Madagascar Link

BLEAN CHURCH MADAGASCAR LINK

Life in Madagascar

The multi-faceted landscape of Madagascar reflects, in many ways, the lives of its people. On the one hand they remain an agricultural-based society, and on the other they cannot avoid the fact that they live in a global society. Indeed, technology produced in other parts of the world is bringing great benefits. Take the use of planes and drones to deliver medicine to remote areas, the tech-hub businesses in the capital Antananarivo (‘Tana’), and the future promise of 3D-printed school buildings.

All of this rises above the fact that a very high percentage of people in Madagascar do not have a job as such, 75% live on less than $1.90 a day, and eke a living from subsistence farming. With an ever-burgeoning population this, in turn, means a continuous fight to save the country from the devastation of mining exploitation, deforestation and an ever-reducing habitat for animals, birds and other living creatures. Three-quarters of children live in severe poverty, and are often sent out to labour at a very young age, instead of attending school.

Weather systems are intense and have a role to play in the economy of the country. Madagascar experiences frequent cyclones and devastating floods, particularly in the north – ruining the rudimentary infrastructure, making travel and commerce very difficult and exacerbating poverty; in the south much of the landscape is a virtual desert for most of the year, and many people have become semi-nomadic due to their inability to grow crops, sustain cattle or even find enough water for themselves. As if that were not enough, plagues of locusts, serious diseases, some corrupt politicians and poor law and order in remote areas, add to the challenges.

Fortunately, the Malagasy are very resilient; despite having so little in life, they are often very cheerful and accepting of the difficulties they face. They are also keen to help themselves, so any assistance is gratefully received and embraced with both arms. Assistance comes in the form of international aid, religious organisations, individuals and non-government organisations (NGOs).

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Over a decade ago, a link was formed between Blean Church and a dynamic priest named Rev Olivier, who lives in Ambatondrazaka, just south of Lac Alaotra in the northern half of Madagascar. Since then, there have been two visits by members of Blean congregation to Rev Olivier and his parishioners in Madagascar - in 2011 and 2018.  This ever-strengthening link depends strongly on a regular exchange of information by email, encouraging - among other things - mutual support in worship; the link is prayed for each week in both Madagascar and Blean. We learn from each other and Blean congregation makes annual payments to support projects encompassing health, hygiene, education, disaster relief and mission. This money comes from a PCC grant and funds raised by various activities, notably Madagascar-themed lunches attended by around half the regular congregation! All agree that personal interaction and plentiful exchange of photographs and information, have enriched the link-experience for communities in both Madagascar and the UK. Trust, communication and personal relationships form the core of this successful link.

These maps show where the parishes, cared-for by Rev Olivier, are located:

                                            

 

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Here are the prayers exchanged and regularly used by parishioners both in Blean and Madagascar; prayers especially written for the link:

 

                         

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Madagascar Lunches take place about once per month and everyone is welcome to join in! The aim is to hear about and discuss our various projects - and raise funds; we're talking about £5 per person - to include the cost of the lunch. Don't be shy, you don't even need to be a member of the congregation, just contact Mike Swain on 07956 638928, to find out the date and venue for the next lunch, or indeed if you want further information about our link and projects.     

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LATEST NEWS HEADLINES FROM MADAGASCAR    

  • African Development Bank funds emergency food southern Madagascar
  • Mission Aviation Fellowship begins COVID-19 vaccine delivery in rural Madagascar
  • Conservation work in Madagascar hopes to combat deforestation
  • Income inequality drives global wildlife trade
  • Lemurs eat flowers and pine needles to survive habitat loss
  • A Madagascar-sized area of forest has regrown since 2000
  • Toxic mining of rare elements for technology in Madagascar
  • Millions of dollars announced to equip hospitals
  • Madagascar ramps up COVID inoculations to suppress second wave
  • Scientists Develop New App to Predict Future Pandemic by Stopping Illegal Wildlife Trade

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Following on below are summaries of the most recent communications with Rev Olivier in Ambatondrazaka, North East Madagascar, together with other news about our link and pictures depicting religious life in Madagascar. The November 2019 article by Roger Vickerman, gives an excellent overview of current projects associated with the link.  

26th May 2021

Judy has received a letter from Rev Olivier’s wife Zo. She thanks Judy for her personal gift which has enabled the women in Manakambahiny to repair their sewing machines and restart their instruction of other women in the art of sewing with a machine. With regard to the purchase of another machine, Zo says it will have to wait until the road to the capital is re-opened, as they are not permitted to travel there at the moment due to Covid restrictions. Her daughter has also been prevented from continuing her University study in the capital for the same reason.

Zo makes mention of the recent craft fair at Blean church, in aid of Madagascar funds, and thanks the congregation for their continued effort. She asks to be remembered to members of the Mother’s Union and in particular the women of Blean Church.

Below is a picture from the craft fair Zo referred to.   

