Lovely to read this story on the BBC … and we were delighted to spend time with some of the MDF team during recent visit to UK

http://news.bbc.co.uk/local/northwestwales/hi/people_and_places/newsid_9009000/9009423.stm

So much still to do in Madagascar – 3,000 primary schools are needed to ensure all children have reasonable access (less than an hour’s walk) to education. Wonderful that the children and staff of the Bryn Elian school did so much for children on the otherside of the world.

We made it!!!!!

After an entertaining hour or two in the Cathay Pacific lounge (thank you so much to my wonderful brother) we climbed aboard the delightfully palm tree covered but very cramped Air Mauritius flight from Heathrow to Mauritius. Even the cups, sugar sachets and spoons were bedecked with palm trees.Air Mauritius takes palm trees very seriously!!

Scrumptious food, fresh fruit and lovely lemon flan and then a pretty rubbish attempt at sleep contorted into the oddest of shapes with a swollen knee making for a limit to the possibliities but eventully waking for perfect breakfast pastries and a spectacular view of the bluest of blue sea out of the window, and the really glorious descent into Mauritius airport. Such a tantalising view of the coral fringed lagoons and dramatic mountains and forests. Much greener than I had anticipated and so beatuiful.

27 degrees, bright, cleanly vivid sunshine met us as we got off the plane to go through the transit process – all very simple. 55 minutes later, and with ooodles of legroom. It seemed only moments after that we were flying over very different terracotta coloured hills, terraced hillsides and little ‘fortress’ like villages, circled with ditches and dykes. Then WOOOO HOOOO touch down in Tana.

Almost the first news on landing was that Heathrow had been closed down due to the ash cloud … the smug feeling that we had beaten it on this occaision is still strong!!!

Arrivals was a fabulous affair – about 8 kiosks with nonchellant officials watching the bemused travellers; we were informed we didn’t need a visa as staying under 30 days but then had to go to another counter to get the non visa, visa stamp … all very good humoured and compelling to watch; the absortion of the men with the little stamps, the calmness of the pretty lady signing the non visa, visa … luggage was obviously the last off the plane, so by the time we emerged blinking into the sunlight to meet Brian Donaldson the patron of the Madagascar Development Fund (and chairman of the grants committee of KTCT) and his colleague Nicole, I think they were about to head off thinking we’d been sucked in by the ash cloud.

Brian drove the Landrover to Tana – past butchers stalls with all the meat hanging over the road, people weaving in and out of the very slow traffic on ancient mopeds and bicycles with chickens on the back. Zebu cattle wandered aimlessly by a little confused by all the hubub and children darted to and fro across the road. Colour everywhere – clothes, bouganvillia flowers, painted Coke adverts, red poinsettia bushes, orange dust. We passed a rugby match – thousands of people watching from alongside the road, and a chaotic looking motorbike scramble, clothes drying alongside grubby streams and then the winding streets of Antananarivo, children playing in open drains, shops selling random bits of piping, signs for wifi and pot holes that would fit well into the array in Cambridge. Children with no shoes drying rice on the side of the road, little boys with huge stacks of plastic bottles carried in baskets on their head, optimism, desolation, poverty, a shop sellng video cameras, everything along that one stretch of road.

Through all that we pulled up outside a dark and unassuming hotel on a bright sunny Malagasy evening – our home for a couple of days before Tuesday and project visits out in the countryside.

Proud, overwhelmed, shellshocked, shattered, excited and so determined to do all I can to help in some tiny way – and sticking my toungue out at the dust cloud and saying “ha, beat you this time!”…

http://www.justgiving.com/elliestoneley

3 days this time and I’m on the plane to Antananarivo …

so much to get done in the meantime and not helped by the fact that my irritating auto immune system has caused my knee to swell up again – or was it the dancing in cowboy boots on Saturday night in Brixton, or falling over at Kings Cross running for the train last night. Humph- AND we’ve a new government in the UK to get my head around.

Anyway – looking forward to sitting back on the plane and breathing a big sigh of relief having crammed about a year’s work, a hair cut, packing, physio, knee inspection, lawn mowing, conference attending and so on before Saturday evening … am thinking that my case will have to be squashed shut rather than the neat flat packing we are all encouraged to do by those annoyingly perfect people on the TV.

Have given out millions of my little cards so far leading people to this page – so hello if that’s how you found me here – and don’t forget to click the big donate button on http://www.justgiving.com/elliestoneley … I’m going to raise awareness of the social issues in Madagascar and the immense poverty and the amazing work that the Kitchen Table Charities Trust have been able to support out there (mainly through the Madagascar Development Fund)

So – you just have to read and click donate and send words of encouragement – I have to get there, deal with it all, blog, tweet, facebook (yes there is a Kitchen Table Charities Trust page on Facebook) and shout all I can about what I find there AND try and deal with the 740 species of spider that will be waiting just behind Brian Donaldson to meet me off the plane on Sunday lunch time.

Big hurrah for Air Mauritius who have been extraordinarily helpful … flight rebooked for Sunday 15th May.

So – volcano – start behaving please, simmer down and stop with the whole ash cloud thing – thank you.

Brian Donaldson has been so helpful on the ground in Madagascar and is replanning the schedule of visits to projects – and has fitted in a weekend break at Vakona Forest Lodge to look at some lemurs which will be exciting (if a little expensive but hey this really is a tremendous opportunity) … I have totally self funded my trip and pay for own accommodation out there … all the money raised (now £925 – on the justgiving page) goes directly to the Kitchen Table Charities Trust (and has gift aid added to it – so all the more reason to donate).

http://www.justgiving.com/elliestoneley

So strange sitting here on a very windy blustery blue kind of day in Cambridge knowing that as I type Brian is at the inauguration of the Water treatment centre with all the villagers and so on… I hope it is a glorious day there and so look forward to seeing all the photos.

Just spoken to Air Mauritius;  the flight is still scheduled for 9pm Saturday night – blow away dust cloud blow away out to sea …

all being well we will take off at 9pm, have 5 mins transit in Mauritius and then arrive in Tana at 1.30 on Sunday to be met by Brian Donaldson the chairman of the grants committee for KTCT and also director of the Madagascar Development Fund – and former British Ambassador to Madagascar.

So … fingers and toes crossed.

If all goes according to plan then this is a flavour of what I will be doing in Madagascar (taken from an email just now from Brian):

As part of your programme we have arranged the inauguration of a clean water project in a far-distant village on Tuesday, (early start) which it is now too late to change (villagers and local authorities informed; plaque – with date of inauguration already made). It would be a great pity if you were to miss it. The scenery is breathtaking.

Please ash cloud blow in the other direction …

Interesting findings on Third Sector website on public perception of small v large charities

http://www.thirdsector.co.uk/news/Article/995894/Public-think-small-charities-least-wasteful-closest-beneficiaries

this reflects the KTCT philosophy of  ‘changing lives by thinking small’

and supports my plea / demand (!!) for donations

http://www.justgiving.com/elliestoneley

so much more accountable – all the money goes to the projects and people it is intended for.

To read more about Madagascar and the difference that small grants can make to both individuals and communities click here to read the Africa Research Institute Report “Think Small: The example of small grants, in Madagascar” by Brian Donaldson