local celebrations

Vato Mahavelo Official Launch

The purpose of our artificial reef project, Vato Mahavelo, is to bring life to a deserted area of Anatirano fishing ground. On Friday 28th October it also brought a lot of life and excitement to Ifaty when the project was officially launched with a day of festivities that involved the whole village. Not only was Friday the launch day of the project it was also the day the Debarcadere (government fisheries landing building) was officially placed under the management of ReefDoctor. But most importantly it was a day of community celebrations that saw everyone in the area working and celebrating together. Here, our Communications Officer Ivana Rubino reports on this landmark day!

As dawn broke on Friday morning a small group wearing lamba (traditional sarongs) against the cold and as a mark of respect gathered at the Debarcadere in Ifaty to witness the slaughter of a zebu to provide blood for a very important blessing of the artificial reef and to provide meat for the party later in the day. It was a somber but necessary start to the day. Blood was taken from the freshly slaughtered zebu to bless the rocks and concrete tubes using leaves from the Tamarind tree. Tamarind trees are sacred and hold a very important place in traditional ceremonies. Most villages have a tamarind tree under which meetings take place and they are often a focal point in the village providing a meeting place for activities and events.

As the ceremony came to a close the rest of the village and the Reefdoctor camp started preparing for the day ahead. Everyone had a job to do. The Ifaty Women’s Association arrived early at the Debarcadere to begin preparing food in the temporary kitchen they set up on site. Street vendors prepared extra bokobok, mokary and sambosa for the crowds expected. Vendors from other villages arrived with ice pops and cold drinks. Various people moved all the tables, chairs, water, crockery and cutlery that had been provided by people in the village and ReefDoctor the day before. Children ran around in the middle of the preparations alternately helping out and getting in the way. Covered seating areas were erected in the school with a large stage for officials and posters and banners hung. And the final touches were put to one of the bommies of the Artificial Reef that had been temporarily reconstructed in the Debarcadere for the occasion.

By 9am everything was ready and the officials, Monsieur Francois Gilbert, Minister of Fisheries Resources and the Mayor of Belalanda region among them arrived in style together with a national news crew and Emma Gibbons, Director of ReefDoctor. We met their procession just outside the village and the crowd including Ifaty women’s rugby team, the women’s association and a band danced and sang their way to the school where the officials took seats to enjoy some entertainment from local women’s groups from Ifaty (yes these ladies can multi task!), Ambondrolava, Tsivonoe and Mangily. Between groups a band of traditional dancers entertained the crowd.  And speeches were given looking forward to the growth of the reef and the future of the Debarcadere.

It was now time to go to the Debarcadere for the main event. The most exciting part of the day was about to take place. The first rocks that will make up the artificial reef were being placed at the site. Fay, the ReefDoctor boat captained by Manjo, headed out to the site with the Mayor of Belalanda, Bruno Keza Souvenir of the fishermen’s association FI.MI.Hara and the news crew to place the marker in the water to let the fishermen know where to sink the rocks. Richard Tyrrell, science officer, who has been working on the project since his arrival at ReefDoctor and myself set the marker and surfaced in time to see the pirogues arrive. We jumped back on board Fay as the pirogues got into position and the fishermen began hurling rocks off the side of their pirogues. The strong current whipped boats around while everyone dropped their rocks, some people jumping and swimming from one boat to another to help lift heavier rocks and bail out pirogues. It was thrilling to see everyone arrive at the marker maneuvering their boats expertly against the current to eject their loads and head back to shore.

With all the rocks and tubes dropped and the marker retrieved Fay arrived back on shore in time to see the official signing over of the Debarcadere. Debarcaderes were built in most villages in the Bay of Ranobe some time ago in order to prepare fish for transit. Unfortunately they never fully realised their function and most of the buildings across the bay have little use. ReefDoctor has signed an agreement with the Ministry of Fisheries allowing the Debarcadere to also be used for sustainable livelihoods activities including storing dried seaweed for sales and equipment. Seaweed sales have been held in the building since they began in 2015 and now it will now provide a center for sustainable livelihoods activities in the village. The Junior ReefDoctors finished off the morning’s festivities with a song for the crowd after the signing was complete and everyone sat down to a huge feast.

