Why did you decide to intern abroad with Azafady in Madagascar?
Frankie: I had wanted to visit Madagascar with its unique environment and wildlife for a while and I particularly wanted to work on conservation rather than just be a tourist. I work at an Opera house when I'm at home but my interests in wildlife and conservation have recently been increasing so I wanted to do something related to this which is so different from my normal work. I chose Azafady as an organization because I like the way they are specialized to Madagascar with just a small London office and a larger local NGO in Fort Dauphin in the South East region. This makes them more equipped to address the issues right there.
I also felt that although I wanted to work in conservation they have schemes which focus on the development of the people and their livelihoods which compliment conservation efforts. This in particular has been confirmed for me having spent time there as I have learned how important it is for the local people to be involved in the process of conservation and that helping them in certain areas of their lives can do so much to help the environment. This means teaching them that they don’t need to rely so much on the local forest and resources so they can learn to use it in a more renewable way which is beneficial to them and the wildlife.
What made this internship experience unique and special?
Frankie: This is a unique opportunity to work in some of the only remaining littoral forest fragments left. We were camping on the edge of a village and next to the forest so we spent time with the local people and also taught in the school twice a week. We really felt like we were taking some part in the local community and we learned a lot about the local culture and customs which wouldn't have happened if we were just focused on research. It’s really fantastic when walking through the village and the children know your name and stop to talk to you. The community seemed very pleased that people like to visit and work in their area and they are curious but don’t hassle you in a way that can happen in cities.
The wildlife was also very special and we took part in several types of research on Lemurs, reptiles and amphibians and were accompanied by amazing and incredibly knowledgeable local guides. There were several species endemic to those forest fragments so it was a really rare opportunity to see them! The remote places we had the opportunity to visit were really beautiful and I felt privileged to have been able to visit such places that barely any foreigner goes to, not to mention the stunning beaches we could visit on our days off.
How has this experience impacted your future?
Frankie: The experience has really educated me a lot about issues in developing areas especially regarding care for the environment and although I went primarily for the wildlife, I have returned home wanting to be able to help the people more. From a personal viewpoint this has developed a keen desire to do more charity work and volunteering. On a professional level, I have realized that I am very lucky to work in a creative job as opportunities for that in a place like Madagascar are very limited and going to Art College is not an option so I am more appreciative.
And although I am looking at ways to take my creative skills to help people in Madagascar, I will continue to learn about the environment in a more scientific way in order to understand the situation and hopefully the ways in which I can help and encourage others to help. If I had an academic background in science I would definitely want to take a longer term position with Azafady as a research assistant but I sadly don’t have the right qualifications but that doesn’t mean I can’t get involved which this scheme has shown me.
What is one piece of advice you would offer something considering interning abroad in Madagascar?
Frankie: My advice to anyone considering doing this is to just do it! As for advice while you are there, remember to be open minded and respectful about everything. It's essential since life there is very different compared to Europe and you have to take things as they come. Azafady has an amazing team who help organize transportation and housing which really helps especially when you first arrive. However, many plans often change last minute or things are late. You also have to adapt to living in a campsite in a sandy place with basic facilities and a completely different climate with fascinating tent visitors (I had a wide variety of insects, frogs and even a skink) but once you get the hang of it, it's brilliant and refreshing.