3 years of Juniors, a wonderful experience

A chapter is closing in the lives of 25 children of Ifaty. The children who were Reef Doctor’s Juniors for the past 3 years. During those years, they learnt about environmental protection, marine as well as terrestrial. They had the chance to witness with their own eyes the beauty and importance of the environment as we were teaching them through different activities outside of Reef Doctor. In this article, we’ll lead you through these past 3 years and let the Juniors tell you what they experienced and what they retain from this experience.

The Junior Reef Doctor Scholarship Programme started in 2014. The children of the Malagasy staff, who can read and write, as well as 15 other pupils of the EPP Ifaty (Public Primary School Ifaty), the most deserving in three different classes, formed the 30 Reef Doctor Juniors during these 3 years. Every Saturday morning, they came to Reef Doctor’s classroom from 8 till 12. For the last year, they had lunch with the education team before heading home, a meal prepared by the women’s group of Ifaty.

In the program, environment and ecology, oceans and seas, coastal areas, mangroves, coral reefs, human impacts: waste and pollution, but also sustainable management of littoral and halieutic resources. During this last year they have also studied water and hydrologic cycles, soils and forests. For every topic, they learnt what it is, what it provides, but also the threats they’re facing and how we can help protect it.

The Juniors also had the chance to witness with their own eyes what they were taught about during several excursions. Amongst those, they went whale watching, visited the mangrove at our Honko site in Ambondrolava, and discovered the Spiny Forest in Mangily as well as the tortoise sanctuary. They attended a “Green School” for 3 days with Bel Avenir and we took them to snorkel around our MPA Rose Garden. The apotheosis of the Junior Programme was most probably on the 28th of January when they held an open day at the Ifaty primary school to show their families, friends and the whole community what they had learned.

These 30 kids all enjoyed being part of the Juniors and were proud to represent Reef Doctor. At several events, such as the MPA Relay, they sang and danced in the name of Reef Doctor and were wonderful performers!

We collected some testimonials so the Juniors can tell us themselves what they liked and how these 3 years will help them in the future.


Souveline: I really liked the Juniors, especially the atmosphere, the community and the fact that nobody was ever fighting. The classes I enjoyed the most were the English lessons. I’m sure that what I learnt will help me in the future.




Pierrine: The Juniors was a great experience. I really enjoyed learning things about the environment and how we can protect it. What I learnt at the Juniors will surely help me in the future, as I, for example, now know the importance of tree planting to preserve the environment and improve our lives. I also know now that we shouldn’t throw rubbish on the floor because it pollutes the village and the sea, but we should put it in a bin, to make the village cleaner and healthier. It harmonizes life.




Papy: I really enjoyed being part of the Juniors. What I liked the most was to learn about tree planting. People cut down the trees but when I will be old I will see the trees I planted. It’s important to plant trees because they give us oxygen to breathe and provide shade when it’s hot. My experience with the Juniors will help me later, to make compost for example if I want to grow beans.



Lodafara: I liked the Juniors and especially the cohesion in the group and the love we share between Juniors. I enjoyed the English classes the most. I think they are going to help me to speak with Anglophones and find a job in the future.




Merine: I loved the Juniors. I really liked to learn about the environment and especially everything that is marine-related. I know that it is important to protect the marine environment and keep the fishes healthy!



Friko: I liked the Juniors, particularly learning about the environment and coral reefs, because if people don’t know how important coral reefs are and destroy them, there will be no more food. Later if people continue to destroy the reef, I know why and how to protect it so there will still be fish.

A chapter is closing but another is starting with 20 bright new Juniors, who, we hope, will continue to be curious and interested to learn more about their environment and how to protect it, in order to become the conscious, aware and dedicated leaders of tomorrow.

Blog by RD Comms Officer Karin Moehler

Photo credit: Ivana Rubino & Karin Moehler

Rd school

The New Reef Doctor School: Creating Future Leaders of Positive Change

Informed decision-making is an essential component of sustainable development and conservation in rural communities. For example, if you aim to sustainably exploit the marine environment you need to be able to interpret a graph on fisheries catch data. Therefore, the importance of a good education is undeniable. Although primary schooling is mandatory from the age of six in Madagascar, less than 50% of children have received five years of schooling by the age of 15 (OPHI). The education system is failing, with resources and facilities increasingly unable to function and accommodate the growing number of children requiring access to education. Reef Doctor is increasingly asking the ethical question ‘how can the communities we work with make informed decisions about their future if they are unable to access information through reading, disseminate information, and keep records of past events/changes if they cannot write?’.

