A Big Thankyou
As our second year in Madagascar draws to a close, we want to say a big THANKYOU to you for all your support – whether it be prayers, interest in what’s happening, finances, love, liking our famadagascar facebook page photos etc. We appreciate it all!
This year has been a second confirmation that we are in the “right place at the right time”, and we marvel at God’s wisdom in His choice and calling. There is so much to report, so we choose some exciting highlights (and realistic lowlights) to share with you.
The kids have settled well into their new school. We are so proud of their integration as “foreigners” into a completely new school system. One example: getting used to the strange stares as they open their lunch boxes and eat sandwiches with bread instead of a box of rice! But they have friends from all over the world including China, Korea, Madagascar, Mauritius, South Africa, Canada and others and are beating their parents hands-down at language learning! John has been training the teachers and managed to get the school officially approved to offer International GSCEs and A’levels, so Vision Valley School is now the first British Accredited School in the country. There is massive interest in Madagascar to offer British Education and John has been establishing important contacts through the British Embassy. This summer he has received an invitation to visit Cambridge University to discuss helping them introduce their teacher programs into the country and is currently working 2 days per week for the British School of Madagascar; implementing the curriculum, introducing marking and assessment, inspecting lessons etc etc.
Madagascar in the News.
This year like most years has been tumultuous for Madagascar in a number of ways. The year started with a 5.5 earthquake, I (John) was in the loo at 1 am when all the walls started shaking! (surely that curry wasn’t that strong!) Cath jumped out of bed in a bit of a panic, wondering if the house would survive if there was another stronger tremor. There wasn’t, the kids slept through it and it passed as a minor event. Thankfully no one killed and only little structural damage at the epi centre 200km away.
In February we had quite another worrying night, as the plastics factory opposite our house spectacularly blew up, a scorching fire raged all night and blew tonnes of thick black acrid smoke into the night sky. Cath got the kids up, packed up our valuables into a box and evacuated down the garden to the lake. The kids were pretty scared and so they prayed; miraculously a wind blew the flames and smoke in the opposite direction to our house and not even one tree was harmed. If the wind had blown the opposite way, the whole house would have burnt down.
By January the “summer” rains have usually arrived, this year the clouds built but the rains did not fall. Day after day the rice farmers peered out of their ramshackle dwellings, totally dependent on the liquid from the skies for their harvest but it did not fall. The ground became harder and harder, the crops thinner and thinner and the price of rice (already un affordable for many Malagasy) went up by 50%. By the end of February we were sending emergency prayer requests home and then a week into March just as some of the harvest was beginning to die; cyclone Enawo came thunging straight through the middle of the island. It hit land fall with 120mph winds but deposited 12 inches of precious rain on its slow journey south. Overnight the rivers and rice fields were filled to overflowing; the harvest survived and there was enough water for one more late summer rice planting, but sadly many people’s homes were destroyed.
These natural disasters, coupled with the every day struggle just to find enough food to feed the family highlight the fact that each year in Madagascar, the general population get poorer and poorer. Over 90% of the population now live on UNICEF’s definition of severe poverty less than $1.50 per day. We do what we can through our charity FAMadagascar but it really is a drop of help in an ocean of need! However for the dozen individuals or so who we are supporting it is life transforming.
We employed our first social worker and manager, Lanto, in January, who is an absolute God-send in the true meaning of the word. He speaks fluent English (a rare thing here), and when we discovered his experience and training we were amazed (and so was he) at how he seems to have been prepared for his role with Famadagascar.org He jumped straight into liaising with government officials, and child judges in order to get foster care officially off the ground here. We have formed an official approval committee with the purpose of approving foster families and placements, which includes heads of departments of police, education and health, a child judge, local government officials as well as two other Christian NGOs – Iris, and a maternity clinic that we work closely with. Last month this committee officially approved our first 6 foster families. Our six foster care families are all committed Christians. The government conducted the first training, and we have completed two more training sessions. Our training involves looking in detail at how God parents us, and we dovetail this with the latest research and up-to-date training on “therapeutic parenting” for traumatised children, using a model called P.A.C.E. (Playfulness, Acceptance, Curiosity and Empathy). Underpinning everything is prayer and impartation of the Father heart of God “who is a father to the fatherless” – a true expert therapeutic parent. We are now awaiting for the final agreement from the Ministry of Justice, and our foster families will then start receiving their first placements. They will be the capital city’s first official foster carers. There are just 4 child judges in the capital city here, all of which have told us that there is a crisis here, with overcrowded orphanages and many children in desperate situations, and that the need to start foster care is long overdue. When we told them that we are starting small, with just 6 foster families – they were disappointed! But despite the pressure to grow quickly, we know that we must learn to walk before we can run and we hope our model will inspire other organisations to empower and equip Malagasy foster families. We are currently looking for sponsors for these foster families. If you are interested in sponsoring a foster family, and empowering them to reach out to Malagasy children in crisis, please contact us.
We know that the child abandonment and abuse crisis here in Tana, will only be resolved when there is better support structures within the community. Foster care is wonderful but is just a plaster on an endemic problem. We believe children back with birth family where safe to do so is always the best child care option available, and we will be doing a lot of work with foster children’s birth families to maintain contact and leave the door open for future reunification.
In the meantime, we have been supporting a few families in the community at risk of child abandonment, who have been thriving under our care. We work closely with a local Christian NGO who have set up a maternity clinic on the outskirts of the city, and they often refer mums and babies to us. Many women and children have come to them having suffered sexual and physical abuse and many are on the edge of malnutrition. One young mum was referred to us, and when we first met her we were amazed to discover that she and her family could only afford to eat, three days per week. Her mother works in a factory making baskets and earns about 60p a day. We are taking back samples of her work to the U.K. to sell for her to help her start a crochet business . We plan on helping another 5 families start micro businesses when we return in September, skills the families have range from building pet kennels to making baskets! If we can help them with start up costs for materials and tools, these micro businesses will raise the entire extended family out of grinding poverty into hop.
Our small team has been working with the child beggars on the busy road near our home. After visiting the parents of these children and conducting quite clever assessments, the sad truth became apparent, 5 out of the 6 families interviewed were not willing to send their desperate children to school (even when we promised to pay school fees, and provide a micro-business for them) as begging is so lucrative. One family we met makes more from child begging than our social worker does! Sadly, this is a “child’s rights” issue, which would need to involve the police and government who just don’t have the systems in place to deal with these sorts of issues at present. Thankfully, one child beggar family genuinely does want to help to get their kids off the street and into school and understand the importance of their children becoming literate and having the possibility of breaking the generational begging cycle. This family is one of a further 6 families FAMadagascar currently supports. Here is the eldest girl looking forward to starting school in September instead of running alongside cars and trucks begging, in the punishing heat.
We continue to enjoy attending Tana City Church which is not too far from our house. The church has been a great blessing in providing good spiritual food and insights as enabling solid links to be forged with other NGOs and missions working throughout the city.
John has continued to help out with the Malagasy House Church which sprung up 20 months ago. Four new believers were baptised a few weeks ago. The new indigenous believers are all maturing and doing well and the church continues to grow.
We are now returning back to the U.K. for 8 weeks to work at the Christian English Language School in Christchurch for the summer and save up for our Air fares ready to return for next leg of our Madagascan adventure in September.
We’ll keep you posted