If you are considering becoming a volunteer English teacher with Hope for Madagascar and are interested in hearing about the perspective of someone who has already had the experience, here is my very recent and detailed account.
Volunteer Opportunities in Madagascar
When researching volunteer opportunities in Madagascar, I came across dozens of possibilities but only a couple immediately grabbed my attention because of a combination of two reasons. First, the programs were already well established and received regular participants, often quite a handful at a time. This is wonderful of course but Madagascar is huge and I felt that my time would be better given to a location that is more remote and not in receipt of so much attention already. Second, the majority of these programs were also very expensive with costs running into thousands for a couple of weeks of work. While I understood that this money would go on to support the local economy and the running costs of the NGO, on this occasion, I wanted my contribution to be of time and energy, not money.
Hope for Madagascar was one of the organizations that stood out for me as the exception to both of these dilemmas, the location was very, very off the beaten path and the costs minimal, only covering the actual expenses of transport, food, housing and whatever school supplies I needed which in Madagascar is all very reasonable. I got in touch with the charity (they were very nice and responded promptly), confirmed the details and really looked forward to heading to that picturesque East coast! My stay would last a month and I had no idea what to expect but looked forward to the adventure that would unfold soon.
Making My Way Over Towards Manakara
Once in Madagascar, I was matched with a local English speaking volunteer who would accompany me throughout my entire journey. As I don’t speak French or Malagasy, communicating would have otherwise been very difficult but if you speak some French this may not be entirely necessary. I struck gold and could not have been luckier with my companion; she was very positive and so helpful – especially when it came to translating in the classroom. We met in Tana and took a public bus, a 14-hour overnight journey, followed by about a 45-minute walk to the village of Anosimparihy where we would spend the next month. The location is roughly ninety kilometers before the popular coastal city of Manakara and along a well-maintained national road. The population of the village itself was just under two thousand people and I would estimate that at least 60% were children, it’s was a very lively place!
Arriving At The Village & Settling In
Upon arrival, we immediately met with the very friendly mayor of the village to discuss our plans, he was expecting us and was very enthusiastic about the work we would set out to do. Next, it was time for a cold bucket shower (no problem as the weather was scorching hot) and then to settle into our very basic and very rustic accommodation. We would share a simple wooden house, separated by a half wall. My side had a table and some benches but no mattress, which was fine, as I had brought a mat and sleeping bag. All was good! Finally, it was time to head to the school to meet with the local teachers and to agree our schedule. I had freedom to choose which grades or ages I wanted to teach (and for what length) and ended up with one weekly class for each of the 9 grades there. My mornings were to be spent with the primary and afternoons with the secondary school students.
Above: Typical village life and its gorgeous surroundings where I took many hikes. Also watching a local football match with competing villages, it was quite good!
Education In Rural Madagascar
The younger kids had no previous exposure to the English language but they were incredibly enthusiastic and paid full attention our whole time together. The older students had regular weekly English classes but genuinely appreciated the opportunity to interact with a fluent speaker and to experience a different way of learning. Both groups were very motivated, not once did anyone cry, fall asleep or throw a tantrum. Quite a contrast to what I have been used to and very refreshing!
The education system in the village is very basic. Teachers loosely follow a national curriculum but there are no additional resources for students to compliment or support their learning. No libraries, no Internet, no media and no textbooks! Some students did not even have pens. In primary school one teacher has the students for the whole day and teaches them all subjects while in secondary school there is a dedicated expert teacher in most subjects. In line with the rest of the county, all lessons are taught in French.
Timetables were very loose also, sometimes whole days were cancelled for the primary school students when their teacher had something else to do and the school was completely closed for an additional 5 days of my month there because of training or national holidays. I know from speaking to other volunteers that this is quite common nationwide, mostly because the teachers are paid a very low salary that doesn’t cover their cost of living. When they have the opportunity to earn more money, like going to sell their harvests at a weekly market for example, they have to take it. So, prepare to be flexible with your planning and note that of course you can organize lessons and activities when there are cancellation, there will still be plenty of very interested kids!
Conclusion, Was It Worth It?
I spent four laughter filled weeks with the roughly two hundred students enrolled in the schools and it was a very positive and worthwhile experience in every way. I was well looked after by the charity as well as the mayor and his wife, and the kids just shined. We learned new practical vocabulary and grammar, listened to some English music, and played lots of games. We even watched a few English cartoons over the weekends when I could find solar power to charge my laptop. I came to volunteer because after all my blessings, I wanted to give sometime back. I wanted to teach where it was truly needed and this was absolutely it. At best, we enriched the learning of our students just a pinch and at least, we shared lots of laughs together! It was definitely worth it.
If you are interested in learning more about Hope for Madagascar or want to make a donation to support their life changing work, please head over to their website now. I‘m happy to answer any specific questions you have about volunteering with them so please don’t hesitate to get in touch if you have any! And finally, I also have lots more inspirational Madagascan related updates to post soon, so if you are interested, ensure you subscribe below.