In Ifaty, and indeed all across Madagascar, many parents cannot afford to send all of their children to school and many have to decide which of their children will get any kind of primary school education. Many schools in the area, like the primary school in Ifaty, are too small. In Ifaty, half the children of school going age attend school in the morning and the other half in the afternoon. Teachers do their absolute best with the limited teacher training available. Furthermore, the vast majority of public primary schools employ an archaic teaching method because the tools and resources are not available to introduce different teaching styles into the classroom.

After witnessing the deterioration of the schooling system in our home village of Ifaty, Reef Doctor directors, Roderick Stein-Rostaing and Emma Gibbons, decided enough was enough and recently started a programme for change, the new Reef Doctor school! This new initiative aims to deliver a high standard of education and skill development training to a few local children in order for them to become ambassadors and future leaders of their community. The new Reef Doctor school will provide the skills and tools for these children to become the access point for communities to learn about wider social issues such as climate change and declining fish stocks, which affect everyday lives. The vision is to provide a platform that empowers communities to make informed decisions about their future.

Rd school

Rd school

Based out of the home of Director Emma in Ifaty village, the Reef Doctor school is now attended by 25 children from the village. Four teachers have been employed to teach the children and they work closely with the Reef Doctor Education Department to improve teaching methods and deliver the children a broader programme of education in Science, Mathematics, French, Malagasy, English, Geography, History, Sport and of course, Environmental Studies. The school has been up and running since September 2016 and is going from strength to strength. In addition to classes in the Reef Doctor School, pupils also attend workshops at Reef Doctor and community events along with the Junior Reef Doctors.

Rd school

This endeavour received a huge boost recently when a representative of CISCO, the Regional Department of Education in Toliara, visited the school. The school is now being registered with the government to include permission to teach classes to the level of high school diploma. A huge advantage of the visit and the registration of the school is that the school, once registered, will be eligible to receive assistance from a food programme, which will mean that the children will receive a nutritious lunch during their school day to fulfil their learning potential. The school is a testament to Roderick and Emma’s dedication to the community where they have resided for over a decade. They hope to provide the opportunity for children to receive an education that will help them to learn to investigate and question the world around them and ultimately  understand enough about that world to make informed and educated decisions that improve their quality of life and the lives of those in their community.

Rd school

Jnr Open day

Reef Doctor Juniors Open Day Huge Success

Education is the most important conservation tool. Teaching children about the world around them and fostering an interest in the environment makes conservation part of a child’s everyday life and helps to form habits they will carry with them throughout their lives.

The Junior Reef Doctors Scholarship Programme has helped to educate the brightest and most dedicated students in Ifaty primary school about the environment since 2014.  In turn the Juniors share their knowledge with family and friends and spread the message of sustainable living and conservation. And on Saturday 28 January the Juniors really got a chance to shine when they held an open day in Ifaty primary school to show the community what they have learned.

open day

The education department and the Juniors got to work very early last Saturday morning bringing tables, prizes and various project materials to the school to host their very first open day. Stalls were set up around the school grounds and the children were all in charge of different stations. When visitors arrived the Juniors jumped into action and explained each project perfectly. They clarified deforestation and provided a practical example of the affect of deforestation on coastal erosion with a model forested and deforested area. They described the process for making artificial charcoal while showing the crowd the raw ingredients used to make the briquettes and then they held a practical demonstration by lighting a fire so that everyone could see how well the briquettes burned and feel the heat they gave out.

open day 2

alternative charcoal

The Juniors also showed off the crafts they made out of recycled materials including toilet roll insert puppets and skipping ropes made from plastic bags. They giggled uncontrollably while adults tried the tin can and string phone and beamed with pride while they explained to the grown ups how it worked. They demonstrated how to make plastic string by cutting a plastic bottle into a long thin strip with a simply made plastic cutting tool and they enjoyed watching as children played with the various toys and adults ooed and aahed at the various practical projects.

making skipping ropes

making telephones

Once the Juniors had demonstrated all the projects they entertained the crowd with a dance routine and made history with the first ever public lottery held in the village. There was great excitement as tickets were pulled from the hat and smiling winners came to collect their prizes that ranged from clothes to toiletries to food with the main prize being an inflatable dingy. There was a great turn out and the Juniors and the education department did a fantastic job as ever. Their parents, schoolteachers and Reef Doctor couldn’t be more proud of them.

