Centre ValBio hosted over 50 guests from January 18 to 20 for the My Rainforest My World (MRMW) Second Quarter Workshop. MRMW was recently added to CVB’s ongoing conservation education initiative in October, and it focuses on teaching fourth grade students from the remote villages surrounding Ranomafana National Park about the importance of the environment and the impact that they have on the world around them. The program reflects CVB’s mission to create a sustainable movement in Madagascar by directly involving the community in all aspects of the center’s conservation efforts.
Ten intern teachers trained with education professionals to learn the curriculum developed by educators in the United States, and then they set out to ten different remote villages, each of which are several hour hikes from any main road. The program caters to fourth grade classes, which includes children from ages 8 to 15 years old. After regular classes end around 1 p.m., the program provides fourth grade with school lunch, and then the intern teacher leads an hour long lesson on topics such as hygiene, climate, and the importance of biodiversity.
The students are also responsible for hands on learning projects and presenting the projects to the community at the end of each quarter. Over the first teaching quarter, the four-person MRMW team lead by Lovasoa Razafindravony visited each of the ten remote schools to watch the students’ quarterly presentations, and then they meet with the teachers and parents to analyze the program’s impact on the community. Stony Brook University Senior Sociology major Alessandra Reed spent her internship with CVB visiting some of the schools with the team and organizing activities and materials for the second quarter workshop.
At the three day workshop, the ten intern teachers as well as the ten fourth grade teachers from each school met at CVB along with Dr. Patricia Wright, the Mayor of Ranomafana, and a team of education experts including Daniella Rabino, an American PhD candidate from the University of Sussex who played a large role in developing the program. The majority of the workshop consisted of the experts teaching the intern teachers the material for the second quarter of the school year, but they also dedicated time for the intern teachers to discuss their experiences and challenges during their first quarter and share different teaching techniques and games.
When asked about the future of MRMW, Rabino stated, “I hope that as we get our feet wet, and continue to work with these communities, not only will it continue to expand to more villages, but the program will keep getting stronger and new elements will be added that will make it possible for people to create their own projects that they want to do, so that the teachers and the children will work together to see projects through.”
So far, the program has proven to be quite successful, and the parents and children of the remote villages have made requests to expand MRMW to all primary school grades. The MRMW team plans to expand the program to 20 schools by next year, and to 34 schools the year after.
Stony Brook University PhD candidate Elise Lauterbur spent the day in the small unprotected rainforest of Ambatolahidimy on Jan. 8, 2016 to collect samples for her research on the three species of bamboo lemurs that are found in Madagascar.
Lauterbur has been studying bamboo lemurs under Patricia Wright, PhD, and Liliana Dávalos, PhD, for two years.
“My research is to find out how bamboo lemurs tolerate the very large amounts of cyanide that’s naturally found in the bamboo they eat,” Lauterbur explained. “The Golden Bamboo Lemur and the Greater Bamboo Lemur have both been shown to ingest very large amounts of cyanide. In the case of the Golden Bamboo Lemur, it’s at least twelve times the amount of cyanide that would kill any other mammal of a similar size,” she continued. “We don’t know how they manage to survive this, and that’s what my research is to find out.”
In order to conduct this research, Lauterbur needs to collect urine samples from as many individual bamboo lemurs as possible. Analysis of the urine may reveal some biological processes that let the lemurs survive the consumption of cyanide.
To collect these samples, Lauterbur is accompanied into the forest by Centre ValBio research technicians Velo and Jean Claude to find the lemurs. The two guides have been observing the lemurs in this forest frequently, so they know where the groups are normally found. They can also track down the lemurs by looking for “lemur trash,” which is the part of the bamboo that the lemurs discard after eating. Once they locate the group of Golden Bamboo Lemurs sleeping in a tree, Lauterbur and her intern, Scott Kahl, sit down and wait for the lemurs to wake up.
After a few hours, the lemurs wake up, and the team follows them deeper into the forest and observes their behaviors. Kahl, a senior biology major at Stony Brook University, is looking for one behavior in particular: eating dirt. “It’s possible that they would be eating it [the dirt] for some kind of nutritional value for dealing with the cyanide in the bamboo,” Kahl explains.
Lauterbur places herself underneath the lemur with a funnel and tube apparatus and waits to catch its urine. The sample has to be frozen as soon as possible so she can transport it back to her lab in the United States for analysis.
Lauterbur has collected 16 samples during the past two weeks, and she is staying at CVB until March.
