Being a fifteen-year-old from India, where volunteer travel is sparse, I knew several curious friends and relatives would soon flood me with questions about my trip. I deliberated hard to think of just one word to describe my trip. The word that immediately came to my mind? Surreal. It seemed truly fantastical that I was half-way around the world, with a chicken living under my bed, waking up to rainbows and private beaches next to strangers that I felt like I had known for months. Naturally just like any other holiday, I had a moment of hesitation before making my decision to go. Would I fit in being the youngest and from a diverse country? Was it safe? Was it worth it? Dear volunteer friends, if there is one thing I hope you would take back from this review, it would be to let nothing hold you back from this other-worldly adventure. 'Madagascar'-the name itself has a magical tinge to it. Not a place that is commonly visited, but take it from me, now that I'm back, a part of me will always belong there. Trust me, I did not feel homesick for a second.
Contributing to the forest conservation program, many exciting activities awaited me. Working all day at an agro-forest was one of my first tasks there. Hard at work, it was so fulfilling to learn that the work all us volunteers had accomplished in a matter of four hours, the farmer would take around a month to complete by himself. Hiking to the local village everyday and having numerous local children running around me in circles, so full of life, enthusiastically trying to interact and use the english taught to them brought back this child-like joy that I thought the city had robbed me of. Their lives are so basic, but they are so, so happy, and that is one big take away from this program. We also performed transects and quadrats to record the herpetofauna in the Sambirano forests, in addition to lemur behavioural surveys. Without giving away too much, I was actually stunned to see before my own eyes, lemurs becoming more and more domesticated and the consequences on their health. I was also honoured to be a part of a new program, encouraging the distrobution of bamboo straws to bars in order to reduce plastic straw waste in the oceans.
Also, Malagasy lessons after dinner had us all in fits of laughter, while weekend travel with my newly-found friends was something I find hard to even describe. Nosy Iranja is considered the second most beautiful place in the world. However, when I was there under the sky studded with a million stars in the clear sky, all I could think was that my newly-acquired friends there were the only factors that could make the island any more beautiful.
My favourite memory? It was the last day, and I sat by myself on a rock on the private beach. It was almost sunset, and the clouds in the distance had this divine parting to make way for the sun. The big golden ball of fire lit an entire pathway on the ocean that appeared to come straight to me where I was sitting. And in that moment, the island was mine. The people there were my family, I found friends, I found love, and I had made up my mind as to what made me happy. I now knew what I wanted to do with my life. I had never felt more blessed.
All my life I've been an introvert behind a computer screen. I've had a fondness for conservation ever since I was little, but I never felt like it was a valid interest. At Madagascar, more than the sizzling Instagram beach snaps I got, I learnt to believe in myself all over again. With each volunteer I befriended and each intellectual discussion with the staff about conservation, I learnt to be confident again and believe in my passion because it was significant, even if no one I knew believed it was.
If my application works out, who knows, maybe I'll be the youngest ambassador there's ever been for IVHQ. All I'm saying is Madagascar gave me a new purpose. So so much more than just a volunteer trip, it's allowed me to be a part of something so much bigger, so much better, in our own small way, we made the world a better place. And that, in my opinion, is the epitome of bliss :)