Misaotra Betsaka: Fantastic News from Madagascar

In my last post three weeks ago, The Power of Pencils, I told you about my spontaneous, scientific drawing classes in the rainforest, and I asked for your help. My goal was to raise $1,200 for Madaworks, enough to fund one year of high school for two Malagasy girls.

This week in Torotosy, I brought scientifically accurate coloring sheets of local lemur species to a new group of kids and teenagers. Several of the adolescent girls brought their babies with them, deftly switching off between the tasks of learning, coloring, and soothing crying infants.

The coloration of the lemurs was... less than scientifically accurate, but highly creative!

Once the lemurs were colored, we got to the good part: designing an ecosystem in the background. This boy included trees, leaves, fruits, and even an endemic Vasa Parrot, or kevaka in the local parlance.
Team, I have fantastic news: we've done it, and we've done better! Here's the breakdown.

Donations through PayPal: 1
Donations through Venmo: 3
Donations directly to Madaworks: 7
Total donations (for those of you who aren't into math): 11
Total amount raised: $1805!!! (Enough for three years of school!)

Amazingly, the donors include two women I've never met, but who found my blog though mutual friends and were moved to help. Thank you to everyone---friends, family, strangers---who invested in this small dream of mine, whether by donating money or simply reading along and feeling a connection to this story.

This girl's blooming background steals the show from her purple-and-red lemur family.

Our local guide, "Miandry" Ramiandrisoa, joined in happily on the coloring. The next day, he took me for a botanical tour of the area, naming every single leaf we encountered. He hopes to put his local plant knowledge to use for my researchers in the future, and I hope so, too.

This artist added a second lemur baby to his drawing. Twins of this species are uncommon but not unheard-of.

If you zoom in, you'll see the artist's caption, written in pencil and totally unprompted: "Tiako Madagaskara Hasoaviko Tanindrazako." It translates roughly to, "I love Madagascar. I want to do good for the home of my ancestors." When I read this, I laughed and told him I love Madagascar too, so he added the word "Nina" for good measure.

Diane Powers, president and founder of Madaworks, has been in touch with me many times to express her gratitude. She has extended a challenge to all of us:

"It's so wonderful that you were able to raise the first year costs to add 2 more girls. Thank you again! Having said that, we still need to raise an additional $1200 per girl to complete the three years of high school - it's $600 per year per girl." (High school is only three years in Madagascar.)

So here it is, my new goal: to raise $3,600 to fund two Malagasy girls through an entire high-school education. 

It sounds like an ambitious goal, but we're more than halfway there already. A month ago, I wouldn't have thought it possible. Now, after being shocked and inspired by the generosity of all you Natural Selections readers, I think it just might be.

The big kids (around my age) had a great time drawing habitats for lemurs colored by the younger artists.

Here's the Torotosy bunch from one of our afternoon sessions.

The next day, we moved on to a more difficult task: collecting spiders, crickets, flies and pillbugs into a wide yellow bucket and sketching them from life. It was a success, and I was delighted to see that these kids, who are terrified of non-venomous snakes, were not the least bit squeamish about picking up spiders in their bare hands (a feat I am leery of myself.)

If you are moved and able, please consider helping get these girls to school. Here's how:

PayPal: ninafinley176@gmail.com

Venmo: @Nina-Finley

Madaworks website: https://www.madaworks.org/donate/

This Christmas, I'll be on a plane from Madagascar to Indonesia. I won't be asking for any gifts. Instead, I'm suggesting that my family consider making a donation to Madaworks. If you're looking for a way to celebrate the holidays while consuming a little less, feel free to steal this idea and ask your community of gift-givers to do the same. :)

The following week, I met Josia, a young woman just a few years older than me in the village of Ambodiaviavy. She found me on the path one day, asked for my notebook through gestures, and stopped right there to sketch me the legume tree we were standing next to. "Rapitso, sivy!" she said through her beaming smile. "Tomorrow, nine!" Sure enough, there she was at camp the next morning, ready to draw. She became our camp cook, and she passionately hopes to work for Centre ValBio as a guide. Here we are holding the drawings we made for each other. She drew the ubiquitous secondary-growth plant, longoza, and a passion-fruit vine with a diagram of how to make it into medicine against sand-fleas. (A zoonotic disease, she already knows what gets me excited!) I drew her favorite bird, the blue coua.

Here's the Torotosy bunch taking a break from coloring to inhale a few bowls of vary sy tsaramaso, rice and beans. I had to get my camera out fast because those beans didn't last thirty seconds!