Lucy Harper and Matt McCartney


The most prominent thing that stands out for us about Mahatsinjo is the community and the way they welcome you without expectation or agenda. On the first night we arrived Edmond and Ratine (our host family) welcomed us into their home for dinner. The food (lovingly prepared by Ratine) was exceptionally good, and throughout our stay we really felt that we got a true experience of Malagasy cuisine. Ratine had also organised on the first night, for some of the children from the area to come and sing, dance and play music for us. We immediately felt accepted and were extra excited for classes to start.


Since neither of us spoke Malagasy, we were initially unsure about how we would manage communicating effectively with the children and with the community. However, the fact that we were the only native English speakers there actually ended up being to our benefit as it forced us to engage in the Malagasy language and relate more with the locals.

The translator Sadabe had hired, Ravo, although not fully fluent in English, was indispensible when it came to our class. Having him involved meant that we could undertake activities we would never have been able to undertake alone. Quite a few weeks in to our stay we ventured out, with Ravo, to visit some of the children’s homes. We hadn’t realised the distance some of them had to travel to come to our class (some houses were up to an hour’s walk away). When invited into their homes we witnessed the extent the art elements of the education project were valued. On nearly every family’s walls there were drawings and paintings that the children had done in our class. Being welcomed guests in their homes was a truly warm and memorable experience for us.


The Primary objectives of our classes were:

First and foremost to provide opportunities for children to be children and to learn through fun – a universal right.

To build sustainable and environmental awareness through positive experiences.

To offer visual arts and creativity as the medium through which to engage such topics.

By the end of our stay we felt we had achieved the objectives we had set. The details of three of our main projects within the class are outlined below.

Personal artistic catalogue of endemic flora and fauna (specific to the Tsinjoarivo region): the goal for this project was to develop knowledge, awareness, empathy and ownership of living systems that make up the Tsinjoarivo environment. We were wary of potential relationship barriers that could develop if we (as outsiders) were to talk down to the children and bombard them with information about environmental and sustainability issues. Rather, we wanted to spark a dialogue, and position the children as the experts of THEIR Tsinjoarivo environment. Through the enjoyable and motivating medium of visual arts (in conjunction with various dramatic and active games) the children each developed their own catalogue of the local endemic flora and fauna. Each catalogue represents the artistic talent of its creator and knowledge of the local endemic environment – both worth celebrating.


Calendar project involved the children creating a series of images that reflect important events and values from the Tsinjoarivo region across each month of the year. These images celebrate the children’s pride in their community and environment and are to be published as a calendar.  The goal of this project is to increase a global dialogue about the Tsinjoarivo region and the work of Sadabe, while incidentally raising revenue through calendar sales to fund future education projects.

Seedling project – endemic and citrus: For us this project richly reflects the work and mission of SADABE (to develop novel and innovative ways to promote the coexistence of people and wildlife in Tsinjoarivo). This project concluded with each child owning an endemic seedling and a citrus seedling to be planted in their own homes. Through the care and growth of both seedling groups, the project represents great nutritional, economic and positive environmental potential for the community. This project started with the children each taking care of a collection of endemic seedlings that are important in the diet of the diademed sifaka. The hands-on care of the seedling promoted awareness of the frailty of the forest while celebrating its potential growth and strength. We wanted the children to take ownership of that growth and hopefully achieve success in establishing new forest growth in their home property. The project culminated with the facilitation of a large community education gathering. Each child from the project, along with family representatives attended the event. Detailed information and practical demonstrations about the care and growth of citrus trees was presented and each child was provided with their own citrus seedling. In most cases this meant that each family had a small group of citrus seedlings to begin their own orchid. Orange and mandarin orchids offer arable diversity and increased economic strength that can take the pressure off unpredictable or unsustainable yields from other crops. They are also delicious!