Women using the Blean-funded sewing machines in Madagascar

     

7th May 2021

We continue to think about our friends in Madagascar. So far Madagascar has not suffered as badly as some countries from Covid-19, perhaps because of its lower levels of contact with the rest of the world. International data from Johns Hopkins University records 677 deaths to 4 May (2.6/100,000 population) compared with 127,539 in the UK (190.0/100,000). Recorded rates of infection are also much lower. However, it is clear from recent messages from Revd. Olivier and his wife Zo that there is a second wave currently in progress and they are looking nervously at the situation in India. There is as yet no vaccination programme in Madagascar.

Because of this, more areas are beginning to go into lockdown and many churches are closing, although so far this has not happened in Ambatondrazaka. The women are busy sewing masks using the sewing machines we provided both for the congregations and for sale in their villages.

In Church they are respecting procedures such as hand washing and disinfecting. Using masks is obligatory. No more than 50 people are allowed at any one time.

If the situation continues to worsen and churches have to close Revd. Olivier is considering the use of local TV and Radio to keep in touch with his congregation. People are already becoming afraid of going to church for fear of infection and the Government is beginning to impose stay at home orders. We shall be discussing with Revd. Olivier how we might be able to help further to enable him to keep in touch with all his congregation in a situation where there is no universal broadband and Zoom is not an option.

1st April 2021

Rev Olivier wrote to pass on Easter greetings and update us as to the situation in Madagascar regarding Covid. Church worship continues, with a limit of 100 persons in church.

There was a report about the death of Bishop Theophile in Antsiranana and the newly elected Bishop Samitiana in Toliara.

Women in Mahatsinjo and Moramanaga continue to use their sewing machines (bought through gifts from Blean), to make masks and embroidery. Thanks were offered also for the wool sent to the Mother’s Union members from Blean church members.

12th December 2020

Rev Olivier prays for the parish of Blean in the lead up to Christmas. He has been to a Diocesan Synod meeting and reported the help which Blean was giving to him and his parishioners.

There was other news about the success of his daughter in the Baccalaureate examinations, and her hope to one day study abroad.

20th October 2020

Rev Canon Eileen Routh writes to Rev Olivier promising mutual support in this time of Covid. Blean parish had sent money to be used particularly to support the parishes of Rev Olivier through the issues raised by Covid.

The Mother’s Union link was remembered, especially the mask-making which was being done at Mahatsinjo. Eileen asked about other MU work in Madagascar which we could support through prayer.

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Rev Olivier writes back, reporting that people in his parish who have been touched by Covid, are ‘healing.’

Church life is returning to ‘normal’ and Sunday school has re-started. It is now summer in Madagascar, but Rev Olivier is concerned that Covid will return with new strength in the cold season; they are taking as many advance precautions as possible.

The parish churches of Ambohidava and Ambatondrazaka have prayed for the soul of Dorothy who recently passed away in Blean and who was a great supporter of the Madagascar link.

 

13th April 2020

Rev Olivier writes to wish everyone in Blean a Happy Easter.

He says church activity in his area has been stopped due to Coronovirus. However, outside activity to help parishioners repair buildings damaged by severe weather is likely to continue. He is continuing to preach sermons through local radio, TV and on his Facebook page.

Some further (edited) comments from another Malagasy contact are added here:

"To this day, we have had 102 confirmed cases and out of those, 12 have recovered. We are currently in our third week of partial lockdown in 'Tana (the capital city of Antananarivo) and Toamasina. We still have no incoming/outgoing international or internal flights. People are not allowed to travel in or out of Tana, and all public transports in Tana and Toamasina have been suspended. Any form of gatherings (including church services) throughout the country are not permitted. All shops have been asked to close apart from food markets and supermarkets which are allowed to open till midday. Due to challenges faced by the majority of the population however, many still have to go out to earn money and buy food despite the danger. The government does try to donate food to parts of the population, but it is still not sufficient. 

As you understand, it is certainly very difficult to adapt to changes as we are no longer able to hold church services. Fortunately, the council of churches (FFKM: Reformed, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and Anglican) have organised televised ecumenical services for the past four Sundays. During this Holy Week, each denomination took turns to hold a televised service so that people throughout the country can continue to be united in prayer despite not being able to pray in their churches. 

We certainly live in a very different world at the moment, but we hope we will all come out of this situation with some sort of renewal." 

30th January 2020

Rev Olivier's REPORT OF THE CYCLONE WHICH PASSED THROUGH LAST WEEK

Our area was badly hit by bad weather last week. It rained for 4 days, with a big impact on homes, rice fields, agriculture and animal husbandry. Roads and bridges were damaged and villages cut off.  In our parishes many homes were damaged, with rooves blown off. Water and electricity was also cut.

According to official reports, 7 regions in Madagascar have been affected: Sofia, Alaotra Mangoro (Ambatondrazaka region), Boeny, Betsiboka, Melaky and Diana.

According to the last updates: 21 people died, 20 still missing, and over 80 000 people have been moved from their homes.

15th January 2020

PRECIS OF REPORT FROM REV OLIVIER ON THE PROJECTS SUPPORTED BY BLEAN IN AMBATONDRAZAKA

(FEEDING OF SUNDAY SCHOOL CHILDREN, HEALTH AND EDUCATION)

 

Rev Olivier thanks Blean for all the support received and says it has benefitted many people. He makes special mention of the new church at Mahatsinjo (Church of the Holy Trinity), which has been a catalyst for much community activity.

