Alumni Spotlight: Rachel Serena McKee

Malagasy boy plants tree

What originally inspired you to intern in Madagascar with Azafady?

Rachel: I was a tourist in 2005/2006 when I was on my year abroad living in Reunion Island. I was very keen to return to Madagascar in a more meaningful context. I did some research on the internet and got in touch with Azafady. I was planning to go straight back, but decided to finish my degree first.

Describe your day to day activities as an intern in Madagascar.

Rachel: Early mornings, up with the chickens, after our orientation we went to Mandromondromotra where all of the Azafady volunteers participated in the construction of the community hospital latrine, fixed the only village well and did hygiene and sanitation role plays for the delighted population, who laughed a great deal. Life was simple, with tent living, bucket showers, lots of rice and different varieties of beans punctuated with salad, prawns, the odd malagasy chicken and zebu (the best beef you'll every eat!).

Mixing cement was hard work, but after the 3rd day the whole Azafady team got into the swing of things, improving our sawing, chiselling and hammering skills. In our spare time we went to the local cinema - ' one tv powered by a generator' and played with the children. We spent several weeks in town helping with the construction of a latrine for a local primary school, helping with English language teaching at a local secondary school, and doing tree nursery work in preparation for the reforestation program we would be involved in. We planted more than 4000 trees with the help of the local community in the St. Luce area.

The Azafady team in Madagascar

How has this experience impacted your future?

Rachel: I learned a lot from my time with Azafady. I returned to the UK inspired and challenged. I decided to return to Madagascar a few months later to co-lead a team with a Tearfund partner in the north working with the community health team at Hopitaly Vaovao Mahafaly (Good News Hospital). I then studied for two semesters as an independent student at a private University in the South learning all about Development and Ecology from the Malagasy perspective. It was fascinating to study with the local students and turned some of my western world views upside down.

After this I applied to do an orientation with Medair, an international relief and rehabilitation organization, and was offered a position in DR. Congo where I worked as logistics manager for 15 months. I have returned to Madagascar several times and hope to continue to in the future. I even got the chance to check up on our trees, which were growing well. If you’re thinking about going with Azafady you should, I made friends with the locals and international volunteers alike and I loved how what we were doing directly impacted the lives of the communities we had gone to assist. Keep up the great work Azafady!