Madagascar visit

Thank you – a huge thank you to everyone who sponsored me on the trip to Madagascar a few years back … I sit here now the mother of my own little person (Hope now 13 months old) and it makes me realise how important these donations were and how very much we take for granted here in the UK… Hope will go to a primary school and will have books and shoes unlike so many of the children in Madagascar. I’d also like to thank St George’s Church in Chesterton for their support with fund raising and Bruce Springsteen’s E Street Band member, Jake Clemons, for his love and his wonderful acoustic concert in Cambridge in aid of our fundraising effort.

I received the following email from Brian Donaldson the head of the Madagascar Development Fund (who were supported by Kitchen Table Charities Trust)

“Dear Ellie
After you and Roy visited Madagascar in 2010 you very kindly raised £2,000 towards the cost of one of the Madagascar Development Fund’s primary school projects… the donations made by you, St George’s Church and Mr and Mrs Thorpe (also made after visiting Madagascar) were used – on a project to build new classrooms at Tsaratanana Primary School in central Madagascar which was damaged by a cyclone.

I am pleased to tell you that thanks to your support the work has now been completed, and the new school building is in full use after its inauguration in January. I attach to my next e-mails photographs taken at the inauguration – which I hope will be of interest to you.

On behalf of the children of Tsaratanana… and my colleagues here at the Madagascar Development Fund I send you our sincere and heartfelt thanks for the significant contribution your donation has made both to increasing the school’s capacity – by creating additional places for children unable to receive an education, and greatly improving conditions at the school.”

Brian attached the following pictures to his email from the inauguration in December … they made me cry, not with pride but with humility … it really doesn’t take alot to change lives and so much that we take totally and utterly for granted or that we waste on absolute rubbish could do a great deal to transform other communities.

You can donate direct to MDF

or to the Kitchen Table Charities Trust who support projects like this throughout Africa and South America

Tsaratanana Primary School in Madagascar

Tsaratanana Primary School in Madagascar

Inside the classroom at the inauguration of Tsaratanana Primary School.

Inside the classroom during the inauguration of Tsaratanana Primary School.












If you are interested in following what else I’ve been up to since the trip to Madagascar you can visit my site Mush Brained Ramblings.

Thank you again to those that sponsored me and gave me the courage to go on the adventure that has ultimately changed not just my life but hundreds of lives in Tsratanana.






I need to say sorry … I’ve been totally useless in the lack of recent updates to my Madagascan story … unfair leaving my reader hanging with much more of the story to be told.

I came back from Madagascar overwhelmed by the people I met, the sights I saw, infact the whole experience – and a revolting case of writer’s block… oh and over a thousand photographs and several hours of video footage to go through.

In the meantime I have been busy twittering to raise the profile of the amazing work which the Kitchen Table Charites Trust undertakes @KitchenTableCT and convincing people that Madagascar really is a country, and not just a cartoon movie (yes some people really do think that – depressingly enough) and importantly that it is a country with a people in dire need of recognition, services, schooling and water.

The rest of the story will be published, but in the meantime you might be interested in the film I posted up on the Facebook page for Kitchen Table Charities Trust with thanks to Malagasy TV.!/video/video.php?v=420518471626&ref=mf

Thanks also to those who have contributed to Kitchen Table Charities Trust via – I am aiming to raise £5,000 which will make a very dramatic difference to many lives. All donations go direct to the tiny charities that work at the heart of needy communities across Africa – thank you.

The joy and excitement at the opening of the new school in Ambohitrakely bubbled up across the generations … I think this video clip sums up the exuberance and the sense of occasion felt by all … the particularly poor dancers are me, Brian Donaldson and my husband Roy. I am wearing the very beautiful woven silk scarf that I was presented – a remarkably generous gift and memory of the whole experience (as is Brian).

It was such an honour and such a privilege to be a part of the day.

First – a flavour of the dancing the way it should be done

and now a second clip, with the rank amateurs joining in!!

Don’t forget – more children can be given a future and more can be done with so little money – please consider donating at

The Ambohitrakely bridge and school inaugurations were such big news locally that they were one of the lead items on both the Malagasy and French language news reports on TVM the day after. This is the clip from the French speaking news broadcast. Thanks to journalists at TVM for sending it through.

I’m sure you’ll recognise some of the cast of characters from my blog about the day Bridging The Gap – Brian Donaldson cuts the ribbon alongside the man from the Ministry in his fabulous suit. The straw hat and wafty dress behind are modelled by yours truly!!

The following clip is our video of the bridge opening … it captures a little more of the local band’s music and the windy, red dusty day.

