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Reforestation and environmental education: Over 10 years of the GREEN LIGA's partnership with Madagascar

madagaskar_400x279-equal.jpgFor a long time, the GRÜNE LIGA Osterzgebirge and the Ranoala Rainforest Association have been supporting reforestation projects in the (former) East Madagascar rainforest area. About ten years ago, the focus gradually began to expand from pure forest work to environmental education projects. This has developed into a school partnership between the Glückauf-Gymnasium Altenberg and the Lycée of the Malagasy village of Anjahambe, but above all into a wonderful partnership between committed young people in both, far-away countries. In Anjahambe, the "Analasoa-Club" (analasoa = the good forest) is active, in Altenberg the "Madagascar-AG".

The activities on both sides are based on the same principle: first working together practically for nature, then going on trips together to learn more about nature. Several times a year, the Analasoa Club organises student planting missions around the remaining rainforest called Analasoa. This involves multi-day excursions in rented "bush taxis" to well-known Malagasy national parks and other protected areas - financed by donations from Dresden and the Eastern Erz Mountains.

The up to 25 pupils plant rowan trees on the Kahleberg, tend wild hedges and take part in practical species protection measures around Altenberg. In return, once a year there is a larger trip to "rainforest experience places in Central Europe": to Gondwanaland Leipzig and the rainforest museum Phyllodrom, to the "Biosphäre" Potsdam, and even to the Masoala Hall of the Zurich Zoo. In 2019, the Madagascar-AG visited the Federal Ministry for Development Cooperation in Bonn and the Madagascar House of the Cologne Zoo.

 Highlights, however, are the personal encounters between Malagasy and German pupils. In 2018, after overcoming considerable bureaucratic hurdles, young people from the Analasoa Club were able to come to the Eastern Erzgebirge for the first time. And the pupils from Altenberg proved to be wonderful hosts. Planting trees in the snow together on the Kahleberg, exuberant music party at the grammar school, intensive talks about joint projects ... "Think globally - act locally" at its best!

Report October 2022: Our journey through Madagascar

On the road between Tamatave and Andasibe. The deep black of night surrounds our bush taxi. We rock through the Malagasy province. The Mercedes Sprinter darts along the "road" lined with banana plants and ravenala trees, although this term should not be overrated. Every pothole (and there are quite a few) is passed on to us directly through the worn suspension.

We sit in the second row behind the driver, five of us on four seats, behind us a little more than a dozen Malagasy students. They are singing along loudly to the Malagasy pop songs blaring from the car radio. A question arises in my mind: At what point do I really know Madagascar and the Malagasy? Because this much is clear: we can only experience impressions from our perspective: From the perspective of a "vazaha", as it is called here: a white person, a stranger on the 8th continent. "We", that is Jens, the organisational head of the whole thing, Marie, who comes from Madagascar and lives in Dresden, my father Mirko and us students: Niklas, Hannes and me, Simon.
The roads in Madagascar are long. No wonder, with an average speed of not much more than 30 km/h by bush taxi. In the village we pitch our tents in a bamboo hut. The local stream with a small waterfall forms the bath.

Everyday life here is as follows: Get up at the first cockcrow (usually 4:00 in the morning) and eat rice or optionally boiled cassava roots for breakfast. Then it's off to work, or to school for the children. On one day, Hannes, Niklas and I also sit in on a class of about 40. The furnishings are frightening in many places, bats are sitting in the ceiling, collapsed school desks lie at the back of the classroom. "Because we dance on the desks!", as one of the pupils tells us with an ironic laugh when asked. There is a shortage of materials everywhere. Money is either not provided by the state or it seeps into the web of corruption.

To avoid bribery and embezzlement, you need trustworthy contacts on the ground. One of them: our forest worker Julien, who takes care of the Analasoa project forest. For us, it is directly on Sunday, the day after our arrival in the village, to the tree planting mission. Thanks to the unexpectedly large support of more than 60 students, it is no problem to plant the targeted area, and so we have lunch for everyone right on time: rice, of course! Almost all the land available to us has now been reforested, and the natural flora and fauna are also returning: a huge colony of flying foxes lives in the trees. However, we still get a damper. On the way back, we take a small diversions and Julien leads us to a small clearing. In the middle of the sprouting greenery, the black-grey remains of a charcoal pile suddenly jump out at us! Charring the renewable resource in the middle of the forest is a tradition with serious consequences. Out-of-control charcoal kilns are one of the main causes of forest fires in Madagascar. But can one blame the Malagasy population for wanting to improve their livelihoods while not always putting environmental protection first? In order to solve such conflicts, we hold a workshop with all parties involved in the forest. At the end of it, there is a draft contract in which all rights and duties are regulated. A great success!

The grand finale of our visit is an excursion to Andasibe National Park, a showcase project for eco-tourism. The 40 pupils involved could never have afforded such a trip themselves (petrol prices in Madagascar are almost as high as in Germany). However, donations raised in Altenberg made the three-day trip possible. The greeting message for the Altenberg pupils, recorded on video in the evening, could hardly be more Madagascan: a dance to the song "We are One"!
One of the main insights of the trip for me was that although there are almost 9,000 km between Madagascar and Altenberg and a huge mountain of differences in life, at the latest when planting trees or playing football together, the things that separate shrink and the things that connect grow. Do I know Madagascar now? Probably not really yet. But that is not a bad thing. All the more reason to pay another visit to the Big Island.

Simon Kretzschmar

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