The skinny.

Hi friends and fam,

So, as you may be aware, I am (finally!) in my final semester at the University of Toronto. This is exciting because I will soon have another official-looking document to frame and hang in my room. (It may even have a shiny U of T seal on it, but I don’t want anyone getting TOO excited, in case I’m mistaken on the matter. Stranger things have happened.)

It’s also exciting because I’ve been chosen, after a fairly stressful and exciting application and interview process, to be part of a WWF Youth Volunteer Program project in Madagascar for the summer months. The project is called ‘Management of the Vondrozo Forest Corridor’, and I’ve attached the information sheet on this blog entry, in case you are a proficient French reader and are interested in the details of the project. (Note: I only associate with sublimely intelligent beings, so if I’ve sent you the link to this blog, I have full faith in your literacy.)

The general idea is that Madagascar is known to be an unbelievable “hotspot” of biodiversity, and is of great scientific interest these days, as species are going extinct at appalling rates. There’s a forest corridor between two two protected “park” areas, the Reserve Forestiere de Vondrozo and the Reserve Speciale du Pic d’Ivohibe. The forest corridor is about 70 km long and (on average) 10 km wide, and it is not under permanent protection, as the larger reserves are. There are many communities within the corridor, and many of their farming practices are not what we might call ‘sustainable’, as they involve what the locals call “Tavy”, involving lots of burning for the sake of agriculture. (Picture the burning blueberry fields in New Brunswick, only these burning fields are surrounded by precious and endangered wildlife.) The purpose of our youth project is to travel within the corridor and surrounding area, staying in villages and at a WWF site with researchers, and work within the communities to educate the locals about biodiversity and sustainable use of the amazing chunk of land on which they live.

I’m sure you must be thinking, “Wow, Liz, that sounds really lame. Where’s the exciting part?” So I will mention that our only real common language is French, and we’ll be working with WWF researchers who can translate our French into Malagasy so that the people in these communities actually know what we’re talking about. (We will also have several days of Malagasy lessons at the beginning, so that we will know how to find bathrooms and inquire about the weather and such.) I’ll also add that our team consists of the following bunch:

1) Manora Leneveu, France (studying business management in Singapore)
2) Silvia Crespo, Spain (did environmental studies in the UK; now living and working in Paris)
3) Jamila Haider, Austria/Canada (studying political science & biology at Carleton University)
4) Elizabeth Johnson, Canada (studying human biology, zoology and german at Toronto University)
5) Kingsly Akamewane, Cameroon (studying environmental & resource management in Germany)
6) Charles Cauchon, Canada (studying biology at Université Laval in Quebec)

We’ve started emailing, in French-English-German (sometimes switching language from sentence to sentence), and I was pleased to find that I’m not the only one feeling slightly terrified and uncertain about the whole thing. They are an impressive group of young people, and I feel quite honoured (and slightly underqualified) to be named among them.

So… that’s sort of the on-paper description of “the plan.” But, honestly, I don’t think I’m fully appreciating the magnitude of this project in terms of how it’s going to change my life. I had a minor epiphany yesterday when the nurse at the travel clinic jabbed my arm with a syringe full of typhoid and Hepatitis A (Note: this is a preventative measure, not a suicide attempt), and a slightly bigger epiphany when I found out how much malaria vaccination costs. I’m really going.


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