This is a question I have asked myself – and have been asked – countless times as a volunteer with Chosen Servant Ministries to Madagascar.
I wonder if it is the kids, under the age of ten, begging unsupervised in the capital city of Antananarivo. They walk around in ragged clothes, many carrying their younger siblings, with a look of hunger and desperation that is hard to ignore. While some of their counter parts are in school, a large part of the Malagasy children are out doing some sort of work to supplement their families’ incomes – which is sometimes done at the markets by scraping food that falls and breaks on the floor and is then swept onto a dustpan and thrown into a plastic bag.
I considered that it could be the families that are so destitute that they have made homes out of various plastic bags held up by sticks, adjacent buildings or against large, metal trash canisters. As I walked past one of these homes one night I heard a baby crying inside. I was nearing the dwelling when a host of rats scurried into the warm spaces between the plastic walls while some just ran into the ‘home’ itself. These homes, especially those against or around the trash areas, are so placed so that whenever new trash arrives the home owners will be the first to sift through and find items to be sold or simply eaten.
I also thought it could be the army of Malagasy people who are past living and are just surviving and yet wake up before the crack of dawn to do whatever they need to do in order to ensure their survival and that of their families. One day as we were coming back from the airport at three in the morning I was surprised to see the number of people already out and about – digging through the trash in search of items I deem less than valuable – things like empty cans, a single broken shoe, empty bottles, etc – to sell at the markets that cater exclusively for such items.
The list is exhaustive and people then ask: are there no Malagasy people to look after their own poor? I always respond by pointing out that we have poor people in my country (South Africa) too and we have more than half the our population in a good position to help but only a negligible percentage even acknowledges the need. How much more help does Madagascar need with only about 10% being truly in position to effect help and about 76% desperately needing assistance?
What truly inspires me is the way that a majority of the Malagasy realize that if they do not get up and at least make a desperate attempt at making a living – no matter how despised the attempt is perceived – no one will help them. I hate the fact that children have to suffer and have adult responsibilities alongside their parents instead of being at school and playing around carefree, but in spite and because of the deplorable circumstances they find themselves in they grow up to be go getter and solution finders. It is a far too higher price to pay for such a lesson but it makes helping them that much more attractive as they get excited, involved and are grateful even as adults.
The people of Madagascar nestled in my heart from the first day – it is now impossible to remove them without killing a large part of me. I love that they acknowledge their needs but love even more that they do what they can and have to do in order to reduce their need and to sustain themselves. Isolated as an island from the rest of Africa and the world, the Malagasy have learnt to make do yet still remain hospitable, friendly and welcoming.
When I think of Madagascar I think of the triumph of the human soul and spirit. I see hands that are not just reaching out for help but are already busy doing what they can even as they call out for help. I see a lot of extreme poverty braved through by strong people who persevere regardless the multitudes of limitations and challenges.
When I think of Madagascar I feel deep love and hard respect. When I think of Madagascar I think: WHY EVER NOT MADAGASCAR?
By Amiel Mathebula for CSM ©2015