Stories from the Small Continent- Month 1
I’m five weeks here now. The time has gone by so fast and I’m enjoying every minute of it. Looking back at my first few days where everything was so intimidating, I’m glad to say that one month in, I’m far more relaxed and settled. I now get a thrill out of walking in the chaotic city streets through the hustle and bustle of the market stalls and taxi journeys are now new adventures and not the white knuckle rides that I first believed them to be. It took two “vintage” Renault 4s, three break downs and two jump starts to get me to bowling the other week. It’s all very exhilarating! I’m learning a few words of Malgache which is useful for such situations. Most Malagasys speak French but next to no one speaks English. Taxi rides at home are going to seem so dull when I get back.
Leaving the familiarity and security of my chemistry lab and landing in a UN development agency in Africa has certainly been an experience. It took some time to adjust to UNICEF’s ways of working and to get used to their systems, culture, pace and language. I have spent the last month working closely with colleagues in Maternal and Neonatal Health researching potential donors to fund critical planned interventions to reduce the alarmingly high mortality rates of mothers and new-borns in Madagascar.
The Health Section at UNICEF must mobilise funds to implement critical lifesaving interventions. I am writing a funding proposal that will be used to attract potential donors for example, government aid agencies like USAID, global programme partners such as GAVI (whose partners include GSK) or Intergovernmental Agencies such as the World Bank or the European Union. Next week I’m going on my first mission to the city of Antsirabe, 170km south of Tana. I will participate in a 2 day Health Section meeting with members of the UNICEF country and regional offices. We will travel on Sunday afternoon for a Monday morning kick-off as UN staff are not permitted to travel after dark for security reasons. Road conditions can be dangerous in Madagascar and there have been a number of attacks on vehicles. It will take 4 bumpy hours to travel to Antsirabe as the bendy road with half a millimetre of tarmac has numerous potholes, making the dodgy roads around Cork and Kerry seem like the Berlin to Hamburg autobahn in comparison.
Last weekend I went on a road trip with a few new friends to Andasibe National Park 150km east of Tana. We hired a 4×4 and driver and stayed in lovely little wooden huts in the rainforest. Madagascar is world famous for its variety of endemic plants and wildlife and is especially known for its lemurs. Andasibe National Park is one of the best places to spot the Indri, the largest of the many lemur species in Madagascar. We went on a nocturnal rainforest walk and spotted a few aye-aye lemurs, chameleons and tiny, colourful frogs. The highlight was a visit to Lemur Island where we had the chance to get up close and personal with the country’s favourite furry friends.
Until next time,