Madagascar needs another 3000 primary schools in order to offer a start in life to every child. Projects like this only exist with thanks to charities like MDF and the Kitchen Table Charities Trust.

You can donate to KTCT here

We left Tana in the Landrover – all smartly dressed, jackets, ties, floaty dresses – seemingly more appropriate for a day at Henley than a day out in a Malagasy village. Brian Donaldson the ‘patron’ of MDF and chairman of the grants committee at Kitchen Table Charities Trust, Nicole the Director General of MDF, Roy and I.
We drove through the sprawling suburbs, past the strings of sausages and hunks of fatty meat on wooden meat stalls open on the dirty street, and local fruit markets. On we drove, past slow moving zebu with their humps flopping over, hauling carts over laden with goods, men running along with bare feet hauling even greater loads and dodging the oncoming traffic. Two little girls in filthy dresses playing in an open sewer alongside the busy dusty road and a small boy with bare feet carrying a car battery seemed to best exemplify the extraordinary poverty that this lush, verdant beautiful country has been plagued with due to a Govt that really doesn’t seem to care about the day to day lives of its citizens and the international community who have turned their back on the country as a whole due to the fact that the Govt installed themselves after a violent coup.
The tarmac road ran out, the rain started; a persistent grey drizzle, and a brick road took us a little way through streets lined with eucalypt and poinsettia to the point where even the brick stopped and a rutted orange dirt track wound up through the hills to the north east of the city. At some points the track seemed impassable with vast water gullys and high rocks and ridges but Brian’s trusty Landrover surged on and a little later caught up with a tiny grubby little 2cv which had driven the same road, and a blue mini bus with the cream of the nation’s media (2 blokes, 2 girls and one very small handy cam).
We clung to the edge of the steep terraced hillsides looking out across rice fields and forests, the Malagasy houses rose up often two stories made of mud with one window. Dark inside and roofed with grass, jaunty washing lines full of clothes hung over dirt yards with chickens scratching around beneath them. Finally after a particularly perilous bit of track we rounded the corner and saw flocks of people walking down the hill away from us towards a tiny bridge over a very small river.
We parked the Landy by the side of the track and headed in the rain down the muddy orange hill listening to the local band (5 men playing pipes made of bits of tubes and banging a drum made from the hide of a zebu). By now the rain was flooding down the hillside and I have never felt more ‘colonial’ than at that moment, in my floaty frock with a brightly striped umbrella being held over me in the pouring rain following a former Ambassador in his blue blazer. We headed down, in procession, to a tiny concrete bridge over a small stream. There was a bamboo and leaf arch built over the middle of it with a white, green and red ribbon (colours of the Madagascar flag) waiting to be cut. The villagers flocked down and the cheery band played on through the wind and rain and a man in a very spectacularly shiny suit (who turned out to be the man from the Ministry) strode ahead, the local priest in his white robes and the regional and local chiefs all greeted each other. The man from the Ministry and Brian cut the ribbon and then distributed pieces to each of us – the TV cameras rolled (small handicam) and the paparazzi (3 people with old digital cameras) snapped away and that was it – bridge officially open.

Ambohitrakely new bridge is open

The bridge had to be built in order to get supplies and building materials to the village to build the primary school. Ambohitrakely is a tiny village, red mud houses seem to blend with the orange red soil, thatched with grass they are very attractive from the outside though dark, tiny and claustrophobic inside (no electricity, water, furniture – just a sleeping mat and perhaps some cooking pots).

Another arch with the name of the village suspended beneath it stood proudly infront of a clearing which was soon filled with official white land rovers, range rovers and other 4x4s as the Men from the Ministry, the Chef CISCO, regional head and so on all filed in. The village head, a cheerful skinny chap in a longish coat, looked as if he had left his zebu in the field to attend the inauguration. Etienne the local advisor was a cheery soul with a good command of English – it was he who had originally shown the forsight to apply to MDF for the grant which made the school and the bridge a possibility. After much milling around and hand shaking the headmistress, a lovely short haired lady in a very lovely dress and a surprising pair of heals, presented us all with traditional Malagasy hats; made from local raffia each had a pink ribbon pinned around the brim. Graciously we all accepted, and then, motley crew as we were, we made our way down the red muddy path to the makeshift shelter and podium where the dignitaries were to sit to watch the speeches – again it felt all a little pompous as we sat and looked down through at first the drizzle, then howling wind and dust and finally very hot sun, at the rows and rows of school children in white tops of varying sorts but with no shoes standing patiently awaiting their time to perform.

