Valerie Francis - 2012 Program Participant

Volunteer teaching a a primary school in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

About to sing 'Head, shoulders, knees and toes' with children at a local primary school in Fort Dauphin.

Why did you decide to go abroad? Why did you choose Madagascar?

I wanted an adventure. I chose Madagascar as a destination because it is an island, and coming from Britain I never like to be too far from the sea, so a landlocked country was not an option. The climate was appealing, not too hot or humid.

Why did you choose Azafady?

NGO Azafady fitted into my ideals – a sustainable organisation which practises what it preaches. A mixture of international and local staff who were an absolute pleasure to work with.

Fisherman in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

Fisherman setting out in their pirogue (Fort Dauphin).

What was your favorite part about working in Madagascar?

The proximity to the wonderful coastline, the rainforest, the town, the market, the people. I can't choose.

What made your experience unique from other volunteer programs?

I haven't been on another programme to compare it with. But I would suggest the organisation itself and the people who work within it to ensure your experience is memorable.

How did the Azafady staff support you during your program?

Better question would be what didn't they do? In a nutshell, they did everything to ensure your physical, emotional, and mental welfare was supported always.

If you could change one thing about your program, what would it be?

Stayed longer.

Describe a day in the life of a Azafady volunteer.

Woken by the sound of the morning cockerels to enjoy a hearty breakfast and a bike ride through the town and colourful market to work. Everyday a different scene to be had. Interacting with the food vendors selling fresh seasonal fruit - lychees, mangoes, bananas. Morning at the office teaching English to local staff.

Volunteers in Madagascar sharing a picnic at Domain de la Cascade

Picnic of sugar cane, mango and bananas after a swim in Domain de la Cascade.

Lunch could be a stroll round the market, a sit down meal, a swim at the beach, or whale watching. Afternoon off to school to observe and teach a class of up to 70 children of mixed abilities against a stunning backdrop. Despite class sizes they were well behaved and eager to learn and made the work a real pleasure.

Evening could be meal with the family or dining with friends, reading a book, watching a movie. Friday is always Zuma Zuma at Surfs Up!

What did you enjoy most outside of the regular volunteer activities?

Swimming in waterfalls with my local friends.

Can you describe your accommodation a bit? What did you like best about it?

I stayed with a family in their home - in the attic of a wooden house with palm leaves for roofing and outside tap, bucket shower and long drop toilet. My host family were the best thing.

Azafady volunteers at the office in Fort Dauphin, Madagascar

Group photo of staff at the Azafady office in Fort Dauphin.

How has traveling to Madagascar changed your life?

I am so glad I did this. I recently listened to a programme on Radio 4 interviewing people who were at the end of their lives, imparting their pearls of wisdom to us young'uns! One tip was to be sure to have as many exciting experiences as possible. I guess if my life ended now I would feel as though I had achieved this.