Communications! Communications! Communications!

14:53 on March 9th 2012


Baseline survey VVD

This week there have been many international phone calls to Madagascar, emails, skype calls and messages flying back and forth. Communications! Its all about communications!

I’ve been talking to the team about the project design and methodology for Village Voices for Development, speaking with UN agencies and investigating others to see what collaboration and supports we can get for the project ; and writing/publishing the new project website pages.see

The ALT MG team has gone into the field to pre-test the baseline survey with Androy villagers for the Village Voices for Development (VVD) project.

They sent these new photos today( inset, above and below)  

We need to talk to villagers and collect as much information as we can from them: firstly to measure what they already know about their rights to information and freedom of speech and secondly to help identify which subjects are the most important to them right now. This will help us a) measure the impacts of the project – comparing what they knew and how they acted at the start of the project and results after six months of radio programming and mobile phone in debates and b) support the villagers in focusing on which are the key questions and concerns they wish to raise/share with decision makers in the region.

This all sounds quite simple but in fact requires a great deal of consideration and skill. So the team in Madagascar have been receiving technical advice and support from me and another volunteer – an anthropologist familiar with the southern context and culture, Antonie Kraemer, currently based in the capital Antananarivo. We’ve also be consulting with a ‘media for development’ monitoring and evaluation specialist, Nicola Harford, to make sure our research design and methodology will yield quality infromation.

We all know how important it is to get this part of the project right.  this is not an easy place to work and its important to listen to the community and understand the issues

The south is climatically challenged with annual drought. An average of 15 communes suffer severe food shortages each year and once you pass the Manambaro river in the rain shadow of the south east mountain range, there is no easy, dependable fresh water supply for a good two days drive. Water is trucked across the south and villagers have to buy it at approx 10p  per bucket, expensive if you are living hand to mouth.  There is no electricity in the villagers, no sanitation and many communities are extremely isolated (no roads).

The indigenous, unique spiny forest of southern Madagascar,  home to hundreds of species found nowhere else on the planet, is under increasing pressure for firewood. The forest is packed with medicinal herbs and, of course, the spirits of the ancestors who must always be consulted and honoured if new ideas and new projects are to work.

ANTANDROY belief systems, customs and a traditional ways of life can sometimes run counter to a western model of development. For example cattle are sacred and the Antandroy man’s goal in life is to accumulate as many as possible. Not to sell or eat but to sacrifice at death so that he can ensure a better afterlife. It is hard to see the difference between a poor man and a rich man in Androy. Both live in a wooden hut, dress simply and live on the edge. But the rich man has 600 head of cattle (his ‘bank account’) and the poor man might have just a goat or two.

Relationships are polygamous. A wealthy man may have as many as 6 wives and 60 children. There is no inheritance. When he dies all the Antandroy’s cattle are slaughtered. They will pay for an elaborate tomb which will be decorated with the horns of his cattle and a small concrete house will be built on top of the tomb. This will provide a home for his spirit – only now a solid house to live in because the after-life is so much longer than this one.

If development agencies arrive in Androy with their own development agenda, with what they believe are the right solutions, and they fail to listen to local perspectives on what might work or what local people want, the risk of failure increases.

COMMUNICATIONS  is a vital part of the development process: listening to what people know and understand already – after all, the Antandroy have survived this environment for hundreds of years and are not known as ‘the people of the thorns’ for nothing!; hearing what they think, and what they have to say, and understanding how they want to see things change is very important. Only then might we be able to help empower them with the tools they need to help themselves.

People want to be listened to and be given teh tools they need to turn their lives around, for example: seeds, equipment, medicines, training,  education ……and ways to communicate these needs and their own ideas and solutions to the decision makers. Thats what we hope Project VVD will do.


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