It was a ratsy lalana to Beparasy, or a bad road to Mangarivotra as we soon found out. This little town in eastern Madagascar, located 54km from the town of Moramanga, has recently been renamed from “Many fleas” to “Blue air” in a bid to increase its appeal. Yet appeal it had as Madagasikara Voakajy launched their third annual festival to celebrate the hard work that local Malagasy communities have been undertaking in a bid to protect their forest from the devastation of environmental threats such as slash-and burn agriculture and illegal gold mining.
Representatives of all the local villages that have been taking part in protecting the Mangabe New Protected area arrived from a far to convene on Tuesday 9th September in the grounds of the local school. All 11 community-based organizations (VOI or Vondron’Olona Ifotony) were also present. The festival started as any special Malagasy event does, with the raising of the flag and a melodic national anthem. Speeches were followed by representatives of local community organisations and sections of the government including the District of Moramanga, the Ministry of Environment, Ecology, and Forest, the Ministry of Land Management, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Population, and the Gendarmerie Nationale. Performances by local groups were intermittently displayed with standout acts including an impressive may pole dance and a singing-dancing-drum-group complete with a golden Mantella frog dance performed by two extremely young but ever so talented artists. Check it out @ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5Jcz_ls2MNI#t=36). There was also a notable visit from Indri lemur mascot and Golden Mantella frog mascot, which joined up for a dance with some local children in lemur masks.
Based on evaluation for each VOI, awards were presented to outstanding local communities members for their efforts to conserve the Mangabe protected area. This year, the top three VOIs were: Miavotena from Lakambato, Ezaka Tantsaha from Avolo, and Soamiafara from Ampahitra. They respectively received a reward of Ariary 900,000 for the two execo, and Ariary 600,000 for the third place. All other VOIs received Ariary 400,000 each. These awards will be used to run community projects according to the training the community organisations received last March. Following the presentations, a sacrificial zebu was served during a giant feast, to thank the community representatives and performers.
We were delighted to be joined by the visiting director of a British NGO called ‘Size of Wales’ that helps to fund the protected area. The Malagasy were excited to welcome Claire Raisin and her partner Luke Merrey, who then became a local star in a passionate football match that followed the feast. It was a close game, won only by a long set of final kick-offs. The winning teams were no-less glorious in their triumph and accepted the giant trophy with pride.
The celebration ended as all the best ones do, with some thumping speakers and a raging dance floor. The Madagasikara Voakajy staff managed a tremendous job with their remarkable planning, cooking, and celebratory skills. It was a huge effort but the community thoroughly enjoyed the marathon of fun events and everybody went home with some really special memories. We are grateful to all partners and donors who contributed to the organization of the 2014 festival and looking forward to the festival next year.