Reflections on Trekking Madagascar for WaterAid

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It has now been nearly a month since my return from the beautiful island of Madagascar, and although I’ve already shared many stories with friends and family, now feels like an appropriate time for a little bit more reflection because albeit short, it really was a trip of a lifetime and I’m eternally grateful for having had the opportunity to experience it. I’m still not entirely sure why this trip far exceeded all of my expectations or why it felt so special. As a seasoned traveller with six continents and thirty-five countries under my belt, I can say with certainty that there was more to it than just following my sense of wanderlust or having a new experience.  It was something deeper that I can’t quite put into appropriate words but feel compelled to try anyway.

The aim of this trip was to try and raise money for WaterAid and to learn more about the work they do in Madagascar.  Of course, with that came the opportunity to learn more about the country, and to experience some of its natural wonders, and to meet some of its beautiful people. But prior to getting to all of that goodness, the trip was made possible because of a collective effort.  To me, this illustrated the power of our close relationships and the potential we hold in coming together in creating a better Earth.  Sounds like the biggest cliché in the world but having gone through the experience, I found it absolutely true. I received generous sponsorships from family, friends, colleagues and clients. I covered the logistical costs involved by saving and taking on extra work.  The trip came together because of all of that dedicated energy and to me, that’s pretty extraordinary. It was my first time trying such a large scale fundraising project but having had ten months to prepare, I feel it was a genuinely worthwhile effort and I would highly recommend everyone try it at least once in a life time.  It’s definitely a different way to see the world but one that deserves a second thought.

All funds raised by the trip were allocated to the construction of a new gravity flow water system in the region of Bongolava, which has one of the poorest rates (30%) of access to water in the country.  Once completed in 2018, the system will provide safe water points for the community there and it has been a privilege to play a little part in such a significant and tangible event.  

As part of the trip, we also got to visit the village of Amboniandrefana where WaterAid has actually already completed a project and saw firsthand what a huge difference a few carefully managed resources can make. The community there consists of about 900 people who now benefit from the building of a toilet and shower block, a washing station and numerous public taps. According to the WaterAid representative there, the project cost approximately ten thousand Euros to complete a few years prior. It was a very heartwarming visit because, in addition to seeing the work of WaterAid, we also got to experience the kind nature and strong spirit of the locals there. They gave us the warmest welcome and treated us to a lunch which I’m sure was not easy to pull together when there is so little to spare.  It was a day I’m not likely to ever forget.

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Having now considered the preparations involved and the important work of WaterAid, there was still much more to what made this adventure so amazing. One other, especially important aspect, that touched my heart was the special group of people that made this trip unfold exactly how it did. That is, the people responsible for organising the trek and leading the way, our little group of participants, and of course, the many smiling locals we met along the way.

One benefit to travelling in a group, for an extended period of time, is the opportunity to make genuine connections because of all the shared experiences. We had so many different stories & personalities but we all came together with similar motivations and everything went smoothly. Everyone truly looked after one other and this was especially important because there was a quite a lot of illness going on and one evening we even had to deal with an out of control wildfire.  But I honestly saw only genuine warmth, teamwork, and goodness come from it all. There was no conflict, no selfishness and no resentment. Despite all that is wrong with humanity today, we are all basically good at heart, and observing how we instinctually behave when someone is ill or when tragedy has the potential to strike, is a beautiful illustration of that.

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This article wouldn’t be complete without me also touching on the natural wonders of Madagascar. We only had a very limited amount of time on this trip and covered a tiny tiny part of the central highlands but it was enough to make me feel completely wonderstruck.  The majestic landscapes, glorious mountains, luscious rainforests and of course, the playful lemurs, are just barely scratching the surface of what Madagascar has to offer. For a nature lover, the country can be paradise.

I’m aware that I’ve painted quite a colourful picture of Madagascar here, when it also has its dark side just like any other place in the world. I was fortunate enough to only experience the positive and remain completely humbled by the experience as most other visitors do. It’s actually heartbreaking to see Madagascar now get so much bad publicity for the sake of catchy headlines. I hope that people put off by misinformed press dig a little deeper, and that more people in general begin to consider it as their travel destination for responsible tourism so that their economy can continue to grow and the infrastructure improve.

To conclude, I'll simply reiterate that it’s difficult to believe how twelve days could make such an impact on so many lives. Be it with happy memories, lessons learnt, or work accomplished; I know that I’d be a different person had I not gone and I'm sure I'm not alone. And now, as the poem by Rumi goes, goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. There is a piece of the experience within me, in exchange for one piece left behind.

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