Madagascar: Volunteers put their faith, their gifts and their talents at the service of community development

Solidarity that “lightens everyone’s burden”

(LWI) – A project run by hundreds of volunteers from the Malagasy Lutheran Church (MLC) demonstrates how the talent and expertise of local people, congregations and public authorities can promote citizen participation and inclusion in community development.

MLC started the Use Your Talents (UYT) project eight years ago to educate and persuade church leaders and congregational members to use Christian talent for church and community betterment in Madagascar. He is part of the Diaconal Mission Unit of the Church.

A recent report on the many activities that have been accomplished shows how UYT has become a rallying point to meet the different needs of the community. The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has supported the UYT project since 2017 through its Member Church Projects program.

With administrative support from the MLC and technical guidance from local authorities, hundreds of volunteers in the 300 Lutheran Church districts of Madagascar contributed their gifts and talents to improve feeder roads, bridges and sanitation facilities. They have also set up waste management pits, built public toilets, water wells and fountains, and houses among many other initiatives throughout the 24 MLC Synods in the country. Caring for vulnerable families through an initiative called FIMA is a key responsibility for the welfare of orphans, widows, single parents, people with disabilities, ex-prisoners and destitute families.

“When the mission of the Church is clearly understood by Christians, they use their talents to accomplish it. This has been proven by the number of facilities built and vulnerable family groups identified,” UYC coordinator Mr. Antoine Andriambonimihanta noted in the report.

In the district of Ambalavao, Synod of the central region of the MLC, for example, the UYT takes care of patients with extreme needs at the district hospital, 20 people living with disabilities and six deaf girls. Similar care is being replicated in other districts such as Tanambao, where UYT volunteers support 18 widows and a number of people living with mental disabilities.

In the district of Fisaka, weekly donations enable “disabled people to obtain money to buy soap and other basic necessities”, and basket weaving provides additional income for the schooling of orphans. In other districts, Andriambonimihanta noted, “the rate of unemployed women has gone down, their children are in school and their way of life has improved.” He added, “Members are eager to volunteer and take on their responsibilities. The community shows solidarity, the capital increases and this eases the burden for everyone.

Members are eager to volunteer and take on their responsibilities. The community shows solidarity, the capital grows and this lightens the burden of each.



MLC Project Coordinator, Mr. Antoine Andriambonimihanta

Everyone can contribute

One of UYT’s activities is a savings and credit program called VOATSINAPY, which mobilizes financial contributions from hundreds of families. It starts with the constitution of an association of 25 people maximum, who know each other and trust each other. They make monetary contributions to a common fund according to the financial capacity of each member, allowing loans and repayments according to established procedures. “Anyone can become a member of VOATSINAPY. This builds solidarity within society,” Andriambonimihanta noted.

In Vohitsaoka, a rural commune in the Ambalavao district of central Madagascar, about 90 percent of VOATSINAPY members say the savings group is effective, according to MLC program coordinator Mr. Alfred Rasamimanana. “Some have been able to buy livestock, some have been able to buy land that their children can inherit, some have been able to improve and expand the businesses they used to do, some have expanded the land they farm. Others have even noticed that family life is stabilizing thanks to the increase in income,” he said.

Rasamimanana noted that involvement in these new activities “also has a positive impact on church life,” including increased participation. “They are currently expanding and improving the church here in Vohitsaoka,” he added.

Capacity Building

The activities of UYT depend on the talents and skills of the very groups that need assistance. In the case of FIMA, the district animator gathers at least 10 vulnerable families and submits their applications to a parish committee, which forms a committee of vulnerable families to identify the talents of the respective family members. With the support of technical advisors, the committee assesses the talents and skills to be strengthened, after which partners, including local government, sister churches, entrepreneurs and local development agents, provide the necessary capacity building.

A similar procedure applies to infrastructure projects for which the beneficiary community submits a request to the church. The latter sees to the establishment of a committee bringing together the various stakeholders to supervise the execution of the work and maintenance upon completion.

Ownership

During a recent visit to Vohitsaoka, the LWF program support officer for diakonia and development, Mr. Yann Bovey, met with some UYT staff and volunteers and witnessed the ongoing work at community level.

“When I arrived at the local church in Vohitsaoka, I was struck by the contrast between the isolation of the place, accessible by a rough road, and the vitality of the local community,” Bovey said. The UYT volunteers were busy rebuilding the church building which was almost completely destroyed during the last two cyclones which caused massive destruction in central Madagascar.

Members of the Malagasy Lutheran Church VOATSINAPY savings group and their families in Vohitsaoka, central Madagascar. Photo: LWF/Y. Bovey

In a meeting with local members of the VOATSINAPY savings group and their families, “they proudly shared their accomplishments,” Bovey recalled. “But what really inspired me was the sense of ownership I witnessed: the people there are not beneficiaries but real project leaders,” he added.

By LWF/P. Mumia

The Malagasy Lutheran Church has over 4 million members and is one of the four major Christian denominations in Madagascar. With 25 synods, including one in Europe, it sends missionaries to Bangladesh, Cameroon, Papua New Guinea, Thailand and Tanzania, mainly as pastors or in diaconal ministries, such as medical personnel. It joined the LWF in 1950 and is led by church president Rev. Dr. Dennis Rakotozafy.

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Norma P. Rex