Our visit to Akany Avoko Faravohitra Childrens Home Madagascar was an unforgettably moving experience. In Malagasy ‘Akany’ is centre, ‘Avoko’ a Madagascan flower and ‘Faravohitra’ is a suburb of Antananarivo the Madagascan capital.
It was our second day in Madagascar and we knew that we were to visit a children’s home that had recently opened. What we didn’t know was just how close this home was to the heart of Nicolas, export manager of Chocolat Madagascar. We already knew that both Neil Kelsall of Raisetrade and Nicolas were special people, quiet, unassuming and modest, they were both helping to change the lives of Madagascan people step by step, brick by brick.
There is an historic connection with Wales in Madagascar through the work of early church missionaries. As a younger man Nicolas had taken part in a church exchange programme. Each year one Malagasy would come to the Rhondda valley, Wales to help in the Church gift shop and cafe. This programme helped Nicolas improve his now excellent English language skills and learn accountancy skills. He is now export manager for Chocolat Madagascar and with his English counterpart Neil is helping Madagscar to export higher value finished chocolate products – Raisetrade.
Nicolas’ wife Hanta is a social worker and and runs the newly opened children’s home. When Neil last visited in September 2015 the home was derelict with a leaking roof. There is no government funded social care in Madagascar. The building was donated for use as a Children’s home by the church and the government oversees the legal administration. But there is no funding. The renovation was done by Nicolas, Hanta, friends and volunteers and opened in February 2016. It already houses 29 girls and one boy, with difficult social backgrounds, many brought in by the police for their own protection. Under Hanta’s guidance the home aims to give a safe, loving and secure place for the girls to live and receive an education preparing them for adult life.
We were warmly welcomed by the girls who prepared two beautiful traditional Malagasy songs and dances for us. We are delighted at such a welcome! Hanta then invites us in for a tour of the home.
The home is bright and welcoming though we are struck with just how tidy all of the girls dormitory beds are. When we see a single knitted teddy bear we realise why… the girls have no possessions. The home has just opened, rescued from dereliction, this is all there is. Hanta later tells us that the winter is soon here and they have no blankets for the beds. We later see the girls crowded around a single small television set watching a childrens television programme.
Already all of the girls have learnt embroidery and basket making skills. Whilst the plan is to also offer them education, for many of the older girls practical skills like this are invaluable and give them a means to support themselves. Each girl has a bank account set up in her name and a proportion of the handicraft sales goes to their own bank account whilst the rest goes to food and running costs of the home. Each girl takes a great pride in the goods they have made and as we choose beautiful baskets, place mats and embroidery work the makers’ faces light up with a beaming smile.
We soon realise that we need to clear the entire display of goods or someone will be disappointed. This isn’t a difficult task as they are all exquisitely made with fine detail and between us and fellow chocolatiers we manage to clear the whole cabinet!
It is then our turn to present gifts to Hanta and the girls. We have brought a ukulele, a beginners tutor book and exercise books, pens and paper. Diana gathers the girls into a singalong with help from Jamie of Cocoa Ooze and Claire from Chococo. We then present the Ukulele to the girls and Hanta tries her first chord.
Each of us has brought different gifts and our whole party presents them to much excitement! As the girls unwrap the badminton rackets two girls hold the rackets, one the shuttlecock, and a younger one holds the plastic netting (that we would throw away) as a prize. Everything is precious and nothing is wasted.
Items such as cameras and smart phones are not widely available or affordable in Madagascar so every girl wants to pose for selfies and photographs and then see how they look to much excitement and laughter.
During the fun we talk with Nicolas and Hanta about the challenges facing the home. In many ways the easy part of renovation has been done and the difficult part of funding running costs and food for the home is very immediate. They have the potential to house over 50 girls and as we have seen on the suburbs of Antananarivo the need is certainly there many times over.
Nicolas describes the sponsorship programme they are putting in place for each girl at a cost of £30 a month. In a quieter moment several days later Nicolas also confides that money is very tight and that he is subsidising the home from his own wages to buy rice.
We finally say our farewells to the girls with a tear in our eye and perform the Sound of Music ‘so long farewell’ in an impromptu routine to the line of girls and Hanta.
This has undoubtedly been one of the most humbling experiences and one we will never forget. Later in the week we pool any spare Malagasy money we have and donate it to buy as many blankets as possible for the coming winter.
Since returning from the UK we have worked with Nicolas, Hanta and Neil to set up sponsorship programmes through UK charities. Due to their fantastic work there are now several options to sponsor the home.
We -Lick the Spoon – are now sponsoring the home monthly through Small Steps for Africa www.smallstepsforafrica.org as part of our commitment to improving the lives of people in the wonderful country of Madagascar.
If you would like to know more about the home please visit www.madagascare.org They have a page listing methods to donate to them or sponsor a child.
Thank you to…
Hanta and the girls of Akany Avoko Faravohitra
Nicolas of Chocolat Madagascar (and Hanta’s husband)
Neil Kelsall of Chocolat Madagsacar and founder of Raisetrade
HB Ingredients – Steve, Neil, Tony and the Team for organising this trip. Chocolat Madagascars UK distributor.
Jamie – Cocoa Ooze and Claire – Chococo for impromptu musical assistance
Dave & Helen of Equis Ice Cream
Deirdre of Cocouture, Belfast