Anndi Russell is spending a year in Madagascar serving with the ELCA Young Adults in Global Mission program. You can read more about Anndi’s experiences in Madagascar in her blog, “Madagascar: a path yet untrodden.” To support someone in the Young Adults in Global Mission program or a longer term missionary, go to www.ELCA.org/globalchurch/donate.
Here in Madagascar, I do a lot of different work. One of my primary jobs is working with a nonprofit organization, AVIA. AVIA stands for Anosy Villages Integrated Actions, and the goal is to improve the lives of the people living in the villages surrounding Fort Dauphin through education about hygiene and farming practices, among other things. The organization works with 25 villages right now, and more are being added. I love the work that AVIA does, and I feel very blessed to be a member of this team.
I go out with AVIA two or three times a week, and each day is a little bit different. On Tuesdays I work at a rural center that pregnant women and new mothers can come to for consultations and infant vaccinations. The days at this center can be very mentally challenging for me. Many of the pregnant women are younger than me, and it is often their second, third, or fourth pregnancy. These women have never had the opportunity to learn how to read or write, and most are not married. Right now, my job is to record information, weigh babies, and try and understand the Malagasy that is being spoken around me. I am excited for the day when I can speak the language because I really want to be able to connect with these women and understand a bit of their story.
The other days with AVIA are spent visiting the different villages. On these days, the nurse that I work with and I educate the people of the villages about healthy lifestyles. We explain the importance of washing hands, and what a healthy diet for a child is. We talk about how to prevent malaria, and what the symptoms are. I use the word “we” very loosely, because right now I have exactly six phrases that I am in charge of saying (clean the yard, wash your hands with soap: before preparing food, before eating, after using the bathroom, after playing … I’ve really mastered all of those in Malagasy).
AVIA does many other things as well, such as building schools and teaching the most efficient methods for farming rice. The organization may be starting a program that will teach women the art of embroidery, which would help empower them to start small businesses — something that I am really passionate about.
The AVIA team often spends the majority of the day traveling — picking up lumber or bricks for a new school that is being built, getting vaccines, navigating the deteriorating roads, or walking between rice paddies to reach villages that the road doesn’t lead to. It’s not uncommon to spend five or six hours traveling, walking or waiting and to work in the villages for just an hour or two in a day. The amount of time we spend traveling for the small amount of education that we are able to offer each day in the field really speaks to how important this organization views their work. It’s really inspiring and humbling to be part of such a team, and I am looking forward to contributing in whatever small way I can to their mission.