Senior biology student Joe Babinski of Stony Brook University met with three traditional healers from the area surrounding Centre ValBio on Jan. 7, 2016. Babinski is meeting with these healers to gather information for his internship project.
“My project is a comparison of the type of care that the Malagasy people are getting from the traditional healers and from the Western Health Team that operates out of the center,” Babinski explains, “it seems to me that depending on what type of illness they have, people will choose either the health team or a traditional healer.” “So far I have spoken with three or four traditional healers and asked them questions about the types of illness they see, the way they treat those illnesses, and the training that they’ve gotten,” he continued.
To gather information, Babinski sets out each morning with CVB Biodiversity Assistant Dina Heriala as his guide, and he attends arranged meetings with traditional healers. The first stop on this day’s journey was at a tiny house down the road from the town of Ranomafana to meet a midwife.
The 57-year-old woman sat on the floor of her home with a baby in her lap as the children of the village crowded at the door to catch a glimpse of the strange visitors. Through Babinski’s questions and Heriala’s translations, the midwife explained how she learned her skills through her grandmother, and named a few plants that she uses for her treatments.
After saying thank you and goodbye, Heriala lead Babinski to the home of another midwife who lives in a village directly above Ranomafana. This midwife explained that she has been practicing for 16 years, and that she works closely with the hospital in town. Babinski was elated to hear this information. “That’s exactly what I was hoping for,” he exclaimed after the interview, “some kind of relationship.”
The duo then descended back into town to meet a healer that specializes in burns and sore throats. At his small storefront in Ranomafana, he explained how he used ginger as a treatment for many ailments, and occasionally gave his patients Amoxicillin, which is a western antibiotic. With this new information, Babinski speculated that “traditional healers play an important cultural role, and fulfill a medical role when necessary, but those who are close enough [to the hospital] and can afford it prefer Western medicine.”
Babinski still has to continue his research by joining the traveling medical team for their next expedition on Jan. 14, but so far he believes that “there seems to be three factors for choosing a healer: proximity, cost, and comfort.”
Stony Brook University graduate student Carla Rodriguez is conducting her own research in reforestation during her internship at Centre ValBio. Rodriguez set out with Nicolas Rasolonjatovo, head of the 6-person Reforestation Team at CVB, on Jan. 6, 2016 to Morafeno Reforestation Site to begin plotting.
Rodriguez’s research as an Environmental Management major focuses on the growth in reforestation sites, which are forests that have been re-planted. She is also gathering data from fragmented forests, which are forests that have a significant amount of cleared land around them. At the end of her research, Rodriguez hopes that her data shows which species of trees survive the best during reforestation. She also plans to utilize her data, which involves some GPS mapping, to create a map of the reforestation sites for CVB.
In Madagascar, the rainforests are always in danger. The majority of forests are destroyed by the people living nearby in order to create land for farming. Due to low quality soil and a lack of crop diversity, most agricultural families have to change locations every few years. This leads to even more destruction of the forest. Reforestation projects like CVB’s attempt to plant trees in areas where most of the forest has been cut down.
Morafeno Reforestation Site was planted in 2006 by school children who were learning about the environment. Although the trees are growing, Rodriguez’s project revealed that there is a high risk that all of the efforts in this site could be reversed due to destructive gold mining. Cavernous holes filled with water and quartz gravel appear all over the area of land where the trees are planted. These mines make it virtually impossible to plant trees. “They say they can find gold under those trees’ roots,” Rasolonjatovo explains, “so that’s why they get in the forest and dig a hole. So many trees fall down and die.”
“If we give up, we can’t save anything,” Rasolonjatovo says. So despite the gold mining complications, the CVB Reforestation Team gets to work as Rodriguez finds the area of the entire site using a GPS. Then the team lays a measuring tape around some trees to create a 10 x 10 meter square called a “plot.” “We are going to take them [the plots] randomly, and we are going to be measuring all the trees within our plots,” explains Rodriguez, “my goal is to do five to ten plots a day.”
With help from team members Lucean and Alfred, Rodriguez collects the name and various measurements of each tree within the taped-out square and records the data in a table. She then proceeds to get the GPS coordinates of the plot for mapping purposes.
Rodriguez plans to gather data from about 60 plots throughout the duration of her three-week internship.
The Centre ValBio Medical Team left on the morning of Jan. 6, 2016 for its first of eight expeditions for this year. This team of three Malagasy caregivers including Lovasoa, a nurse, and Fara, a midwife, travel completely by foot with medical gear in tow to remote villages as far as 36 km (about 22 mi) away. The people of these villages live too far away to receive free medical care from the hospital in town, so the CVB team comes to them to treat common ailments such as malaria, respiratory infections, malnutrition, diarrhea, and tuberculosis. The medical team treats around 2,000 patients per year, and about 70 of those patients are expectant mothers.
