library construction

Construction of Ifaty’s First Public Library Complete

As we continue our third annual MPA Relay Race fundraising drive, we would like to take this opportunity to reflect on the progress we have made since last year’s fundraiser. As you may remember, last year we managed to raise over £1,100 due to generous donations from generous donors and Reef Doctor supporters all over the world. The results of this fundraiser changed the face of the Ifaty coastline, with the construction of the Ifaty Community Library being completed on May 3rd, 2017.
finished library

Library construction began in March, soon after our memorandum of understanding was signed with the University of Toliara. With a deal in place to manage the library, which is located on University-owned land, Reef Doctor set to work interviewing builders. We hired a team of six local construction workers from Toliara, led by lead architect Xavier. They reviewed the blueprints for the building and set to work straight away, clearing the area next to our on-site schoolhouse of brush and debris.

As Reef Doctor volunteers and interns can recount, building with concrete is an arduous process here in Madagascar. There are no machines to mix or pour concrete; all the bricks are made by hand and basic tools. Everyone took turns assisting the construction crew in the afternoon, hauling 20-30 kilo bags of sand from the beach to the construction site. The sand was then dumped in a large pile in front of the site, where the concrete-making took place. Two to three bags of cement powder were mixed into the large pile of sand with shovels, and once the mixture was even water was slowly added until it reached the consistency of (you guessed it) wet sand. The wet sand/cement mixture was then shovelled into a brick-making mold, and then a flat piece of wood was used to pack the mixture firmly.

library construction

While the filing of the mold is simple enough, I soon discovered first-hand how hard it is to successfully produce a brick. The mold is taken over to a cleared spot in the sun, where the already-finished bricks are drying. It must be flipped over precisely, without jolting and dislodging the mixture inside. The mold is then shimmied off the brick, which ideally holds its structure with the mold removed. However, for every successful brick made there were five that collapsed on themselves, only to be shovelled into a bag and returned to the sand/cement pile for another try. It was arduous and slow-going work, but the boys in the construction crew were much more efficient at it than I was, and maintained a steady rhythm while still having time for the occasional dip in the ocean as respite from the blazing sun!

library construction
While the boys made bricks, Xavier did the bulk of the structural architecture, carefully conducting all measurements with minute precision. The finished building was within centimeters of the original blueprint specifications – particularly impressive considering not one tape measure was used! After the concrete frame was in place, the gable roof was the next challenge. All the bricks were tossed up by hand to the crew, who were balanced precariously on wooden rafters running the width of the structure. The roof slope was modeled with string, while Selan chipped at the bricks to make them fit into the triangular frame, fixing them in with a cement mortar.
library construction

Once both sides of the roof frame were up, the crew quickly filled in the gaps and got ready to lay the roofing! We chose to alternate tin and clear plastic roofing so that the library could take full advantage of the bright Malagasy sun. During the summer months (November–March) there will be enough light for the library to stay open late, while in the winter months the sun sets earlier, around 18:00. However, the building allows so much natural light to penetrate the interior that it remains functionally lit even as the sun dips on the horizon!

library construction
Around the time of the roofing, the project ran into a speedbump. After multiple resupply orders and many bags of cement, we discovered that we were largely over budget. This saw a pause in construction for a week while we decided the best path forward. Ultimately, we knew we had to finish the project as we could not let the generous donations simply stand unfinished, waiting for the next relay race. However, it is a cautionary tale to whomever underestimates the cost of living here in Madagascar. Cement and other building materials are hugely expensive here, and it can take months for projects to finish if costs are not estimated correctly. In the end, £1,100 is not enough to build even a 50-square meter building; it requires about twice as much money. Thus, our annual fundraising efforts are more important than ever, as project costs continue to rise due to inflation and material scarcity.

Despite all the postponed meetings, strikes, budget shortfalls and setbacks, the library was finished on schedule and just weeks before this year’s fundraiser. Looking back, it is truly amazing what can be accomplished by a determined group of individuals, and I would sincerely like to thank everyone at Reef Doctor for their hard work and determination to get this library built. Now that the structure is in place, we will move on to the next step: filling it up! The project has been passed on to the highly capable Education team, and intern Beth Dickens taking a leading role in moving the objectives forward. We have already begun receiving books from France, and will be working on constructing bookshelves and other furniture in the coming months! Thus, funding for Reef Doctor’s education efforts is more important than ever, as 2017 MPA Relay Race organisers Lara Birkhard and Beth Dickens have realised. They have chosen to fundraise for the expansion of Reef Doctor’s educational outreach capacities in several regards, including arranging for external educators to hold classes at our onsite schoolhouse, expanding the capacity of our fledgling baccalaureate program (the only one of its kind in Ifaty!), organising more field trips to expose local kids to nearby nature reserves, and buying books to fill up the community library! It’s a big agenda, and we’re going to need your help to achieve these goals!

The future is looking brighter for both the children and adults of Ifaty, with Reef Doctor’s expanded roster of classes and programmes filling much-needed gaps in the impoverished education environment here. By working together, we can all contribute to developing a more sustainable future for the village and all of Ifaty’s inhabitants. Please take a moment to visit our fundraising page; no donation is too small in helping us achieve our goals!

From all of us at Reef Doctor and the community of Ifaty, thank you again for your continued support!

Update by Library Project Coordinator Katie Riley

finished library

growing veg

How Does Your Garden Grow?

