In the heart of Madagascar’s rainforest — one of the economically poorest regions in the world — 12-year-old Hanta watches the edge of the treeline recede into the distance. Why the forest she calls home is disappearing has always been a mystery to her, until now.
Thanks to the continued generosity of the Three Graces Foundation, Stony Brook University’s Centre ValBio (CVB) has integrated conservation education into the school curriculum of Madagascar’s most remote villages.
Where Hanta and others like her live there is no running water, no electricity, and the houses are made of mud and grass. Even worse, there’s at least a 70 percent chance she and her peers won’t finish grade school, feeding a grinding cycle of poverty in one of the world’s most biodiverse countries.
“Education will help Malagasy children lead healthier lives, who will in turn steward the natural environment as they grow up and become contributing members to a stronger economy,” said Dr. Patricia Wright, distinguished professor at Stony Brook and founder and executive director of Center ValBio who has led research and conservation efforts in Madagascar for 30 years. She was a driving force behind the creation of the region’s Ranomafana National Park and is distinguished for her ongoing work protecting and saving several species of lemur endemic to the area from extinction.
The My Rainforest, My World program brings a participatory science, critical thinking and community participation curriculum to 10 peripheral zone villages and schools, which are a day or more walk from the nearest road. Offered at the moment to 20 fourth graders per village, these 200 students are introduced to desks, textbooks, maps and even school lunch for the first time.
“You should see these kids’ faces,” Dr. Wright said, “We’re transforming them.” She used Hanta as an example of such progress. “She wanted to see how much wood her parents were burning,” Dr. Wright explained, “She measured each piece of firewood they used and figured how many trees that equaled per month: 12 trees. That’s one family. She was shocked, everyone was. This is about understanding nature and what we’re doing to it. It’s not infinite.”
— Jordan Chapman