Both Lovasoa and Fara studied to be a nurse and a midwife respectively for three years after receiving their Bachelor’s degrees. Fara has been a midwife for over two years, and Lovasoa has been a practicing nurse for one year.
Two interns from the CVB Winter 2016 Study Abroad group have made the choice to join the team on this challenging expedition. Before setting off to the first village, Senior Developmental Genetics major Frank Fodera and Junior Biology major Catherine Arias of Stony Brook University answered a few questions for CVB Rainforest news.
What will your responsibilities be for this trip?
Catherine: We are going out to help people that have malaria, tuberculosis, fevers, and we are treating them with free consultation and patient care.
Frank: I was hoping to be a set of extra hands, so I’m ready to do whatever they ask me to do, and hopefully not get in the way.
What have you done to prepare for the journey?
Frank: More of my preparation was geared towards making sure I had the right equipment and materials.
Catherine: We are bringing sleeping bags, tents, food, a whole backpack full of clothes, shampoo, towels, etc.
Do you have any concerns about this trip?
Frank: Yes, absolutely. They [the nurses] said it’s common to run into tuberculosis, and obviously that’s very contagious and very serious. So that’s a concern.
The team returns from their expedition on Jan. 11, and heads out again on Jan. 14 for a five day expedition.
Jan. 4, 2016 marked the study abroad interns’ official first day at Centre ValBio, and one of the highlights was meeting with the mayor of Ranomafana. At the tiny government building in town, Mayor Jose Rabemiafara welcomed the group of eight interns and their coordinators. After listening to a description of each intern’s individual project, Mayor Rabemiafara expressed his concerns for the town of Ranomafana. He discussed issues such as proper garbage disposal and sanitation, mosquito related illnesses, and difficulties growing vegetables.
He stressed that teaching the next generation about conservation and biodiversity is the first step to resolving these issues. Mayor Rabemiafara informed the interns on current programs for the local children such as school lunches and conservation clubs. He expressed his passion for helping the children by showing the interns his plans to build a playground in a small lot that CVB has landscaped near the local hospital. He explained that most children in the town, and in Madagascar, never receive toys or things to play with, so building a playground would be a huge step for the town.
Meeting with Mayor Rabemiafara helped create a more vivid picture of the town of Ranomafana. This gave the interns a better idea of what they can do to help the town during their stay.
Stony Brook University’s study abroad program in Madagascar began bright and early on Jan. 1, 2016 as students accompanied coordinator Elise Lauterbur on a shuttle from the university to JFK International Airport at 6 a.m. The 15 minute line for airport security led to a 15 hour flight to Johannesburg, South Africa. After a brief layover the students hopped on another plane headed to Antananarivo, the capital of Madagascar. When the flight was almost half way to the destination, the pilot turned around to fly back to Johannesburg due to a leak somewhere in the aircraft. The passengers were shuttled to a new aircraft immediately after the faulty plane touched ground in Johannesburg, and they were back in the air for another three hour flight.
The second attempt at flying to Madagascar went smoothly, and the students continued their journey by gesturing their way through immigration to get their visas. Patricia Paladines, Program Officer of Stony Brook’s Institute for the Conservation of Tropical Enviornment (ICTE), as well as Benjamin, Head of MICET (Malagasy version of ICTE), met the group of new interns at the Antananarivo airport.
After exchanging their US Dollars for Malagasy Ariary, the group packed themselves and their luggage on a bus and drove to a small hotel in Antananarivo (Tana for short) to stay the night. The students were quick to connect to the hotel’s WiFi to inform their loved ones that they arrived safely.
The journey had already proven to be a long one, but it was no where near over. The next morning, the group left the hotel and hopped back on the bus for the 12 hour bus ride from Tana to Ranomafana, which is where Centre ValBio is located. The group looked out the window in awe with cameras ready as the bus took them through the bustling and broken down city of Tana, to the smaller and quieter towns outside the city, to the vast fields of rice paddies and greenery in the countryside. Only making two stops for coffee and lunch, the interns and supervisors passed the time on the bus by alternating between taking pictures and taking naps. To catch a small glimpse of the views from the bus window, watch this video here:
Since the commute to the center was an adventure in itself, the nine interns of Centre ValBio’s Winter Study Abroad program cannot even imagine what adventures the next three weeks hold as they work on their individual experiential learning projects and research.