He reports also the large effort made by the Mother’s Union to teach women in many different villages about good hygiene practices and good nutrition. Specifically, they have also been teaching about health care for young children.

An experimental project to support a micro-business run by women has also met with good success, both in terms of the business itself and in how the increased income has benefitted the families involved. It is hoped profits will be re-invested and that it will prove to be of on-going long-term benefit.

A sewing machine funded by a Blean parishioner has been a success in starting an interest in producing embroidery, and other villages want to do someting similar. It is hoped the MU women involved will be able to expand this venture to be of long-term benefit to a number of communities.

Finally, the project to provide nutritious food for Sunday School children is on-going and continues to be successful across all the churches in the parishes run by Rev Olivier. He repeats his thanks for all the support - finance, prayer and encouraging emails.  

28th November 2019

Roger Vickerman wrote the following article for the Blean Church magazine, providing an overview of the current status of our link:

Madagascar Developments

It is now a year since our successful Madagascar evening when Eileen, Judy and I talked about our visit in June and July 2018 and outlined plans for the future development of our link with the Revd Olivier’s churches around Ambatondrazaka and others in the Area Deanery. Much has happened during the past year reflecting the developments envisaged in the “umbrella” to bring together education, healthy eating, improved hygiene and self-help; much of this being coordinated through the Mothers’ Union.

A core annual budget of £3000 is being provided through funds allocated by the PCC and the money raised through the regular Madagascar Lunches that continue to be a great success in both raising awareness and communicating developments to a wider group of people in Blean. This core budget contributes to the feeding programme for children in all the churches and for education relating to hygiene and healthy eating that we promoted during our visit. Two young men, Pascal and Tendry, both of whom we met when in Madagascar last year, are being supported in their education. Pascal is studying in the Theological Institute in Antananarivo with a view to becoming a priest. Tendry studies in High School in Manakambahiny and also wants to be a priest.

Bishop Trevor Wilmott with Rev. Olivier

Outside the regular budget we have been supporting two self-help projects. Using an award of £500 from a charity chaired by Canon Norman Woods we are supporting a banana ripening project organised by the Mothers’ Union in in Moramanga. The idea is for them to buy unripened bananas and ripen them before selling them on, with the money raised supporting the women and generating profits that can be reinvested in the business. We are looking forward to hearing about the success of this project soon. The second project is to provide sewing machines for the groups in each village to enable them to make clothes etc. By the end of the year we should have sent sufficient money for the purchase of up to six machines; this is being raised from specific donations and from sponsored events such as a 5k run undertaken recently by Sally Penfold.

A fruit tree, a Crab Apple, has now been planted (currently in a pot close to the South Door before being moved to a permanent location). This complements those we purchased and donated to each church in the Ambatondrazaka District at the 10th Anniversary Service last year to symbolize growth and the bearing of fruit from our link.

We have been fortunate, whilst he has been studying at the University of Kent, to have the company of Marc Ranarivelo, whose father is Bishop of Antananarivo. Marc attended our event last year and also spoke at the “Second Sunday Special” service on 16 June. This was a great opportunity to hear first-hand about a number of issues including the current problems of training for the ministry in Madagascar. 

Much has also happened in Madagascar reflecting the growth that our link has helped to promote.  Revd. Olivier has spoken about the development of our link to the Diocesan Synod in Antananarivo. The Bishop held a confirmation service at St James, Ambatondrazaka on 22 September and later dedicated the new church in Mahatsinjo as Holy Trinity (below). This was first visited as a wooden shack by Sally and Jim in 2011 and the new building was visited by Eileen, Judy and me in 2018.

                                                          

This picture is from a confirmation service conducted by the Bishop of Antananarivo and Rev Olivier.  The service took place at the newly extended church of St James in Ambatondrazaka.

The extended and rebuilt church of St James, Ambatondrazaka (below) will be dedicated by the Bishop on 24 November. Blean contributed particularly to the roof, but there is still work to do on the windows – this may be another project which could be supported outside the regular giving.

                                          

The extension of Church of St James in Ambatondrazaka, partly funded by Blean Church community.

This combination of a regular financial contribution from the ongoing projects and some additional funding given by individuals has helped to support our link. But the link is not just about money and projects it is about a living and developing journey in which we learn so much from each other and which will continue to bear fruit as we hope will the trees that symbolise our growth.

This depends on the continued support of all those who attend the regular Madagascar lunches, those who donate or raise money for specific projects and those who maintain a special interest not just in the link but in the wider developments in Madagascar (informed by a regular newsletter compiled by Mike Swain) where political instability and damaging changes to agriculture and mining threaten the stability of a rare and important biodiversity.

Roger Vickerman

 

Catechist's house Ambohidava - part destroyed by cyclone.  Cyclone-damaged Bridge previously used by visitors from Blean!

 

Dedication of the brand new church at Mahatsinjo in September 2019

        

                                                     

 

 

                                                             

Blean Madagascar group meets regularly, both to manage various projects and organise fundraising.

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