Report by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino

lottery win

green school

Green School is Cool!

Remember how much fun bunk beds were when you were a child? Ok, now imagine how much fun a triple-decker bunk bed is when you’re a child living in a place where concrete houses are a rarity, not to mention bunk beds to put in them. Can you imagine? Yes! Well, that’s almost as much fun as the Junior Reef Doctors and about twenty other school children from Ifaty had at Green School, or Class Vert as it’s known here, last week. Green School is a three-day summer camp held in the grounds of Solidaire Hotel that teaches children about the environment and socially and environmentally responsible living to work towards sustainable development and a sustainable future. The workshop is run by Bel Avenir, an NGO based in Toliara and Mangily where the children stayed from Wednesday to Saturday. But the children didn’t just enjoy the bunk beds, they also loved the trip to the Spiny Forest, the trip to the beach to watch a video and learn about whales, the swings, the slide, the football pitch, the games, the songs, the trip away from home and the energetic fun people from Bel Avenir who run the summer camp.

I spent the second afternoon with the children at Green School and wished I could stay for the rest of the trip. I arrived at about noon when everyone was having lunch on traditional Vezo floor mats in the main meeting area in the grounds.  There were lots of smiling happy faces and it was obvious that even lunch was fun for everyone. Once the children had finished eating and helped to clean up it was time for a nap. This really meant that it was time to play in their bunk beds for a while before going outside and playing on the swings and slide or having a kick about with a football. After ‘nap time’ everyone lined up in the main meeting area again. The children had already been taught some really great raps and marches by Christian, one of the staff, and when he gave the signal to move out the children marched in pairs listening out for instructions or a funny rap.

Our big group walked through Mangily and down the beach where a local dive center, Atimo Plongee, had a TV set up waiting to show the children a film about whales. The teacher arrived shortly after us and none of the children seemed fazed by the fact that he was a very large imposing figure with a deep voice and a stick in his hand, but I was! But I soon found out I didn’t need to be. The stick was for pointing at the whales on the screen and his deep booming voice carried very nicely over the waves and wind. The children loved him and loved the film and class. They had a great time answering quiz questions at the end of the film about what they had learned. Afterwards everyone formed a huge circle on the beach and played games. A little while later it was time for me to head back to Ifaty and I left the group playing on the beach. I could still hear the squeals and giggles all the way down the beach.

Learning should be fun. Learning about socially responsible living and a sustainable future is great fun at Green School.  Sustainable development is essential for a sustainable future and Green School and its amazing team is doing a great job preparing these children for their future as socially aware and responsible adults.

Reported by RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino



The Future is Bright Green

Near the middle of Toliara sits the Notre Dame de Nazareth School. From the outside it looks like many of the private schools in Toliara. High walls surround the yards and two storey cement school buildings. Vendors wait at stalls full of sweets and snacks outside the imposing iron gates as children in blue uniforms walk in and out in groups. But inside there is a lush little green oasis of nature with lots of ecologically sound ideas bubbling up, thanks to Eco-schools. Eco-schools is a global initiative that encourages socially responsible learning in primary and secondary schools.  The initiative began in 1992 and projects are now established in 49,000 schools in 62 countries. 15 million students worldwide are involved in Eco-schools and learning about a sustainable future (www.ecoschools.global). Notre Dame de Nazareth School joined Eco-schools in 2015 and set up Club Vintsy to run its Eco-schools projects and curriculum. The club, named after a local species of bird, is made up of girls and boys aged between 10 and 16 years old.  We got to visit Notre Dame de Nazareth on Saturday 4th June along with NGO Honko and some of their Juniors when we were invited by Club Vinsty to hear about these ideas and see some of their projects.

