Anosy Village Visit
My name is Emily, and I’m 15 years old. I came to Madagascar this summer to be an intern in communications at PIVOT. I’m working under the supervision of Elizabeth Marshall, shadowing her and learning about her experiences as Manager of External Communications in the PIVOT office, as well as in the community. Recently, we took a trip to a fokontany, or small village, called Anosy.
Anosy is located just outside Kelilalina, Madagascar. It is reachable only by an hour-and-a-half hike along a rough trail, followed by a rowboat ride across a narrow river. It’s home to just over 390 people, and is led by a king, an elected official who serves as leader for his entire lifetime. In Anosy, as well as many other fokontany, PIVOT supports a community health site which is staffed by two community health workers from the village. In Anosy, PIVOT constructed and painted the building for the health site, and provided furniture, including a large wooden armoire, three chairs, a table, and two benches. All the materials and furniture were carried by porters along the same trail that we hiked.
We embarked upon our journey early in the morning, and drove as far as the road would take us. When we got out of the car, we met three members of PIVOT’s community team. All together we were eight people – these community team members, a porter, two PIVOT guides, Elizabeth (my mentor), my dad, and I. The porter was very young but incredibly strong. He carried two large backpacks, one on his back, the other over his shoulder. He was one of the fastest hikers in our group even though he wore no shoes. The rest of us carried only light backpacks and were equipped with hiking boots, yet we could barely keep up.
The trail we hiked was frequently traveled, and we met many people along the way. As is custom, we shook their hands and greeted them as we passed. Most of the people were bringing small items back to Anosy. Some had axes used for chopping trees and other plants, and some carried banana bunches tied to sticks that they slung over their backs. The most interesting traveller we saw was a woman sitting on a chair that was connected to two poles and carried in the air by a group of men. A parade of female family members of all ages, one carrying a newborn baby, followed her. We asked why she wasn’t walking like the rest of them, and were told that she was on her way home from the local CSB (Centre de Santé de Base, a local health center similar to a clinic) after giving birth. This was heartening to witness, since only about 20% of women in the Ifanadiana District deliver in CSBs or the district hospital, and death during childbirth is sadly common. Changing this is one of PIVOT’s main goals.
The trail was very hilly and often slippery. There were rarely any flat sections, and when there were, they were covered in puddles of water and mud. Occasionally, we passed a rice paddy, or walked over a small stream by hopping over rocks or walking over a single piece of wood. After hiking for about an hour and a half, we reached the bank of a small river. A woman in a rowboat paddled across to meet us. She took us in groups of three to the other side. Finally, about two hours after our start, we reached our destination, Anosy.
We were immediately greeted by many people, young and old. A path led directly to the entrance of the village, and the first building we saw was the community health site. It stood out from the other houses because of its distinctive blue and white coloring, the colors of a typical health center. It was a small wooden building with a metal roof and two rooms, one for consultation, and one which serves as housing for visiting community workers and volunteers. Inside the building, we were met by the king of the fokontany and two health workers who live in Anosy. In addition to the donated furniture, there was a scale hanging on the wall used to weigh malnourished children. Inside the armoire were several books and ledgers which are used to keep track of medicines and patient visits. There was also a box full of the medicine supplied by PIVOT. These community health workers had been trained by PIVOT to use the ledgers, dispense medicines, and take patient histories. Every month, PIVOT visits these fokontany to ensure the proper protocols are being followed and to collect data. They also speak with members of the community, and give presentations.
The community team got to work checking ledgers and unpacking their things for their overnight stay. They gave a presentation to the group in Malagasy. Afterwards the king gave Elizabeth, my dad and me a tour of the village. He explained that a king is elected, serves for his whole life, and lives in a special residence in the center of the village. The king is a respected elder, but like everyone else, he was in bare feet. The palace looked like the other buildings, but was slightly larger, and was distinguished by a metal roof, whereas the other buildings had thatched roofs made of wood and grasses.
Elizabeth and I documented everything and took some great pictures of the village and the adorable children. At the end of our visit we thanked the king and all the people that had come out to greet us. We left Anosy and hiked back up the trail as smiling children followed and waved goodbye.
My visit to Anosy was an amazing experience, well worth the strenuous hike. I’ve never seen a place like Anosy, but that characterizes every experience I’ve had in Madagascar. It’s truly impossible to understand what life is like here until one experiences it first-hand. Every word has a different meaning here than it does in the US. When you think of a bed, you probably imagine blankets and pillows, but here it might be a grass sleeping mat on a dirt floor, sometimes covered by a plastic tarp. A house here is likely smaller than most rooms you’ve been in. A bathroom might be a small huts made of sticks, with long leaves woven to create walls. I hope reading this has given you a glimpse of what life is like here, and hopefully, has left you as entranced by Madagascar as I am.