Reef Doctor is participating in the vegetable growing season for the first time with the establishment of a brand new vegetable garden! Our objective is to create a garden, which has a nutrient rich soil composition perfectly suited for this region and a healthy variety of plant species, all of which can be sourced locally by any individual or communities wishing to grow their own food. The project was initially pioneered, conducted, and documented by volunteer Silvan Birkner who constructed a series of identical wooden garden boxes, with the aim of assessing the effectiveness of different soil compositions on locally available vegetables and to extend any resulting knowledge to the population here in the bay. Silvan got the project off to a great start and now we are receiving seeds, fine tuning soil composition, and planting, planting, planting! By using various methods to enrich the generally sandy, nutritionally deprived soil found here, we hope to encourage a more diverse and sustainable diet, with less reliance on the bay and its fisheries as a primary means of nutrition and livelihood.

growing veg

With the help of Director Emma and students from the new Reef Doctor school (more info on this to follow soon!), we completed planting the garden with a variety of seeds on Friday 17 March. To encourage the students, we provided them with their choice of seeds and two vegetable boxes to plant. Initially Reef Doctor interns planted three of the five boxes with various herbs such as coriander, basil and parsley, and vegetables including tomatoes, squash, carrots, and beets.

veg boxes

The placement of these plants was chosen based on soil properties like nutrient load and water retention. Some general guidelines for companion planting were also utilised to ensure the plants in each box would benefit from one another rather than growing independently or acting as antagonists. The boxes that were later planted with the students adhered largely to the same guidelines; however, we wanted the children to have the freedom to plant what they desired and therefore were not as strict in deciding which plants were placed adjacent to one another. As our seedlings begin to sprout we are all excited to see how the plants will fair under these sometimes challenging conditions. The sight of new, green life, is undeniably pleasant and we have the highest hopes for out new recruits!

Blog by RD Intern Kasen Wally

growing veg

Education

Ifaty’s First Public Library: Project Update

As you may remember, we held a MPA relay race fundraiser for Ifaty’s first public library back in April. Since then we have been hard at work on the project, surveying the property to build on, developing sketches and blueprints for the structure, and sourcing books and additional donors to match our funding.

You may wonder, as I did, why we need more funding for the project. After all, the £1000+ raised is a considerable amount of money, and you would expect it to go very far in one of the poorest countries in the world. And in that sense, it does. According to our estimations, we will be able to build the entire structure of the library using these funds – and there are few places you can make this big of an impact with this sum. The money will provide for cement, used to make the foundation and the building’s walls; sheets of tin, for the roof; building tools such as nails, hammers, and re-bar; and the cost of labour itself. This means that we are already at full budget with just the structure itself; the money does not cover bookshelves, chairs, tables, books, or anything else that we will need to fill the library itself. However, limited funding can also give rise to innovative solutions.

Enter one of ReefDoctor’s recent interns: Mislav Žugaj, who has taken on a strong role in this project. With his background in graphic design, Mislav has provided invaluable help in regards to structural design and location mapping. His university friends and connections have also stepped up to support us, with architect Ana Lisonek creating the blueprints you see below.  Ana has experience in creating dynamic solutions that are tailored to fit local situations, and had some ingenious ideas for reducing building costs. One example of using our location and the materials available to our advantage comes in the form of the ocean-facing doors. These doors will be made of termite and pest-resistant wood, which is much cheaper than concrete and will thus reduce structural expenses, saving money to be appropriated for other aspects of the library.  Furthermore, these doors take care of the lighting problem; when opened, they will allow the ever-present Madagascan sunlight to illuminate the inside of the building for the entire day, ideally eliminating the need for electrical light. Utilizing the local landscape and climate to create solutions in response to limited funding and materials is just one example of what we can achieve when we put our minds to it!

Both adults and children will utilize the library, and we plan on incorporating it into our education programme so that kids will see the library as both a learning space and a fun place. This is where ReefDoctor’s old museum comes into play; formerly a marine museum, the structure fell into disrepair after cyclone damage and due to lack of funds hasn’t been utilized since.

We plan to restore the museum and create a reading space that will also look out onto the ocean, with activity areas where kids can draw, read, write, and make art. After all, the importance of making learning fun and interactive for the children cannot be understated; here in Madagascar, most ‘learning’ in the public primary school (which provides education for 800+ children in only three classrooms) is simply copying what is written on the blackboard.  This library will occupy a vital niche in Ifaty, providing the village with more opportunities for all community members to enhance their literacy and ultimately, their contribution to society.

The 8th of September 2016 marks the 50th anniversary of International Literacy Day, for which the slogan is: “Reading the Past, Writing the Future” (UNESCO 2016). This slogan is particularly relevant to Madagascar, as it calls upon the government to devote resources to education and literacy improvement as a way to write a more sustainable future. It also envisions a productive and sustainable society that can be created by the next generation of educated and literate Malagasy citizens. As author Daniel Akparobore succinctly states, “The ability of the individual to contribute to the development of country lies in his ability to read and write. There cannot be meaningful development in modern society where [the] majority of the populace is illiterate.” Sustainable development and literacy go hand in hand, and ReefDoctor is excited to debut a new forum in which innovative ideas concerning the future of the Bay of Ranobe can flourish as access to information is improved.

Article by RD Community Project Coordinator Katie Riley