Sunday, 29 July 2012


Going to Madagascar and not seeing some of the wildlife would be like going to Egypt and forgetting about the pyramids.  It's just not something you would want to tell people when you return to Canada.

For one of the weekends while we're in Ambato Boeni, we'll load up the bus and head to an overnight camp at Ankarafantsika National Park.  This park is one of the last remaining sections of dry deciduous forest in Madagascar.  This means that, although the flora and fauna of Madagascar is already unique in the world, this national park is home to some of the more unique wildlife in Madagascar, many species here are critically endangered!

Ankarafantsika is home to a wide variety of life.  Lemurs, like the western wolly lemur, the grey mouse lemur, the fat-tailed dwarf lemur and many more live within the park.  While many lemurs are notcurnal, the coquerel sifaka is in fact the only entirely diurnal lemur and it is all over the place here!

Not only are there lemurs, but there are 75 endemic species of birds, 10 types of frog, 45 different reptiles and even crocodiles around the lake!  The national park is also a great place to see baobab trees and wild vanilla.

We'll have the opportunity to go on a couple of different tours of the park so we don't have to worry that we might miss something.  There are daytime tours and night time tours as well, so we'll be sure to bring our flashlights.  Night time in the park will be filled with the calls and cries of some of the rarest animals on earth!

By the time we leave Ankarafantsika, not only will we be able to say the name of the park properly, but we'll be much more knowledgeable about the natural wonder of the world that is the flora and fauna of Madagascar.

Want to know more about the park?  Visit

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Past Projects: ScoutsAbroad

Defending Mafikeng: Scouts Canada 2010
UN-MDG1: Eradicating Extreme Poverty and Hunger
UN-MDG7: Ensure Environmental Sustainability
In August 2010, Scouts Canada created its first national team to complete an international development project.  Travelling to the birthplace of Scouting, South Africa, members from across Canada worked with local Scouting groups to help them help others.  By installing water reservoirs at eight different schools in Welkom, South Africa, Scouts from Welkom will be able to use them during the dry season (six months of no rain!) to water their community food gardens.  In the past, they have been forced to shut down their gardens in the dry season because municipal water costs too much.  The food from their gardens then goes to helping feed the school, as well as orphanages, and half-way houses in the area.

Project Paraguay: Tri-Shores Council 2009
UN-MDG2: Achieve Universal Primary Education
In August 2009, members from Tri-Shores Council travelled to Nemby, Paraguay to rebuild a small school.  Bordering two different districts, both communities basically forgot about the school and blamed the other for its decline.  Members of Tri-Shores Council worked with students from the school and local Scouts from Asuncion and Luque to rebuild the fence, replace broken windows, build another classroom and install working bathrooms.  They even took the teachers shopping for new school supplies and resources.  This meant that the school was not only safer, but that more children could attend on a daily basis.  once the politicians heard about the work of this project, they stepped up and promised to make sure this change continues to other schools across the country!

Belize Project 2006
UN-MDG8: Build a Global Partnership
In August, 2006, a Contingent of Venturer Scouts, Rover Scouts and Advisors from Tri-Shores Council travelled down to the Valley of Peace, Belize, to build a hurricane shelter/community centre with the community. For three weeks, the group worked, played and learned alongside Scouts from across Belize and the people who lived in the Valley of Peace. After completion of the project, the village council commented that it was the first time the community had come together as one to do anything, especially anything of this magnitude. The community centre remains a central fixture of the community life in the Valley of Peace.

Want more information on other past projects?  Check them all out here

Saturday, 21 July 2012


One of the largest cities that we will be close to during our project is Mahajanga.  It is the capital of the Boeny region and has a population of 250 000 people.

Mahajanga is located on a very important seaport between the Betsiboka River and Bombetoka Bay.  This location helps establish Mahajanga as a big trading city - particularly for frozen shrimp!  The city is also known for processing agricultural products, canning meat and manufacturing soap, sugar and cement.

Tourists come here often because it has beautiful beaches, coconut-linked boardwalks and eight months of virtually rain-free weather!  Around Mahajanga is just as beautiful as the city itself: islands, forest reserves, lakes and caves are popular for tourists and locals alike.

The city has had many different influences over the year.  It was formed in the 1780s when a group of Indian traders formed the city at the mouth of the Betsiboka River.  They used the area to trade weapons, gems, spices and fabrics.  In the old city, you can still see evidence of this, from trading posts to sculpted wooden doors.  In 1895, the French realized the strategic location of this city and occupied Mahajanga to begin their conquest of Madagascar.  You can still see the old colonial houses which were built during this time, too!

