faces which became familiar, the warm smiles and the simplest dialogues (due to my poor Malagasy!)… each sifted through my mind. I wanted to hold on to each memory in detail. Unable to recall every moment, I opt for holding on to the wisdom that they provided. Despite the lack of formal education, I appreciate the many skills which this community have acquired for reading signs of Nature, and the amazing discovery of recognizing one’s own footprint on the fine sand.

Within the three months’ placement I always tended to picture the day of my departure as a joyful moment where, after all, I would strongly desire all the amenities which I missed in this challenging setting. But life has shown me otherwise.

My mind filling with memories, expressing promises of return, exchanging honest handshakes and pure hugs, with eloquent watery eyes filled with heartfelt meaning. Unaware of my change, I had become a Vezo within.

To be a volunteer one needs to be able to acknowledge that there’s no right or wrong, but different ways to perceive issues. A volunteer needs to be able to learn more than to teach, and become an eternal chameleon. He / She needs to be able to weep, get attached to people that they’ve never imagined being attached to — simple strangers on arrival. You need to be able to survive after this experience, knowing that somewhere in a tiny hamlet, where neither electricity nor mobile networks are available, there are people who somehow made you by simply showing how they are. And while these people were eager yet reticent about learning, after a while they would demonstrate pure acts of compassion which would blow you away. That’s just the Malagasy way, it’s never enough just to throw money at good causes and go away. We need respect, personal contact and tolerance in order to achieve things together. That’s the foundation on which true friendships are built. Obviously to say goodbye to these people, who have become your extended family, community and only source of human connection for some months may be much harder than it sounds.

The hours dwindled to minutes, minutes to seconds, and soon I would be seeing Maromena, my “field home”, for the last time – at least for the time being. Slowly I realize that whatever has been shared about Conservation and Sustainability, whatever impact was made on the ecosystem, would have had no meaning if at the time of my departure I didn’t feel the bitter salty taste of tears. I would have needed more than guile to be drifted totally intact.

And walking through the fine sand, I leave footprints after me. Reaching the warm shore, where waves break knee high, I felt the seaweeds interlacing on my legs. In some way it felt comforting and familiar, so I faced the turquoise lagoon one last time.

As we are bound to return to the source one day, I left Maromena through the same lagoon which to a certain extent brought me here. Riding off on a high tide, waves splashing on my face, drops of sea mingling with tears, my footprints somewhere in the sand may be erased by the same waves. Hopefully those footprints are remembered by some–after all, they recognize each other’s footprints, so why not mine then? I will always recognize theirs, anytime I look within, for their footprints have somehow shaped the man I am today, a former volunteer in their hidden world.

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