Friday was an important day not only because it marked the beginning of construction of a prototype artificial reef that, if successful, will increase biomass in the lagoon or because it saw the Debarcadere receive a new purpose and lease on life but because it was something the entire community did, together.

Our artificial reef project is being executed as a joint effort with Directeur Régional des Ressources Halieutiques et de la Pêche, Région Atsimo Andrefana – DRRHP (Ministry of Marine Resources and Fisheries), IH.SM (Madagascar’s national marine research institute), IOT, COPEFRITO, FRDA (Madagascar Regional Foundation for Agriculture Development), and, importantly, FI.MI.HA.RA, representing all 13 villages in the bay.

If you would like to donate to this project please visit our fundraising page. Thank you!


womens rubgy ifaty

Women’s Rugby in Ifaty

In this article, Reef Doctor intern Katie Riley provides an insightful account of women’s rugby in Ifaty and what it represents for local women.

“For the past month I have joined the Ifaty women’s rugby team as they have practiced for a sevens friendly against the women’s team from Tulear. Before I came to Reef Doctor, I was very excited to learn that rugby – especially women’s rugby – had a presence in Madagascar; however, I did not realize what an understatement that is. Rugby is Madagascar’s national sport, and has built a fanatic following among the Malagasy people; even our daily practices regularly drew a crowd from the village. This environment is markedly different than where I learned how to play rugby, in St Andrews, Scotland, where our league games would draw crowds of about 10 people (and we even won the league one year!). However, general enthusiasm, for women’s sports as well as men’s, is only one of the many differences I noticed. On that note, here’s a bit on rugby, Gasy style.

The women’s team was created in 2010 after the local coach (of everything – football, swimming, running, Men’s rugby, etc.), Elias, took a course on coaching rugby for women. Elias thinks that one of the major problems in Ifaty is that the women don’t have any hobbies, nothing to do all day (outside of their regular work of taking care of the home). He started the team as a way to keep the Ifaty women out of sex tourism by providing them with a positive activity. The sport caught on. Today, Elias and Bernard André coach two teams in Ifaty: one for adults, and one for girls. The adult team consists of about 24 women with an average age of 25; while on the kids’ side there are 30+ girls with an average age of 12. While the main goal is still keeping the kids away from prostitution, the team’s growth has provided the girls the chance to dream of a better future. Some women from Ifaty have already been recruited for the national team, which has created a sense of determination and pride among girls who previously didn’t have many people to look up to.

The Ifaty team plays on the local football field, which consists of sand, little rocks, bigger rocks, rock substrate underneath a centimeter of sand, and the occasional spike or ten. Practice starts when Coach Elias makes his way to the field, blowing his whistle incessantly throughout the village. The girls come in whatever they own: jean shorts, dresses, skirts, bathing suits, often with necklaces, earrings, and very long nails. Many of the things we take for granted in the West simply aren’t present here: there is a distinct lack of water, first aid, nail clippers, mouth guards, shoes, sports bras, and game kit. During games, the Ifaty team wears the jerseys of the men’s football team; if they want to wear shoes, they must borrow them from another team or go without. However, what they lack in kit, they make up for with determination. As far as how the game is played, when these girls hit the pitch, it is with no holds barred. There is no such thing as “touch” here; it’s full contact all the time. This tradition is telling of rugby’s history in Madagascar; the game is especially popular in the Tanàna Ambany (low villages) of Antananarivo (Tana), the location of the capital’s poorest inhabitants, as well as the highest rates of illiteracy and idleness. Although rugby in Madagascar is played by the upper class as well, French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu emphasized how especially important the sport is for the lower classes, which lack education and therefore job prospects (source: Razafison, 2010, Africa Review). In fact, many of the country’s rugby stars come from these low villages, and are then catapulted into the national spotlight. In many aspects, Ifaty’s situation is similar to the low villages of Tana, which is why it is so important to make sure the sport is able to thrive here.