The children stood on a patch of red ‘yard’ infront of a low building –the new school and classrooms. No glass in most of the windows, but a solid roof and a door on each and inside you could just make out the new wooden desks and benches. The excitement and pride in having a village school was incredible.

The speeches meanwhile seemed interminable – each dignitary – starting with the Chef du Village spoke for about 20 minutes, Brian’s speech (translated from French to Malagasy by Nicole) was about 9th, and the only one to raise cheers and smiles … by this stage I was having huge fun playing eye contact games with two little girls in the front row who were clearly as bored as I was by all the speeches but giggled each time I smiled at them.

After the speeches, the children sang and danced, the sun now out, they looked so dazzling in their grubby white tops against the red dirt ground. My two smiling friends kept on giggling and when I waved at them at the end of the dance they hugged each other! The children were around 7 – 10 years old, so perfectly and rigidly behaved, they never sat down, they never missed a step through the whole performance – all in time and all with huge grins on their faces it was wonderful. The entire event watched by swelling crowds of villagers of all ages, mothers with babies on their backs, old men standing back in the shade, teenage boys looking sullen but fascinated by the whole event – and everyone wearing the most odd array of clothes; wolly hats, baseball caps, little girls in old fairy costumes, even a Ralf Lauren polo shirt … it seems that this is the kind of place many of the clothes that we ‘recycle’ in supermarket recycling bins end up – every item cherished and worn until it disintegrates.

The ribbon then had to be cut at the school door – the Minister in the gloriously shiny suit had the honour this time and handed out his bits of ribbon. He used a pair of scissors held by a little girl with huge pridel on a pink gleaming nylon pillow with frills round the edge. We all piled into the dark classroom; the blackboard had ‘Thank you to KTCT and MDF’ written across it and all the hand made wooden desks stood, like unvarnished IKEA furniture but more robust with their built in benches behind them. On the walls a hand drawn complex map of the human digestive system and the breakdown of the French verb ‘faire’ – no computers, no paints, no equipment. These children have exercise books and pencils and sometimes biros and that’s about it – but the writing in the books was beautiful cursive and precise – not like the average UK 8 year old.

Outside, the dancing continued, older women waving hats and the rest of the village joining in. Sadly, at this point we were ushered into another classroom with an earth floor and no glass in the windows. Long tressel tables with big bottles of coke, Fanta and Club Soda, little plastic cups and plates of grated carrot salad – this was the dignitaries’ banquet. I sat next to the man from the Ministry – he spoke French and was excited to have donated a pack of crayons and pens to each child in the school. The second course was rather more frightening – zebu stew. Now zebu steak is wonderful; tender, juicy and succulent with a rich flavour – but the stew seemed to consist of the rest of the zebu once the meat had been removed. Opaque lumps of gristle, parts of spine bone and random gelatinous bits of cartelidge sat quivering on the dish with a few hairs proudly announcing themselves like greasy spiders legs. I was suddenly a vegetarian – but Roy kept our side up, and he the Malagasy members of the party attacked the dish with gusto sucking and slurping while I ate the red rice that was meant to sop up the juices.

Pudding was a banana. During the feast the local women performed a spectacular dance for us, leaping, stomping and apparently praising us for coming from England to their community it was a giddy exciting dance – each of us in turn had to get up and ‘dance’ up to them and hand them money (about £1 in my case as I only had a few Arry Arry’s with me – I love that there is a currency called the Arry Arry!!!).

Dinner over we wandered in and out of the three classrooms admiring the blackboards and also thanking the cooks who had prepared the hairy zebu stew in huge cooking pots stood on large stones on the floor in the classroom next door and were happily finishing off all the left overs. My two smiling little friends stood watching everything I did and I beckoned them over and took their picture and gave them a boiled sweet each (from the airoplane and in the bottom of Roy’s pocket) and after that they followd me everywhere producing various smaller siblings and pushing them forward for inspection – such an odd thing to be held in some kind of awe by children and for me, not something I was comfortable with, I just wanted to take my shoes off and run and play with them.

me and the giggling girls

Children swarmed around us, many amazed seeing their picture for the first time gasping in amazement then hiding in fits of laughter before reappearing with other friends to be photographed again. One little boy was playing horsey with a stick, riding around and around his friends, and another was drawing in the red dirt with a small stone – most had never had toys of their own.

A group of dancers pushed two small boys to the front of the circle and they started doing the most miraculous acrobatics, little children wriggled through the throng and everyone cheered and shouted.