Another important piece of Mahajanga's history is the royal relics of Tsaramandroso.  This royal shrine holds some relics (teeth, nails, clothing) belonging to the Sakalaya Kings Adriamandrosoarivo, Andrimisara, Andrinamisara, Andrianamboniarivo and Andrimihanina.  Once a year at the shrine, there is a procession in which the relics of the four male ancestors are paraded around the shrine and soaked in water in a ritual called Fanompoa Be, or Great Service.  Foreigners are invited to visit the shrine but have to be careful to follow all the rules, so they don't insult the ancestors.  This includes not wearing glasses, wearing traditional Lamba dress, and bringing a donation of money, rum or candles.

One of the most popular things to see in Mahajanga is the Centenary Baobab. Located at the end of the Avenue de France, just as it meets the sea promenade, this tree is 15m tall and is said to be 1,000 years old! When you visit the tree, you are supposed to go around it seven times to worship the ancestors and obtain their blessing.  Maybe this should be one of our first stops!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

It takes a lot of work...

Hello everyone!  My name is Nicolas Forget.  I am going to Madagascar this summer because I want to help make a difference in the world, experience new cultures and I think it will be a great life learning opportunity.

It takes a lot of work to get to Madagascar though.  Some of the fundraising that I have done includes starting a Buy-A-Brick campaign.  I also worked with two others from Kawartha Waterways Area who are going as well and we did a couple of barbecuees and a garage sale.  We ordered plastic bracelets, like the Livestrong bracelets, but these ones were green and on them it says "Life.  Learning.  Light.  MADAGASCAR 2012".  We sold them for $2 each and it worked really well to help us get to Madagascar.

The support from our community has been great, especially with our two barbecues and the garage sale.  Without the community support, I don't think I would be able to go to Madagascar this summer.  Also, from the Scouting community, I have been able to go to a couple of Rover Scout moots with my bracelets and talked to a lot of people about the project.  So many of them were interested in this part of Scouting (and many bought bracelets, too!)  I am personally very excited for all the new people I am going to meet and the friends I am going to make!

Yours in Scouting

Nicolas Forget

Friday, 13 July 2012

A Malagasy Ghost Story

With it being Friday the 13th, we thought it would be a good time to share a Malagasy ghost story with you.  Gather around the campfire and enjoy...

In a recent project planning meeting, one member of the leadership team mentioned that they were afraid of both flying and sharks.  Flying was an inventiable part of getting to Madagascar, and sharks are quite common around the Mozambique Channel (in fact, there are parts you are not allowed to swim in because of sharks coming up from South Africa).  Their other fear is ghosts, but they said as long as there were no ghosts, they would be alright.  Then, Father Alfredo, who is from Madagascar and is helping to organize the logistics of the project, smiled and laughed a very mischievous laugh.  He told the following story...

During the time of French colonization, the French governor and his family lived in a mansion in Antananarivo.  When the Malagasy started to revolt in order to reclaim their country, the story goes that a large group of people stormed the house and killed the governor and his entire family.  Wife, children and all.

They say that there is a particular mirror in the mansion that, if you look into it, you can see the face of one of the family members peering into the mirror over your shoulder.  however, when you whip your head aroud to see them, they would be gone.  They were only ever visible when you were looking into this mirror.

Years went by where visitors, tourists and adventure seekers would test this: looking into the mirror, seeing someone peering over their shoulder and whipping around as quickly as they could to try and see this person before they vanished.  Until one day when a group of researchers - ghost hunters really - decided that they would document this.  Everyone they spoke to in Madagascar warned them not to film anything, especially not the mirror.  But, in they went, ready to spend the night searching for evidence of paranormal activity.

The next morning, they did not emerge from the mansion.  People went in to check the building, assuming the researchers had left in the middle of the night, too afraid to continue the search.  Instead, what they found, they could not have imagined.  The researchers were all still there, but they were all dead.  They had had their heads turned so violently around that they were facing the opposite direction, all of their necks were broken.  They were found with all of their video equipment...right in front of the mirror.

When word of what happened got out, the government immediately boarded up the haunted house and no one has ever been allowed in since.  Whether you believe this or not, flying to Madagascar sure seems a lot less frightening now.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Being Prepared

One of the fastest ways to learn the importance of being prepared is by going to camp.  Suddenly you find that you can't just go to the cupboard, or the closet, or even the store to get the thing you need.  You need to plan ahead and pack what's necessary, but you also have to remember that what you bring, you'll need to carry.  It's a difficult balancing act, and one that the participants of Madagascar 2012 have become very familiar with, but travelling to Madagascar requires a few things not normally found on a camping kit list.  Here are some of the things it takes to get there and back again safe and sound:

Mosquito Net
Malaria is a common threat in Madagascar.  This disease comes from mosquitoes and is just a whole lot of not-much-fun.  There are three ways participants will avoid it: bug spray, anti-malaria medication and mosquito nets.  These nets are essentially a big mesh bag that you suspend above where you'll be sleeping, then you set up your sleeping bag and matress inside the net.  They keep the mosquitoes away all night long.

