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Trip ‘of a lifetime’ to Madagascar

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So excited to learn: Gabrielle Madeiros with children from the village of Ambolomanjarivo

A group of budding Bermudian conservationists have enjoyed the “trip of a lifetime” to the rural communities and rainforests of Madagascar.

Fifteen teenagers from the Bermuda Zoological Society’s Junior Volunteer programme got their hands dirty helping villagers from Ambolomanjarivo build a new school. They also got involved in teaching the local children English and French.

The group and three BZS staff, who took part in a huge fundraising drive to help finance the three-week voyage, travelled across the African island in search of endemic creatures including lemurs and the endangered fossa.

“It was an absolutely incredible experience,” 16-year-old Freyja Kermode said. “I loved every minute of it.

“I loved the teaching we did with the children. It was so rewarding to see the children take on board all the things we were telling them.

“They were so excited to learn. It was also amazing to work with such a great group of people; it was like a family away from home.

“I would definitely think about a career in teaching and trying to help people in other countries after this trip.”

The BZS group, who teamed up with the Access Madagascar Initiative, flew to Madagascar via Boston and Paris on August 6 and began their voyage in the capital Antananarivo.

They then headed two hours north to the village of Ambolomanjarivo where they joined a major community project to build a local school.

“Our children really got involved in this effort,” said Alex Amat, the BZS youth programme co-ordinator.

“They did everything from making the cement to putting up the beams in the school buildings. It was also amazing to see our volunteers teaching these young local children, some as young as one or two, when they had never taught before.

“They really threw themselves into the lesson, and the local children just loved having them there to speak to and listen. Everyone was extremely sad to leave the village.”

After a week in Ambolomanjarivo the group headed out to the east side of the island where they visited national parks and Lemur Island. They then travelled back to the capital and 14 hours south towards the Kirindy Forest in search of the fossa, which is only found in Madagascar. The group finished their trip in the seaside fishing town of Belo Sur Mer where they sailed traditional vessels.

“It was amazing to see the relationships and the bonds in the group grow over the time we were away,” Dr Amat said.

“We really were like a family by the end of the trip during which we were able to see so many aspects of life in Madagascar.

“I think Madagascar gave all the volunteers a new and incredible perspective of the world.

“It has created an even stronger relationship between Bermuda and Madagascar and I’m sure that many will want to return to this beautiful island again.”

The group returned to Bermuda on August 26 in time for the last week of summer camps run by the BZS.

Principal curator Ian Walker said: “The BZS is excited to be able to send its junior volunteers who have invested their time in BAMZ to Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world and one that we feature in a major exhibit.

“The island is a biodiversity hotspot with many animals and plants that are found nowhere else on earth.

“Our students had the chance of a lifetime to see some of the wildlife we highlight, methods of conservation and for them to give back to Malagasy communities. Trips like these often forge lasting friendships between different cultures and inherently improve perspectives of how our young people view themselves and the world around them.”

Making new friends: CaVon Raynor enjoys the affection of a lemur in Madagascar
Creating bonds: during their Madagascar trip, Bermudians from the Bermuda Zoological Society’s Junior Volunteer programme established relationships with villagers and local children
Building blocks: Jack Patterson seen helping villagers from Ambolomanjarivo in Madagascar build their new school
Cultural ties: Bermudians forged lasting friendships