Centre Fihavanana - Malagasy Solidarity
It was one of my last days in Antananarivo, or Tana, the capital of Madagascar. My Bradt Guide to the country encourages travelers to visit Centre Fihavanana. The word means “solidarity” in Malagasy. Founded in 1985 and run by the Sisters of the Good Shepherd, the center and its school follow this principle by nurturing socially and educationally disadvantaged children.
On the Tuesday morning before the Christmas holidays when I visited the school, Soeur Annamma, the director, was waiting for me at the entrance. She greeted me warmly, then gave me a tour of the classrooms. The youngest children wore checked smocks -- pink for the girls, blue for the boys. When I entered each classroom, the kids stood up and serenaded me in unison with “Bonjour, Madame.” In one classroom, the children sang to me; in another they recited a delightful poem about the days of the week. Their joy and smiling faces belied their educational challenges and daily struggles.
I was shown the embroidery of local women who work at home making lovely linen and cotton tablecloths, runners, and assorted purses to provide money for themselves and the center. Older girls are taught sewing and baking so they can have a skill, however rudimentary, when they leave the school. Fihavanana does not rescue children from the streets just to have them return there after they leave.
(The embroidered bag to the left depicts zébu cattle alongside rice fields, with the traditional mud houses of the plateau region in the distance.)
Sr. Annamma generously spent time with me talking about the many problems of the students -- of broken or single-parent homes to health and hygienic issues, of the children’s learning difficulties and their families’ limited financial means which often keep the youngsters out of the public schools.
Two meals a day are provided to the students, and the center administers a food program for women in prison. This Christmas there was a festive meal of chicken, rice and beans, and lychee fruits which were in season. In the school’s corridor were huge bags of rice, a staple of the Malagasy diet. The bags came from Southeast Asia as rice production in the country is essentially for farmers' families and the local market.
Soon after I arrived home, I received new year’s greetings from Sr. Annamma and the team of Centre Fihavanana. She wrote that the year 2018 had been a challenging one in the country, with an epidemic of measles, some cases of the “peste” (or plague), and strikes which lasted for three months and affected the opening of schools. The country still awaits the results of the presidential elections of the 19th of December “to know who will govern (...) and in what direction the country will move.” Nonetheless, the center has achieved milestones. Many students obtained certificates at the end of primary school, others at the end of their 3rd year, several completed secondary school, and one student passed the second year in technical studies at the university.
For me, it was a privilege and pleasure to visit Centre Fihavanana, to learn of the wonderful work of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd as they strive for social justice, and to follow the accomplishments of the deserving children. For further information about the center, telephone +261 (0)20 22 271 59, or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photographs (#1, 2, 4, & 5) courtesy and copyright of Joerg Boethling in Hamburg, Germany. His contact information: www.visualindia.de.