Support for rugby in Southwest Madagascar is not extremely common, but that is changing. Last Saturday (June 4th) the Ifaty teams went to Tulear to participate in the first ever all-female rugby tournament on the Sapphire Coast, organized by the French NGO Terres en Melees. It is the first time Terres en Melees has come to the Southwest, after organizing similar events in northern regions of Madagascar. The goal of the event was to raise awareness for the environment and the primary education system itself. Thus, in addition to organizing the rugby, Terres en Melees conducted a week-long training session of over 30 primary school teachers in alternative teaching and learning strategies. Approximately 320 girls from all over the Southwest region, including Salary Bay, Desakoa, Ifaty, Satrokala, as well as many girls from primary schools in Tulear, attended the tournament – even a local orphanage brought a team! The girls were split up into groups of 9-10 when they arrived, and all the adults present were given a team to coach throughout the day. (With this experience behind me, I can say that it is not easy to coach a team of Gasy girls with a limited comprehension of the language and no French skills.) The day itself was a blast, and all the girls got to make new friends and encounter different playing styles. In the afternoon, the women’s teams from Ifaty and Tulear played a match before the tournament finals. It was an excellent game, and both teams really left it all on the pitch. Although it was an extremely close game, the final score saw a 10-5 win for Tulear, giving the Ifaty girls all the more reason to practice hard in the coming months as Regionals approach.

While many differences exist, the passion and pride involved in being a rugby player is the same worldwide. Which is especially impressive if you consider that here, rugby means running around in the blazing sun for 2 hours every day, without much drinking water, and having to go home with an empty stomach that might not get filled. Every day many girls come back, excited for another chance to run around and hit each other; but at the same time, many of the women are unable to do so. Coach Elias says the main issue is that the women are busy; they are taking care of their homes, doing laundry, cooking, and then leaving to play rugby and coming home starving afterwards, with not enough to eat. Anyone who has come from an intense practice of any sport knows the hungry feeling well, but it can be hard to imagine not being able to make that hunger go away. This prevents women from participating fully in the program, as they have bigger problems to worry about much of the time. We at Reef Doctor would like to give the women of Ifaty the opportunity to have a hobby, the chance to be able to exercise and play without worrying about having enough energy or food for the next day. Our goals are to provide the team with some food after practice, sports essentials like sports bras and shoes, and hopefully a team kit that the women can be proud to wear. Reef Doctor is committed to empowering women throughout the Bay of Ranobe, and the Ifaty women’s rugby team is a great place to start. Watch this space for a fundraising initiative and match updates!”

International Women’s Day 2016

Women from across the Bay of Ranobe came together in the village of Belalanda on Tuesday 8th March for International Women’s Day and made themselves heard! The usually dusty road to Toliara was alive with colour and music as women’s groups from across the bay, dressed in traditional lamba (sarongs), came together to pray, celebrate, dance and talk.

The women danced and sang their way through Belalanda in a lively procession. Each group was distinguished by their matching lamba and a banner of their village group. Despite the scorching heat there was a real party atmosphere as the brass band belted out tunes. The Prefect of Toliara, the local Mayor of Toliara region II and the Mayor of the region of Atsimo Andrefana were all in attendance and each group had the opportunity to introduce themselves to the officials.

Once all the official business was completed the women continued the celebrations with a football game. The festivities carried on into the evening for many of the groups when they returned to their villages despite it being fady (taboo) for women to drink in public.

Every woman in Madagascar gets the day off for International Women’s Day. The national recognition of this day is very positive but there is a long way to go before Malagasy women’s rights are recognized in a way that fosters gender equality.  Constitutionally, men and women in Madagascar have equal rights but access to employment, services and resources is still limited for the majority of Malagasy women. Madagascar currently ranks 120th out of 128 countries listed on the Women’s Economic Opportunity Index (Economist Intelligence Unit 2012). This pilot index looks at women’s access to economic opportunities worldwide. Prostitution is wide spread in Madagascar and many young women end up working as prostitutes for as little as 2,000 MGA (45p) as there is no viable alternative. Many young girls are sold or rented to older men by their families to make money to buy food.

Although under constitutional law women and men have the same inheritance rights, property is passed to the firstborn male son with furnishings and jewelry passing to the daughters of the family. Taking court action to recover inheritance rights is expensive and rarely within the means of the majority of Malagasy people.

