Over the past two years, I’ve had the opportunity to work with some brilliant and inspiring people on a variety of forest restoration, agroecology, and environmental education initiatives.
Tropical Agroecology Toolkit Initiative
I’m currently working with a team of Malagasy and American stakeholders – including subsistence farmers, researchers, and non-profit organizations – to initiate and scale forest restoration and agroforestry efforts to preserve biodiversity, empower farmers, and combat malaria. Our team, based out of the University of Vermont, has been funded through the Bridge Collaborative’s Spark Award to carry out our activities in three locations across the eastern rainforest region of Madagascar. With this generous support, we’ve constructed several tree nurseries filled with over 10,000 trees and helped over 40 farmers expand agroforestry systems over 20+ hectares. By providing access to seedlings of both native species and popular income-generating agroforestry species, we aim to both remove land from frequent slash-and-burn cultivation cycles and increase household incomes. Team members have also been working to collect data on air and water quality in watersheds under different land uses and reduce habitat for malaria-spreading mosquitos.
Native Tree Reforestation with GreenAgain Madagascar
In September 2019, I helped jumpstart a new native tree nursery with the generous support on NGO GreenAgain Madagascar (GAM). With seeds and seedlings provided by GAM, as well as technical training and wages for two staff members in our community, we’ve been able to build off existing expertise to quickly get a nursery up and running. By mid-March 2020, we had over 2,000 native tree saplings of nearly 20 different species. In Sept 2020, after pandemic restrictions on internal travel started to lift, the team was able to start planting our native seedlings around the fields of enthusiastic farmers. See my blog post “I Speak for the Trees” to learn more about my visit to GreenAgain‘s nurseries and reforestation sites.
A few other initiatives I pursued
as a Peace Corps Volunteer…
Middle School Science Club
Early in 2020, I started a science club for middle schoolers in Ampasimbe to share my appreciation for the natural world and provide opportunities for hands-on learning experiences beyond the route memorization generally found in Malagasy classrooms. I reached out to middle school girls, in particular, hoping to spark an appreciation for continued learning and empowering them to seek out new opportunities.
Gardening and Tree Planting with CEG (Middle School) Students
One of my favorite parts of science has always been outreach and education – especially though working with schoolchildren. I was delighted to find the directors of both the elementary and middle schools in my community excited to work with me as soon as I arrived in Madagascar! I taught an environmental science and sustainable agriculture class, sharing foundational ecology concepts and guiding the kids in building a garden and tree nursery.
English Lessons With Madagasikara Voakajy
Madagaskara Voakajy (MV) is a Malagasy NGO operating mainly in the Aloatra-Mangoro region of Madagascar. Originally, this organization was supposed to be my host parter during my Peace Corps service, but that unfortunately changed along with my site change (long story short: the road was impassible when I was supposed to move in, so some things changed…). I maintained my connection with MV throughout my Peace Corps serving by teaching weekly English lessons to the staff, sharpening their English skills to aid them in their work and research. English is, for better or for worse, the primary international language, especially in science and conservation, and being able to speak English opens up a new world of information and connections – and as we all know, knowledge is power!
In an effort to fulfill our Peace Corps Agriculture mission at site, I stated a “demonstration garden”, and worked with my Malagasy colleague, Fazara, to hold several workshops on agricultural techniques. People in my community were particularly excited about composting, as the nutrient-poor degraded rainforest soils could definitely use some good fertilizer!