“At some point I had to stand up and be
counted. Who speaks for the butterflies?”
AT this time of year, the custom is to put the past behind and make resolution for the future. The turning of the year, a turning of a page, charged with new hopes and aspiration for the days ahead.
Sometimes, at this time of year it also helps to reflect and remember, what has been achieved, what learnt, and what can be measured out in memories and important moments from the time passed.
For the Trust, the ending of this year marks 25 years since Andrew Lees made his last, fateful mission into southern Madagascar to film its unique biodiversity and capture the voice of local people. He aimed to produce a campaign film to help protect the southeastern littoral forests from destruction by a proposed Rio Tinto mining project, set to change the lives of local people and their environment forever.
Andrew never walked out of the forest of Petriky. His spirit, and his love of nature met a final resting place in one of the most biodiverse places on the planet. A traditional stone marks the place where he fell and the local Antanosy people have designated the area around it sacred, recognizing Andrew’s spirit to reside there, along with their ancestors.
In the year that followed, Andrew’s family, close friends and colleagues at Friend of the Earth where Andrew worked as Campaigns Director set up the Andrew Lees Trust (ALT UK.) The Trust first helped generate funds towards the launch and development of an environmental training centre, the Centre Ecologique Libanona (CEL). The schoolroom was dedicated to Andrew’s memory at the opening day in December 1995. A commemoration, and a small seed of hope planted in the sandy soil of Libanona.
The choice of supporting this centre reflected what Andrew’s family and partner believed he would want – something to help develop the skills of local people so they could advance the work of protecting their environment and shaping the future of their region. That small seed grew and bore fruit, helping hundreds of local Malagasy students to gain the higher education they needed over two decades. It also served as a learning centre for students visiting Madagascar from overseas, and a local training venue, creating an enriching exchange of cultures and ideas.
Libanona was to become the base not just of a CEL, which reached Malagasy University status over the course of its 20-year history, but also home to the Trust’s office and field programme in 1999. No one imagined we would still be serving the people of Madagascar twenty years later.
Between 1999-2009, the Malagasy team were trained and became experienced in the Trust’s approach, management techniques and working practices, which successfully delivered its programme for food security, natural resource management, communications, and non formal education using radio to communities in some of the most remote and challenged areas across the southern arc of the island.
Life has a way of turning circles, or perhaps more accurately spirals. Ten years into our work in Madagascar, in 2009, the Trust handed over to its local field team in a responsible exit. It supported the birthing of a Malagasy NGO directed and peopled by the local animateurs, technicians and managers from the Trust’s ten-year field programme. The team brought the skills and specializations they had learnt with Andrew Lees Trust (ALT UK) into their new organization, Andry Lalana Tohana (ALT MG).
Between 2009-2019 the Trust has supported the growth and development of the Malagasy NGO Andry Lalana Tohana, developing joint projects in equal partnership (2009-2013) and providing assistance in response to requests from the ALT MG management team to support their field programme and initiatives. These range from famine relief, food security and health education to communications for empowerment, including interactive media for human rights promotion and participatory video.
In 2019, we celebrate a decade of Andry Lalana Tohana’ s field programme. In particular its opening of a new local education centre, The CERCLE. The Centre for Education, Reintegration, Communication and Exclusive Leadership, is dedicated to helping the most underprivileged children and young of the Anosy region of southern Madagascar. It helps infants to gain basic literacy and numeracy skills, enabling them to enter the state school system; it also provides life skills training for young people and literacy classes for mothers. 142 children went through the first term at the CERCLE and reentered local schools in September – the teachers report that the children are achieving excellent results!
This initiative reflects a cycle of dedication towards local empowerment and learning that underscores and echoes The Trust’s commitments when it began its story some 25 years ago: a commitment towards local ownership and leadership. A story of tragic loss turned into acts of hope.
The legacy of a man who inspired so many people – and whose name is immortalized in dedications in the UK, in Wales, London, Norfolk, as well as in Madagascar at Libanona, Petriky, and Ft Dauphin – lives on in these acts of hope, like the CERCLE.
On December 14th, the team of Andry Lalana Tohana (ALTMG) held a ceremony and event to mark the 25 year anniversary of Andrew’s mission to Madagascar and his passing in Petriky. They created their own plaque to commemorate him and the 25 years.
This coming year, in 2020, we give thanks for that inspiration and the legacy. Those who knew Andrew personally, worked with him, grew with him, and many who just met him for a moment, remember how he touched their lives. Today, people who never met Andrew are still touched by his spirit, by the special character and passion he brought into the world. In Madagascar and in the UK, in connections that span across the planet, he is not forgotten.
We extend our gratitude to all those who have worked with and supported, the Trust and its actions over the last twenty five years. We remember Marek Mayer, one of the Trust’s co-Founders, and Mme Olga Marovavy Solondrenibe of ALT MG, and we thank all who have contributed to honouring Andrew’s memory, and his legacy.