The Great Hope of the Forest
Until recently, Soavinera, 51, had lived all of her life in the heart of Madagascar’s great northern forest. She comes from the village of Andranomilolo, a place surrounded by over 300,000 ha of rivers and rainforest. This past week, Soavinera left her village to set out on the adventure of a lifetime and a trip across the oceans.
She is one of four brave women participating in a joint program run by WWF and the Barefoot College in India. The project takes illiterate grandmothers from countries around the world, brings them to the Barefoot College in India, and trains them how to become solar technicians. After receiving six months of training, the women return to their villages and apply their new skills to building solar units that will bring electricity and evening light to their communities.
At Home in Nature
Soavinera knows the importance of the forest. She and her friends and family depend on it daily for their food and shelter. The forests around her home provide gifts for all of Madagascar. They are the headwaters for major rivers that flow to the east, the west and the north. They are the leafy, green lungs of the country and beneath the rainforest canopy can be found an abundance of plant and animal life, with a level of biodiversity almost unmatched in the world.
Losing these forests would threaten the water supply of Madagascar and affect millions of people across the Big Island. The stability of the northern forests is being threatened. Climate change is altering the seasons, which impacts the work of farmers and the viability of their crops. Poor agricultural practices, such as slash-and-burn farming, are also taking a toll; nibbling away at the ragged edges of a steadily retreating rainforest each year.
The opportunity to protect the forests by lowering her communities’ dependence on fuel wood is part of the reason why Soavinera decided to travel so far from home. She is also compelled by the chance to increase the income levels and quality of life in her village. Solar panels capturing the sun’s energy by day will mean a steady, clean source of light in the evening – and the opportunity for villagers to pursue other ways to make an income and for children to continue school and learning.
Before that brighter, cleaner future can be realized, Soavinera has to take this first, crucial step. She has just left the only home she has ever known to learn a new skill that will forever change the future for her family. The experience of other villages who have participated in the program shows that the impacts go beyond simply providing light. The women return with enhanced status and value in their communities, more engaged in social life and as role models for other women. They have come back with ideas and an energy that inspires innovations within their villages. This is what Soavinera wants to become – an example for others and a leader in her village and village association, building a better future while also saving the forests that have been her lifelong home.