Finally, as the villagers trickled away and the dancing ended, we all piled back into our land rovers and fancy white cars and left the village, which apparently produces 30 tons of garlic a year and 100 tons of rice, to calm down and return to its normal peace. No electricity there and no running water – they have to fetch that from the stream nearby. The new bridge has opened up the possibility of selling more produce and bringing much needed income into the village.

It was a really humbling privilege to be there for such a momentous day – to realise how very little sums of money can do so much for people. The national TV carried two long sections on the inauguration the next day – me standing like a floaty dressed bemused person in the background while Brian Donaldson explained that I was hoping to raise more money for communities such as these to have more schools or fresh water or bridges by using the internet to raise awareness of what life was like for such a huge number of people.

These children of Ambohitrakely now have the chance of an education in their own community – previously they walked over 2 hours each way to the nearest village with a school (no shoes, rainy season, hot hot summers – not good) but now their school is on the doorstep giving them a real new beginning thanks to small grants and organisations like the Kitchen Table Charities Trust and Madagascar Development Fund.

click donate to help projects like this – thank you
Blog entry and photographs (c) copyright Ellie Stoneley 2010 All Rights Reserved

First time in front of a computer for nearly 10 days – well to be more precise first time anywhere near internet access – lots and lots to update to expect over the next day or so a barrage of posts!

Thanks as well to all who have clicked donate on all donations, big or small make a huge difference to people’s lives – and now I’ve seen that first hand I shall be even more passionate about reaching my target of £5000

It’s almost impossible to summarise the first few days here in Madagascar so bear with what will seem like all sorts of clichés … they are all true of this beautiful, abandoned nation.

The British Embassy in Antananarivo closed in 2005 (a paltry £250,000 pa cost savings by the British Govt just at the same time as the Americans were pumping fortunes into their huge new fortress of an embassy) and then the military coup a year ago means that the international community refuse to recognise the new Govt so there is such little external attention paid to the horrible situation that most of the population find themselves in.

The first evening here was spent in a delightful restaurant a million miles away from the poverty outside, in the old waiting room of Antananarivo railway station (incredible food – coconut curried prawns, tender zebu steak and a large vodka and tonic) with Brian Donaldson the patron of the Madagascar Development Fund and the former British Ambassador to Madagascar and his colleague the charity director general Nicole.

The next day spent in the MDF office on the outskirts of the city; a bustling area with fruit and veg laid out along the street corners and less beggars than the hot and dirty centre of town. Up a dirt track and behind a big metal gate is the humble room that houses a charity making an enormous difference and a huge amount of hard work.

We recorded interviews with Brian, stories of children being given toys for the first time in their lives thanks to BP, schools being built in areas with no electricity, water or existing sanitation thanks to generous individuals, bridges being built to enable zebu carts to cross a river that had previously added 3 extra hours to a dirt track journey to market … life changing projects with small sums of money.

Later that day a wander round the city centre, told off by police for taking photos of the presidential palace, followed by a little girl with one hand withered pleading for coins so she can “mange ce soir” – dressed in rags and with a runny nose caked in dirt, children playing in gutters and bleak looking men standing on corners. A Fanta from a street stall and an overwelming feeling of utter exhaustion heralded an early night.

Tuesday 19th May was a remarkable day – set off early early early from our new abode near the office to a village called Ambohitrakely – we left Tana (a long slow process due to the fume spewing traffic) and wound our way past slums that looked like shanty towns alongside open sewers, bustling streets, men with bare feet pulling carts so laden with boxes you could scarcely see over them, children carrying car batteries (only source of power for many), and women with bags, boxes and piles of everything inbetween on their heads. The only shoes worn seemed to be flip flops, and these often carried rather than worn through the sewers or the mud (pouring rain) to protect them.

The bitumen road ran out and for a while a paved relatively flat road wound through rice fields, past Bougainvillea bushes and endless poinsettia trees. Then rocky red track took over, the 4×4 put through its paces negotiating deep gullies and sharp bends watched all the time by Malagasy children from the beautiful village houses. Often two-story, slender graceful dwellings with chickens running in and out, and a humped zebu outside of some they conceal dark interiors with no power and no water.

It took nearly 3 hours to reach Ambohitrakely – a tiny hillside village with houses made of red mud and thatched with what looked like palm leaves and grasses. The day we spent there deserves full attention of its own but as the photos will show in due course (impossible to upload from the forest near Andisebe where the local has wi-fi via satellite, cable and a dodgy transmitter below the bar) it was here – on a windy, wet, blustery, sunny winter’s day that hope was reborn – a primary school opened and a bridge (which had to be built in order to bring the materials for constructing the school) was ‘officially crossed’, ribbons cut and children’s future made a little more rosy with the promise of an education.