What do Tim Loughton MP, BBC Oceans explorer Paul Rose, a WWII house boat, a packet of condoms, a giant stingray and beauty company Aveda have in common? They all support an innovative family planning programme, run by marine conservation organisation Blue Ventures, which is changing lives in South West Madagascar.
A WWII houseboat in Shoreham-by-Sea was the unusual setting for an auction to raise funds for the programme which provides a vital and welcome service for rural fishing communities and takes an alternative approach to coral reef conservation. The auction at the end of November, presided over by Tim Loughton, MP for East Worthing and Shoreham and Dr Vik Mohan, Medical Advisor to Blue Ventures and pioneer of the family planning programme, sold lots such as SCUBA diving courses at London School of Diving, beauty treatments by Aveda and a signed copy of Hilary Bradt’s guide to Madagascar. Even explorer Paul Rose joined in, pushing up bids on a signed copy of his BBC Oceans book over the telephone.
The event, hosted by Blue Ventures field medic Becky Hill, secured funding to assure the immediate future of the first family planning clinic in this rural fishing region but more is needed says Becky “with women in rural Madagascar having as many as 17 children, information and facilities are urgently needed. Families are welcoming the work of the clinic in the village of Andavadoaka, the only clinic of its kind in the region and, with more funding, we hope this vital service will be extended to neighbouring villages and towns”. In his address to top marine scientists during the Reef Conservation UK annual meeting at Zoological Society London on Saturday 6th December Dr Vik Mohan urged delegates to replicate this model “this programme provides a very cost effective way of tackling one of the greatest, and largely unaddressed, threats to coral reefs.”
The family planning programme, which has now been running since August 2007, was set up by Blue Ventures in the tribal fishing village of Andavadoaka, South West Madagascar. The project responds to a need identified in the national governments Madagascar Action Plan, which addresses the prospect of the national population doubling in the next 20 years, high maternal mortality rates and the threat of the HIV/AIDs epidemic which has devastated so many neighbouring African nations. As well as the clinic, which provided contraception to 246 women in its first year and has been supported by the Population and Sustainability Network as one of its model projects, the programme provides information and education to families on protection against sexually transmitted diseases through a number of routes including a popular play which Becky would like to take on tour throughout the region. Blue Ventures, whose award-winning marine conservation work has focussed on this region since 2003, also see this as an integral strategy in reducing the pressures of overfishing on an already threatened coastal habitat.
Blue Ventures (blueventures.org)
An award-winning not-for-profit dedicated to working with local communities in Madagascar to conserve threatened marine habitats and resources for the betterment of people and nature. Funded almost entirely through ecotourism revenue, Blue Ventures brings paying volunteers to project sites and trains them in scientific research, community outreach and on-the-ground conservation.