Elizabeth Johnson

I'm only just getting started!

After four years of studying biology, it was my three months in Madagascar that really opened my eyes to the incredible possibilities of “sustainable development”. My time in the programme is over, but I’m just getting started…
© WWF / Elizabeth Johnson
Liz in hut
© WWF / Elizabeth Johnson


To those of you considering the Explore Madagascar Programme, I offer these musings:
You will be welcomed with such enthusiasm that it might feel overwhelming – especially when the village children are so interested in you that the WC is the only place where you can hide from prying eyes.

You will laugh when the forest agents suggest that the most appropriate footwear for zoning is a pair of plastic jelly shoes. But you will quickly realize that they are right, as usual.

Hang out with the “porters” as much as you can in the field. They are wonderful, and so eager to teach and learn all that they can. Cook with them, eat with them, practice your Malagache with them. You will love it, and so will they.

At times, it will seem like the transportation theory is “walk straight up to the top of the tallest hill in sight, and then slide down the other side.” It is exhausting, but make sure you take the time to look around at the top – the view is worth the climb.

Embrace beans and rice wholeheartedly. And don’t worry about starving – you’ll be impressed (or even appalled) when you see just how much rice you are capable of eating.

Be open-minded about cultural norms, especially as a female. One of my proudest moments was after a particularly agile trek through a swamp, when the COBA president of Tsaratanana said to me, “Elisabeth, forte comme un garçon.” I knew that he meant it as a huge compliment.

While you are sliding on your butt, trying in vain to scramble up a muddy hillside in the rain, you may see a barefoot woman casually stroll straight up it, smiling at you, with a bucket of water perfectly balanced on her head, a huge bushel of greens in her arms, and a sleeping baby tied around her middle. Villagers can navigate the invisible “paths” of the forest with impeccable precision, spot beehives in trees from a mile away, and lift steaming pots of rice straight out of the fire WITH THEIR BARE HANDS. Be prepared - Malagache people are kind of superhuman.

Be patient! The general vibe is “mora mora” : “slowly slowly”. There is no rush (even if you sometimes wish there was).

-  “Wow, is that spider dangerous?”
- “Oh yes. But it’s not aggressive!”

That muddy obstacle course might not look like a "road" to you, but believe me - you will develop a whole new appreciation for Land Rovers!

It won't be what you expect, whatever that may be! The experience will be more challenging, hotter, colder, dirtier, more beautiful, and lovelier than you anticipate.
© WWF / Elizabeth Johnson
Honey doesn't get any fresher than this - feasting on a beehive in Tsaratanana!
© WWF / Elizabeth Johnson

Words can’t express the impact that this project has had on my life – the best way to find out for yourself is to apply to the Explore programme!

If you'd like to know more

I was fortunate to be chosen as one of seven volunteers to take part in WWF International’s Explore programme. In this film, I’ve tried to capture some of the beauty of Madagascar, the kindness of its people, and the challenges and rewards of working in the humid tropical forest

Go, go, GO! Do not let this opportunity pass you by! During my work around Vondrozo, I'd often have "Madagascar moments" – I'd feel so lucky that I'd have to stop, look around in disbelief, smile, and thank the universe for bringing me to such an incredible place.