I spent my winter break in a country that resembles home in so many ways, but I still felt far away from home. After Christmas, a group of ten other Lafayette students, two faculty members and I flew to Madagascar for a service trip in Antananarivo. This trip was part of an organization that was started at Lafayette called Lafayette Initiative for Malagasy Education (LIME). This initiative strives to empower Malagasy students to apply to US colleges and universities. My group was the sixth to go to Madagascar to tutor and mentor the students in SAT and TOEFL at Lycee Andohalo.
Descending in Madagascar, I was hit with nostalgia at the sight of small plots of land with crops, small pathways and many rice fields. At that moment, I knew the rest of the trip was going to make me miss home even more. Entering the airport in Antananarivo, something looked familiar and it took me a second to realize the garish amount of advertising from a phone company called Airtel – the same company that advertises similarly in Rwanda.
One of my best friends, who is Malagasy, was on the trip with me. (It is important to point out, by the way, that people from Madagascar are not called “Madagascans.”) It was a big honor for me to have the opportunity to enjoy her country and its culture. It was also priceless for me to meet her family and visit her home. It was during this experience that I was finally able to understand the setting of her childhood stories that she has shared with me throughout our time together at Lafayette. The trip left me feeling selfish and wishing I had a way to share the beauty of my own country with all the friends I had on the trip as well.
The first week of teaching was a learning process for me and the rest of the team. It was during this time that we learned English proficiency was very low among the students we were teaching, and that we were not going to get through our syllabus. After we came to peace with this realization, that is when the fun started. We would linger at a concept at hand, make impressions, act, and basically do everything in our power to help them understand. This provided a lot of insight into how much energy our own professors expense to help us learn at Lafayette. At the end of the day, there was no energy left in us for anything else other other eating dinner, writing our journals and collapsing in bed. The process was very rewarding, especially seeing students grow confident and less timid about their abilities. Malagasy people (with the exception of my best friend, Clara) are very soft spoken and shy, and getting the students to the level where they can charm the colleges normally takes more than one LIME session. On the other hand, these students were very strong in areas that required skills other than speaking such as the math section of the SAT.
In the three weeks that we spent in Madagascar, we had the opportunity to travel around the country. For New Year’s, we went to Andasibe which is around five hours from the capital, Antananarivo. In Andasibe, we went hiking in the national parks and saw different kinds of lemurs, chameleons, boa and other wild animals. The second weekend, we went to Ampefy which is about four hours from Antananarivo. In Ampefy, we got to see the most beautiful hilly landscape, waterfalls and geysers. In addition to that, we visited Peace Corps volunteers around Ampefy and attended their classes for a day. This was a good experience because we were able to see an even larger gap in English proficiency between our students in Antananarivo and these students in the villages.
Saying goodbye or “see you soon in America” to students is much harder than I had anticipated. I wanted to believe that I would see them in America, but only a few of them will be able to get into schools in the US. Overall, the program is more of a wake up call for action for these students rather than giving them a ticket straight to the US. Although we were only there for three weeks, the community I traveled with have grown to really like each other. During the weeks that we were teaching, we bonded over different activities such as basketball, various ice breakers, touring the city, and taking selfies.
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