The first thing that strikes you when you walk through the gates of Notre Dame de Nazareth School is the plants. They’re planted in pots in rows outside the canteen, planted in beds outside almost every building and planted in plastic bottles cut, linked and attached to the bars of classroom windows. Much of the planting has been done by Club Vintsy.  The second thing you notice is the enthusiasm all the club members have for the Eco-schools projects.  Throughout the morning everyone spoke confidently about their projects. You could hear the enthusiasm in their voices and see how proud they were to show us their work. Every club member was engaged and also spoke knowledgeably about Malagasy culture and environmental and sanitation issues.  They really knew their stuff and were very eager to show us what they’ve done.

Firstly, the club showed us how they make briquettes for fuel.  Two of the older girls explained the process to the group in Malagasy and excellent English, and dealt expertly with questions from the group while they mixed the ingredients.   The briquettes, made from a small amount of charcoal, water, clay, sawdust and zebu manure, provide an alternative to burning traditional charcoal, which is the only fuel source available to the majority of people in Madagascar for cooking. The production of charcoal for cooking fires has contributed significantly to deforestation throughout the country. The briquettes made by the young people at Club Vintsy contain approximately a quarter of the usual amount of charcoal needed and can be shaped in a press or by hand.  They are a simple and practical step in addressing charcoal use throughout the country, as the other ingredients required are freely available or are inexpensive to buy.  

The charcoal briquettes are easy to make and everyone had a chance to have a go.  After the demonstration, the briquettes were left in the sun to dry while the members of Club Vintsy took us to their ‘tip taps’ to wash our hands.  Tip taps are made from reused water bottles with a hole in the lid and tied to a frame with a piece of rope wound around a nail. To ‘turn on the tap’ you just tip the bottle. A small amount of water comes from the hole in the lid. Tip taps provide an inexpensive, water saving solution to hand sanitation that can be used in schools or homes. There was also a soap dish, made from a water bottle cut in half, attached to the frame. ‘Do you think eco-school is good?’ Science and Education Officer Apolline Mercier asked club member, Estella, as they washed their hands. ‘Yes,’ Estella smiled. ‘Why?” Apo asked. “It makes life better’ she replied.

Once everyone’s hands were clean it was time to get them dirty again in the school’s tree nursery. Some of the younger club members demonstrated and explained how to fill small plastic bags with soil and plant saplings that they had grown on site. We asked what they do with the saplings and some of the older girls took us outside to have a look at the planting on the pavements surrounding the school. The club has planted saplings in protective frames along the entire block surrounding the school. They are really going to brighten up the street, and provide a filter for air pollutants when they have grown. On the way back we dropped into a classroom where a class of 10–11 year olds beamed as they showed us their Eco-schools award. Back at the tree nursery, the club had lovely gifts of Moringa saplings for us to take home.

The group then made its way to the school’s vegetable garden where we saw the tip taps being used to water the plants and were shown what vegetables were growing. On the way we also got to see waste collection points made from cooking oil containers that have been cut, with a separate bottle for compostable waste beside it. The compost is used as fertilizer for the vegetables that the club sells to the market in Toliara. We asked where the money goes, fully expecting to hear that it is put back into the club, but were surprised and touched to hear that the club gives any money made from selling vegetables to the many street children in Toliara.  At this point the club explained the ethos of the school. Notre Dame de Nazareth was originally a catholic girls school but in recent years the school has started admitting boys. Our guides also told us that, although the school is still a catholic school, children from any religion can attend. Prayers are said every day at the school and every child’s religion is accommodated. And that is very much the impression you get from the school, that everyone is welcome and we were made to feel very welcome during our visit.

Eco- schools projects are amazing.  There are so many good ideas at this school. If the young people of Club Vintsy are anything to go by, the projects do encourage socially responsible learning, and teach socially responsible habits. They help people to engage with nature and make it a part of everyday life, make it a consideration in everyday life.  15 million young people throughout the world are interacting with their environment through Eco-schools projects and learning that everything in our ecosystem is connected including the people.  They are taking this knowledge and these habits with them into adulthood where, hopefully, they can make the future bright and very very green.

 By RD Comms Officer Ivana Rubino