Ifaty Youth Association: Taking the Future of the Village into their Own Hands

One day, a young teacher decided to make a change in his village, Ifaty. His name was Martin/Edmond. After witnessing the children of his hometown slowly sliding towards an unhealthy and destructive behaviour, he decided to react. He joined with his friend, Jean, who studied for a year at the University of Toliara, and together they started thinking of how they could work to improve the future of Ifaty’s children.

After some talks, they had the idea of creating an association, gathering young people of the village to make the voice of youth be heard. Before setting the association up, they went to see the leaders of the village – the president of the fokontany and the eldest – to obtain their authorisation. Once they had it, they started talking to other villagers to see who would be interested in taking part in the association. It didn’t take too long to gather 25 motivated people (20-30 year olds) and create a bureau; ‘Fimpizay’ was then born on the 21st of July!

Fimpizay stands for Fikambany mpianatse zanaka Ifaty, which means in broad terms youth association. They have mainly two objectives, aimed at minors, especially from 11 to 13 years old. The first one is to reduce early pregnancy, which is very common in Madagascar, especially in rural areas. According to UNICEF, 37% of Malagasy girls aged from 15 to 19 years old have early pregnancies. Early pregnancies are a public health problem and contribute to taking girls away from education and the labour market. Their second objective is to reduce child delinquency, meaning reducing the number of children partying at an early age, drinking rum, smoking cigarettes and taking drugs.

Since the association has only just been established, they haven’t performed many activities yet. Nevertheless, after introducing themselves through a meeting in the village (the traditional fivoriana), they decided to organise a big village and beach clean, to show their commitment to the villagers and establish their credibility. They collected everything non biodegradable, such as plastic, nets and batteries and brought them to Reef Doctor on our demand, so we could have a look at the rubbish in the village and try to think of some ideas of things to do with them.

We already outlined the association’s two main objectives, but their action goes beyond that. They also aim to raise awareness among children about the environment and the importance to preserve it to ensure a sustainable future. By including them in activities such as beach and village cleans, they encourage them not to litter and teach them about the environmental impacts. 

Fimpizay works with the women’s group of Ifaty to make their village cleaner, healthier and nicer to live in. We, at Reef Doctor, are now helping them to formalise their association so they can apply for some funding. They also wish to make a video showing child delinquency to play in the village to raise awareness and we will assist them with this. If it works well here, they are thinking of giving the video to other villages to play in their own cinema or schools to raise awareness.

The Youth Association works towards creating a brighter future for Ifaty’s children, where they will be their own leaders working on social development and sustainability and we are very proud of them and happy to help them achieve their goals!

Blog and photos by RD Comms Officer Karin Moehler 

veg garden boxes

Addressing Food Security Issues in Arid South Madagascar: Reef Doctor Vegetable Garden Update

Madagascar is amongst the poorest countries in Africa. As estimated by the World Food Program (WFP), over 90% of the population lives below the international poverty line and nearly half of all children under the age of five are malnourished due to a lack of access to and diversity of food.

The Toliara Province, a semi-arid region in the Southwest of Madagascar, is at particular risk of droughts and has the highest rate of poverty in the country. A recent assessment by Reef Doctor, confirms this trend. According to the study, nine out of ten households in the Bay of Ranobe are living in multidimensional poverty (for further information click here). A 2016 joint assessment by the Ministry of Agriculture, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and WFP found that 1.2 million people living in South Madagascar are suffering from food insecurity. This is mainly due to a high risk of natural disasters, political instability, limited investment in social infrastructure, and environmental degradation such as soil erosion, coupled with an increasing population and migration towards the more resource abundant coast.

sand dune village

Under such developments it becomes obvious that securing food access and diversity is crucial for the well-being of locals living in this area of the world, and Reef Doctor is currently addressing this problem. Back in early February we established a vegetable garden on the Reef Doctor site as a pilot project. The aim of this project is to pass on our experiences and knowledge of vegetable cultivation in this harsh arid climate to local communities. We hope to encourage them to establish their own vegetable gardens to an attempt to address the over-exploitation-based and climate change driven food security issues affecting the region. Below our intern Lara Birkart gives us an update of project progress so far…..

“We are pleased to report tremendous progress so far! The seeds that were planted between the 10th and 17th March sprouted about a month afterwards with an early-bird courgette that we harvested in May. Nearly three months have passed and there are two more courgettes and several green peppers, carrots, beetroot and lettuce growing. At the start of the project, beds were watered generously twice a day (before sunrise and after sunset). With increasing plant strength, we cut down watering to once a day. Considering that fresh water is a scarcity in this part of Madagascar and not easily attainable, it is encouraging to see that this relatively small amount seems to be sufficient for the veggies to grow well.veg garden boxes

veg garden maintenance

However, we have encountered several problems during the creation of the vegetable garden. First, after two months, hardly any of the vegetables that were planted in Boxes 4 and 5 sprouted (except for one lettuce standing strong). This might have been due to the fact that the soil mixture in those boxes was not optimal for the vegetables chosen (mainly herbs and green beans). Second, due to inappropriate planting techniques Boxes 2 and 3 were over-crowded with multiple plants sprouting from one spot. After allowing some time for growth, Boxes 1 and 5 were used for transplantation and currently hold two carrots, seven beetroot, twelve aubergines, and seventeen tomato plants.

On the 8th of June, Kasen, another intern, and myself started construction of another four beds to continue experimentation. The objective is to grow various vegetables (such as green pepper, carrot, beetroot and tomatoes) and herbs (e.g. parsley, coriander) in different soil mixtures of sand, red sand, Zebu manure, and compost. This will allow us to determine which plant grows best under which condition. Information gathered and lessons learnt will be shared with communities when the time comes to support them in establishing their own vegetable gardens.

construction of veg plots

In addition, on the weekend of the 3rd and 4th June Beth, another intern, and myself checked the garden for further progress and were amazed to see how much bigger many of the veggies have become. We harvested four green peppers, one courgette and several leaves of ‘Anamamy Be‘ (a plant indigenous to Madagascar) and prepared our own lunch. After months of care, harvesting your own food is an incredibly rewarding experience and we are very proud of our garden! We look forward to our efforts being utilised when transferring this pilot project into a large-scale community-based food security project.”

lara preparing harvested veg

cooking with harvested veg


Blog by RD intern Lara Birkart

Photo credits: Lara Birkart, Beth Dickens, and Karin Moehler

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


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