Safety Glasses
There will be a lot of jobs on the work site and it's important to make sure everyone stays safe.  In addition to safety glasses, we'll also have steel-toed boots, work gloves, dust masks and a collection of hard hats that will be used when work is being done overhead.

Solar Panel
Actually, two solar panels.  The Contingent will bring two solar panels to Ambato Boeni this summer as a way to power the tools and lights necessary to complete the construction of the dormitories and campus walls.  After the project is finished, these solar panels will remain on the campus as a way of providing a green alternative source of energey for the much-needed light, the third priority identified by Ambato Boeni in 2008.

Ambato Boeni is opening its doors for us.  We are incredibly grateful for that.  We will work together with the community for quite some time this summer, and we want to be able to show our appreciation for our hosts by bringing thank you gifts.  It's no small task to accommodate so many Canadians at the same time, but the generosity of their time and space is what helps to make a project like this possible.  In past projects, we've had framed pictures, books, stuffed animals for children, soccer balls, and all sorts of other things.

So, the next time you complain about having to pack extra socks, or a toque for a spring camp, just remember, at least you don't have to carry around a solar panel (or two)!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Sharing Stories

While the idea of an international development project may seem inspiring, inspiring also is the work of the 40th St. Catharines Sea Scouts.  Take a look at a recent email that was sent to the project from their Leader, Scouter Crispin Shaftoe...

"I wanted to let you know that the 40th St. Catharines Sea Scouts connected with Sarah Shaw [who will travel to Madagascar this summer] and she came out last month to tell the boys about the project.  Over the winter, the Scouts researched and did presentations at our meetings on the situation in rural communities in Madagascar, as well as the Scout involvement there in teaching people about safe water practices.

We learned about a simple hand-washing technique that the Madagascar Scouts are using.  We practiced lashing one evening by making "tippy taps" - 2L pop bottles on A frames with a small hole at the bottom which releases clean water when the cap is loosened to clean hands after using the toilet.  I am enclosing the group crest we had made for this summer's Great Lakes Jamboree at Camp Bel. 

Thanks for your efforts.  Our youth have really learned a lot about people in a muich less fortunate part of the world.  The boys will be making "tippy taps" at all of our future backwood camps".

It goes to show the importance of sharing cultures and sharing understanding.  We all have so much that we can learn from one another, which is a large part of this project.  It's so exiting to see this taking place across Canada.  Congratulations to the 40th St. Catharines Sea Scouts and their work to understand another culture, learn more about social issues and develop new skills for camping.  This truly is Scouting in action!

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Holidays in Madagascar

Memorial for the Revolution of 1947 in Antananarivo
As we celebrate Canada Day today, we thought it would be a good time to talk a bit about holidays in Madagascar!  While both Canada and Madagascar have some of the same holidays (such as New Years, Easter and Labour Day), there are also a lot that are different.

As we celebrate Canada Day - the day Canada became its own country, in Madagascar, they have Independence Day on 26 June, which is the most important of all public holidays in Madagascar.  It was on this day in 1960 that France finally gave over the power of the country to the people of Madagascar.  People celebrate this day with good food, good friends and lots of dancing.  One of the spectacles of the day is a presentation of "Hira Gasy" which is a musical presentation of Malagasy folklore.  In Hira Gasy, singers combine song, dance and traditional folk tales from Madagascar.

Another important holiday for people in Madagascar is the commemoration of the 1947 rebellions, which is held on 29 March.  This day marks and remembers all those who lost their lives (about 11,000 people) in the fight against French domination.  The rebellion against the French actually began in the 1800s, when Queen Renavalona III resisted French foreign rule, but she and the prime minister were exiled from Madagascar.  Even still, the people continued to fight for the right to rule their own country.  Today, this day is treated much like our Remembrance Day on 11 November: local officials deliver speeches to remember those who perished in the violent revolution of 1947, and people lay wreaths on memorials (like the national memorial in Antananarivo) dedicated to those who died.  People also take advantage of the day off and treat it as a family day, getting together with loved ones, going to movies or relaxing in parks.

A number of other holidays are related to the church, including Ascension Day (2 June) which celebrates the bodily ascension of Jesus into heaven, and the Assumption (15 August) which celebrates the bodily taking up of the Virgin Mary at the end of her life.  We'll have the opportunity to celebrate the Assumption while we're in Madagascar!

But public holidays aren't the only events and celebrations in Madagascar, especially in rural areas.  Mphira Gasy (Malagasy singers) sing and dance in groups, recounting stories and tales for special events, including the rice harvest, purification ceremonies, Famadihana and more (don't remember what Famadihana is?  Check back on our previous blog post about it).

So, as we celebrate Canada Day, remember the holidays in Madagascar and maybe you can start celebrating them too!

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