Hello Family, Friends, Friends of Friends...my six degrees of separation!
In case you don't already know me, my name is Roxanne Rahnama and I am third year undergradaute at the University of California, Berkeley, where I study Environmental Economics and Policy in the College of Natural Resources. I also minor in a unique and interdisciplinary program called Global Poverty and Practice (http://blumcenter.berkeley.
A key component of this minor is a mandatory fieldwork experience (hence Global Poverty and Practice), in which we partner with NGOS or other organizations around the world for a minimum of 200 hours, in order to critically engage with the theories we study in our different classes in a pratical/real life setting.
This summer, I have the very exciting opportunity to work for six weeks in rural southeast Madagascar (the Anosy region) with UK registered charity (No. 1079121) and Malagasy NGO called Azafady (http://www.madagascar.co.uk/index.htm). I was drawn to this program for a number of different reasons, including the fact that it is run by ~70 local Malagasy staff with knowledge of local context and needs, the transparency of the organizations finances (90% of program costs are invested directly into the projects they work on) and the diversity of projects volunteers participate in, many of which highlight the interconnections of sectors of development. I was also drawn the fact that it takes place in Madagascar, one of the most bio diverse and geographically marginalized regions in Africa that the general population associates with a Dreamworks animated film on zoo animals, in spite of alarmingly high poverty levels, large-scale dependence on foreign aid, and public sector corruption.
The projects that I will be working on will be physical-labor intensive and arranged based on the expressed and context-specific needs of the communities of the Fort Dauphin region. Projects fall under three main categories: Sustainable Livelihoods, Health and Sanitation, and Environmental Conservation. Volunteers will camp in tents near the worksites and will be offered daily language classes in Malagasy in order to earn respect in local communities.
While I am interested in this fieldwork experience for numerous reasons, I also anticipate facing the ethical challenge of participating in a program that seems to focus primarily on short-term solutions rather than structural issues, such as unstable public finance and lacking infrastructure and investment which have left isolated rural villages in poverty for years. In order to prepare to critically engage with the possible challenges ahead, I am currently enrolled in GPP 105: The Ethics, Methods and Pragmatics of Global Practice, in which we spend the semester studying methodologies of research, survey design, etc. and writing a literature review on the program and history of the regions we will be working in. During the summer, in addition to the physical labor, I will be engaging with the local communities and conducting research on the community driven development in Madagascar. When we finish our practices, all GPP students either write a thesis incorporated into their major or take GPP 196, which provides students with a forum for reflection after their development fieldwork.
My drive has always been fueled by an instinctive pull toward dedicating my life in service to the poor, whose poverty most often enables our lives of material comfort and wealth. However, up until this point, my education has been attained in the emotionally discomforting setting of comfort. I have learned enough and become increasingly cynical through my consumption of rhetoric to know that I do not know enough about the hope, integrity, struggles and unimaginable resilience of the real, lived experiences of the poor. I am looking forward to this summer's opportunity to humanize my understanding of development beyond numbers, figures and academic analyses on paper.
Azafady asks us to fundraise the minimum donation of our program fees as a mechanism of raising awareness about this beautiful and resource-rich, yet socioeconomically poor nation off the coast of Africa. I deeply appreciate any support that you can provide and am happy to provide any further information ([email protected]).