In rural areas domestic violence against women is common and accepted despite it being against national law. Local law allows wives to be beaten provided her family is compensated.  If a woman does something that offends or embarrasses her husband, he is entitled to beat her provided he pays compensation for the beating to her family. This not only allows violence to continue in homes but also makes it acceptable.  For these and many other reasons gender equality is essential.

However, achieving gender equality in any country is not just about women having equal rights and standing in the community as their male counterparts. It is about women being in a position to make a positive independent contribution to their community because they have the right, access and the confidence to do so. Achieving gender equality and female empowerment helps communities overall. Gender mainstreaming is a public policy concept of assessing the different implications for women and men of any planned policy action.  This concept values diversity among women and men and provides a pluralistic approach to development. Using gender mainstreaming is likely to increase the success of conservation and development goals (Madagascar Conservation and Development Journal Vol. 10, issue 2, August 2015).  The editorial cites cases that illustrate that gender equality can contribute to development and the alleviation of poverty. Female empowerment is important in its own right but imagine what could be achieved here or in any developing country if everyone had the same opportunities to begin with.

Story by Ivana Rubino, RD Communications Officer 


Vezo women

Working Towards Gender Equality and Poverty Alleviation in the Bay of Ranobe

Pashna is an 18-year-old woman who lives in the village of Ifaty with her husband and baby. She is an intelligent hardworking woman who, until recently, could look forward to a future raising her child and caring for herPasna family, but had little or no prospects when it came to getting paid work outside the home. Like many other women in this region, there were very few options open to her to earn a living.

Gender roles are very clearly defined in Vezo culture. Although the Vezo people make their living from the sea, fishing is traditionally a male dominated activity, while women tend to fish or collect invertebrates and shells in the intertidal zone at low tide.  This means that most women rely on the men in their family to provide food and shelter. It also means that most women do not have the same opportunity to conduct business or work outside the home that men do. This often results in women being less confident in business and social settings.

In the Bay of Ranobe, the most common way to make a living and feed families is through fishing. However, the area is becoming increasingly popular as a tourist destination. While there are jobs available in the hospitality industry, without good spoken and written French, and without proper training, these positions are not open to local people in the Bay of Ranobe. Instead, they are often given to people from the capital, Antananarivo, who are trained and experienced in this industry.

Therefore, the team at Reef Doctor was very excited to hear about a training and internship program established by S.O.S Village d’Enfants (S.O.S) together with the Bureau International du Travail (BIT) to train young women to take up jobs in hospitality as waiting and hotel staff. S.O.S Village d’Enfants is an NGO that works with children and young people in developing countries to alleviate poverty. ReefDoctor was approached by S.O.S about the training course and asked to recommend young women to enroll.  Pashna was recommended to take part in the 3-month training program and recently completed her two-month internship at Solidaire Hotel in Mangily.

We caught up with Pashna last week to see how her training went. It was great to see her and get her thoughts on the internship. Pashna said it was a really enjoyable course that gave her good practical all round experience and taught her the theory behind professional service. She said that before her training and internship she knew nothing about the hospitality industry and had no chance of getting work in a hotel like Solidaire; however, now she is in a much better position to look for such work. She said another benefit was that she had a lot more contact with people from different backgrounds. Pashna said that this contact has made her more confident in her own abilities. She is now networking and building up her contacts in the industry!

This is a great reminder that education is key, not only to poverty alleviation and sustainable development, but also for building confidence in people in their own abilities and knowledge, through practical experience and classroom-based learning.  It is so encouraging to see Pashna (and hopefully many more young women like her) taking steps to establish her career in an alternative livelihood and carve out a place for herself in the community, in addition to her important roles as a wife and mother.

What’s next for Pashna? Many of the hotels in the Bay of Ranobe close for the summer season but are reopening soon. Pashna has already got a plan in place to look for work as soon as the hotels reopen. We wish her the best of luck and will keep you all updated on her progress. Watch this space!

Story by RD Communications Officer Ivana Rubino


ifaty school

The local school is now rebuilt after the Cyclone

We managed to help raise enough money to rebuild the local school after the cyclone early this year. The opening ceremony of the Ifaty school repair reported on national Malagasy news was a great day and can be seen below: