In times of Coronavirus in Sahalava
When life is shared in Madagascar!
It has been more than a month that Madagascar has been in “war” against this very ugly virus! Since then, one of the main challenges for the country has been to combine two parallel struggles; on the one hand to protect the population so as to prevent the virus from spreading and claiming countless victims; and on the other hand, to support an informal economy, the only means of subsistence for an immense majority of the population.
In an attempt to stem the growing misery, the President has set up a new small structure in each Fokontany (annex to the town hall) called “Loharano” (the source). This is a small committee responsible for monitoring what is happening in the Fokontany in order to speed up the interventions of the authorities concerned and also to manage the aid and support provided by the State and distribute it to the population of the district. In concrete terms, this committee receives orders from above and is responsible for making them “live” in the daily life of an already impoverished population. It is in this context, that last Sunday a rice distribution took place for some families of the district…
In the community, our greatest concern is not so much for ourselves, who are privileged to be able to stay at home as much as possible, but to see all these families, getting poorer day by day, not to mention the little children in the nutritional follow-up program who can no longer come twice a day… Sr.Thérèse and Aziliz (a volunteer nurse from France) already made a distribution of Koba (food supplement) for each family so as to avoid the very weak children from becoming the first victims of this pandemic, and without catching the virus! They should start again in the next few days!
Also, knowing well the situations of the families we are dealing with every day, we wanted to participate in this collective effort of sharing! So, little by little, a rice distribution was set up…
For who? For all the families of the nutritional follow-up program and all the families of the children and young people who come to us for tutoring! We are in touch with approximately 170 families!
How much rice to distribute? Knowing that on average “our” families have at least 7 or 8 mouths to feed each day, we have estimated that they need 10 kg of rice … which would help to feed a family for a week or more. So you can quickly do the calculation … 1, 7 tons of rice is necessary!
Where do we get this rice? It was Sister Odile who made a good deal with a lady from the parish, an intermediary in the resale of rice! Covid 19 didn’t do it on purpose, but it came at a good time in the middle of the rice harvest! So, we benefited from very beautiful rice, new … and white … a “luxury” rice for the families who usually eat red rice, cheaper but also a little more nutritious.
And against all expectations, we were able to acquire it at an unbeatable price … 1,650 Ar per kilo against 1,800 Ar on the daily market!
How to get the rice to the community?
We had no way to get it out and even less possibility to carry 1,700kg!
Here again, it is our faithful “guys”, Jean Léon and Jean Marie (former tutoring teachers who have become fathers) who took care of it, so happy to be able to work a little and earn a few pennies. They loaded and unloaded 28 bags of 60 kg each!
How do we notify the families?
The challenge of communication is very important in order to make oneself understood! and how not to tell the whole neighborhood that we would distribute 10 kg of rice! So this is finally what we posted on our gate three days before we did the distribution.
“To each family of the nutritional follow-up program and for the children/youths doing the tutoring program you are invited to come on Monday 20 April from 8.3am to 10.30am. Bring a large basket!”
One last question remained… dear to our way of life and our choices…
What financial participation can the families give? For all the activities proposed at the Centre, we always ask a small symbolic participation to the beneficiaries… so, here, it seemed important to us to proceed in the same way… 500 Ar for each family, a modest sum that would not prevent anyone from coming to collect rice!….
Now all we had to do was to set up our little internal organization for the big day.
How do we organize ourselves... to go by the rules and respect social distancing?
It would be too time consuming to pour 10 kg of rice in bags for over 170 families in two hours, so we opted for two people to prepare buckets containing the planned quantity, two more to put it in the bags carried by the families, and one to receive the parents, point the families on the follow-up and tutoring registers and receive the money!
That’s it… everything is done!
Monday morning we were all prepared to receive “our world” … As predicted the first people arrived 1 hour and 30 minutes before we opened the door!.
At the appointed time, we opened one side of the gate so as to greet all the parents and children who had already arrived and we explained to them how we were going to share the rice with them all … However, before we have time to proceed with the greetings, our eyes were immediately drawn to the long row of baskets lined up all along the wall, in the order in which the people arrived!… No need for a ticket and a number, the basket is yours and that determines your order of passage! A nice image of Malagasy organization which is always inventive and up to date!
So, we started to meet the people… not easy to enforce the rules of distancing, especially outside… So, Ch.’s father who, of his own accord, organizes to let only one person in at a time, and that there are no more than two people in the courtyard… one who is welcomed and one who receives the rice !… Great initiative!
In a few minutes, our organization is well established… and at 9:30 am, the majority of the families have already passed by!
In the meantime, Mrs. Jeannine, a woman well known to the community, invites herself to help the “two” in charge of filling the buckets with rice … And here we go … with music !!! We stayed until 11 o’clock so as to give the latecomers a chance!
Finally 186 families came by in the morning! That’s almost all of them … A few bags were kept aside for the families living further away and probably did not see the notice … We will make sure to give them their rice at the right time !
The 88,500 Ar collected from their financial participation will be donated to the parents’ social security fund, the nutritional follow-up fund and the tutoring fund…. Their participation will therefore continue for them… We will tell them in due course!
A few bags of rice remains…. We will see that they’re distributed in another way… The coronavirus is far from being eradicated!
In the space of a few minutes, it is impressive to see, to contemplate how life is shared, not only in the quantity of rice distributed, but the happiness to see each other again after this month of ‘lockdown’… Even the quick greetings, the news shared discreetly and especially the many thanks received with the aid of the mask, represent our collective “struggle” against isolation, indifference, and the common desire to value and recognize ourselves, all of us from the same great human family!
The Mask Experience
Before I leave you, I would also like to share another beautiful initiative lived in Fiana! Since time isn’t limited, I’m taking advantage of it!
I have already told you about the social reintegration company Le Relais which, with more than 400 employees, allows a whole economy to develop, from car construction to the production and sale of rice, through the sorting and recycling of scraps… A flourishing initiative! Well, in this time of the virus, the Director, never short of innovative ideas, had the bright idea to launch a fundraising appeal to make masks for the whole city…
So in conjunction with the Region and a French-Malagasy NGO, the initiative quickly took shape to meet this demand, the essential obligation to wear a mask. So, he made an appeal to ask women who knew how to sew and had a sewing machine to come and make masks, with a remuneration of 15 000 Ar for every 100 masks made. Then, distributors circulate in the town to supply the places that need them most, such as health centers, the hospital, administrations that have remained partly open, and also small vendors – informal saleswomen/sitting on the pavement! Several women close to us are taking part in this challenge… so necessary and so courageous!
“For the beauty of our paths,
For today and for tomorrow, And for this rice we eat, Lord Jesus, we praise You!!” A little refrain we like to sing at the beginning of meals!
Sabine-Little Sister of the Assumption–in Sahalava-Madagascar