Andrea Du Rietz

About Me

To give you an idea of who I am: Swedish, born 1985 (making me 23 when I participated in the YVP) with a BSc in Management from London School of Economics. My background is in business but I have always had a very strong interest for evironmental issues and initiatives. Therefore I applied to WWF’s Youth Volunteer Programme, an opportunity to experience environmental conservation work first hand and see its challenges in a developing world context.
Ever since I got home I have received many, many questions from friends and family about my time in Madagascar. It is a country that not many people have had the opportunity to visit and general knowledge about it usually lies around zero. It is difficult to describe what you see and experience as a volunteer in Madagascar, and my expectations were nothing like the actual adventure. As soon as I got back to Antananarivo (the capital of Madagascar) the internet café was my first stop. Having only talked to my parents a couple of times during the past 2 ½ months I thought it would be a nice idea to let my friends and family know that I was back, reachable, and safe after my exciting and adventurous trip. So, I sent out a mass email to try and summarise how my experience had been and I thought this could be a good way to describe what my time in Madagascar was like:
© WWF / Andrea Du Rietz
© WWF / Andrea Du Rietz

Feel free to contact me!

Hello all of my dear friends...

Andy is now back in touch with the outside world.. I arrived yesterday in Madagascar’s capital, ‘Tana’. It feels very strange being in a place with internet, yet alone cell phone reception, electricity all day long, hot water, shops and supermarkets!! Things I have been without for quite some time now. And access to world news!!!! Did manage to find out that Obama is the next U.S. president and that there has been a financial crisis, but other than that I am so out-of-the-loop!!!
My time in Madagascar has been the most difficult and challenging thing I have ever done, but at the same time it has been absolutely amazing!! Wonderful!!! Superb!! Breathtaking!! My base was in a town called Midongy Atsimo that has a population of about 1,200. There existed one phone in Midongy, electricity most nights between 18.00-22.30. Water in the public taps most of the time. But Midongy was luxury living compared to ‘field-work life’..

I spent about eight weeks in small villages in the region of South Midongy. The first was Ampatramary (population approximately 60) where myself and two of the other volunteers had five activities to complete in a four week period:

- Management of the community agriculture storage facility
- Practice of improved gardening
- Literacy for adults & family planning
- Installation of fire breaks
- Proposal of a fauna observation circuit and lemur inventory

It was interesting to see how Madagascar’s development issues and environmental challenges are linked, and how WWF’s agents work on a local level to try and aid the impoverished communities. One thing I was afraid of before heading off to Madagascar was if the work I came to do would be considered offensive by the local communities. This was definitely not the case! The work we performed was both appreciated and enjoyed by community members. Of course we faced challenges along the way, but I feel that I truly made a difference by being in Midongy, even if the work I could contribute with is only a fraction of what is needed to truly develop the region, let alone the country.

Ampatramary was primitive living! But I learned how to carry water in a bucket on my head, shower in nature using two litres of water, and go to the toilet in a hole between wooden planks. Everything is built for people that are shorter than 160 cm. I was a giant!! Sarah, who is quite a bit shorter than me, was considered tall. Imagine what they thought of me: 175cm high!! I even got the comment, “I wish you were a man Andrea. You are so big and strong!” Hahahahahaha!! Lovely..

The women and children are so darling, open and sweet. Their laughter and constant happiness despite the harshness of the lives they lead was amazing to see and experience. You realise how materialistic and pessimistic our own world is and how unappreciative we are of the things that really matter. But it is awful to see the amount of children with swollen bellies due to either malnutrition or parasites attacking their intestines, who can barely walk because of parasy (= parasites, other ones) in their feet that lay eggs and hurt like hell if you do not remove them. I have dug out a few myself during my time here!!!

It is crazy how quickly you adapt to simple life, and how I stopped reacting to things that scared the hell out of me before coming here. I have been swimming in rivers where you often find crocodiles, taking a pee when a little scorpion walks by, constant fleas and bed bugs in my’bed’, itchy parasites laying eggs in my feet, leeches sucking blood from my body after walking in the forest, millions of mosquito bites, always sweat, dirty and smelly.. The list goes on!!

The two weeks before heading back up to Tana were spent in the town of Midongy Atsimo, working with the local high-school students aged 16-24. I have been an English teacher, environmental protection lecturer and their friend. They have taught me how to dance kilalaky, the local rhythm/dance with is so much fun!!!!!! Check it out on YouTube, you do not want to miss out on Tsiliva and other hot Malagasy artists.

It was a very sad day leaving Midongy. The people I said goodbye to I am never going to see again unless I make it back here and these are friends that I have truly connected with. The school kids and WWF agents who made sure that my stay in Midongy was an unforgettable one. Now I am back in the capital where I will be staying until the 16th when I leave and head back to my ‘old’ world, but hopefully I will arrive home with a new and more optimistic perspective on things .

Lots of love,

© WWF / Andrea Du Rietz
Ampatramary: my home for 4 weeks
© WWF / Andrea Du Rietz

An experience of a lifetime!

Madagascar was definitely the experience of a lifetime, and even if I have travelled a lot and had the opportunity to see many poor and developing countries, Madagascar was unique. It has a beautiful culture, kind and gentle people, an incredible plant and animal life, but also a rawness to it as it has not been exploited by foreigners and tourism yet. If you have the opportunity to go, do it! You will not regret it, even if you find it challenging, as the end result is a truly amazing adventure where you also get the chance to contribute to Madagascar’s development.

You will not regret it, even if you find it challenging!