Bumpy roads and friendly people


We left the Hotel in Maroantsera at 7:30am, and had 35km ahead of us to the next school. In the beginning we did not really understand, why we needed all round vehicles and 3 hours planned, to reach our destination. However shortly after departure we experienced the “joy” of one of the 10 worse roads in the world.

Shaken to the bones we reached the Rantabe community, and the whole village had prepared an astonishing welcome for us. Not only the respective village seniors, but also the Chief of the District were there.

Welcoming us

Welcoming us

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When I heard about the new built football ground, I got the idea to have a short, friendly match between the IWitness Group and the students. We didn’t have much chance to win, and we lost with 1:0 for the kids. But it was really fun and the cheering of the 300 viewers made us completely forget the pain of losing the match.

Losing the match

Losing the match

For the school in Madagascar it is really important to have an action plan.The Primary school of Rantohely set the following actions:

1. Access to clean water
2. Renovate or built houses for the teachers in the school or neighborhood
3. Have regular sport classes

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Around 400 kids are attending this school, but there are still quite a few kids, who don´t have this chance. Unfortunately not every family can afford to pay the salaries of the teachers.

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About Philipp Jocham

Hej, hello and/und Grüss Euch. I'm Philipp. I’m 28 years old, and I live in Graz, Austria. About two years ago, I started working in the Lighting Department at IKEA Graz and in 2013 I successfully completed the Rough Diamond Program. I’m currently working in the Children’s Department, where I’m part of the UNICEF Christmas Soft Toy Campaign. I'm also studying Sociology at the University of Graz. My hobbies are sports, especially tennis and American football. But enough about me, let’s start the story about a trip to Madagascar and a great life experience…

Taking the boat to visit the school


Early in the morning we left to visit the Iharaka Primary School in Mahalevona. It would take us 2 days to travel 35 km over land, up to Mahalevona. With the boat we reached it within 50-min.

Arriving with a boat at the school.

Arriving with a boat at the school

The scholars, parents and community officials welcomed us with singing and dancing on the shore.

Welcome on the beach

Welcome on the beach

The school we visited was built in 2010. The construction conditions of the building, were not really optimal. All the materials for this building, had to be transported by boat and it was built up on a hilly slope above the coast line. The school building had in the past faced some severe cyclones, luckily with no major damages, but the humidity left some tracks on the building´s walls and the roof.

School - by Barbara

School – by Barbara Favento

Philip´s self introduction in German, actually in Styria dialect, impressed all the locals and the whole room burst out in a loud applause. When we asked the children to write their names for us, they couldn’t wait to proudly show us their skills. Once again we were convinced by their enthusiasm, and how important the IKEA Foundation support is for such Educational Projects.

Satali is writing her name on a blackboard - by Barbara Flavento

Satali is writing her name on a blackboard – by Barbara Favento

About Pia Wurmbrand

I live with my daughter Mia and my dog outside Vienna in Austria. I started working at IKEA in 2005 while I was still going to school. I work at the Customer Service Centre in Austria, which is better known as the IKEA Contact Center, where I take care of returns and exchanges. I talk a lot to our customers and find solutions for their requests, which I really enjoy. In my free time, I’m mostly occupied with my family, but every once in a while I also have time to spare, which I usually spend reading, drawing or sewing.

A warm welcome in Madagascar


We started the day with the Presentation at the Madagascar UNICEF Head-quarter, where we were briefed about the Education situation in Madagascar and its influence on the whole population.

The country, which is unfortunately facing huge political and economical struggles, has a big problem to keep the level of Education policy. Therefore UNICEF financially supports, with the IKEA Foundation funds in there, the country’s educational program, in order to enable as many children as possible, to attend school. The statistics shows that only 3 out of 4 kids attend primary school (5 years) and just 3 out of the 10 kids finish school.

At the end of the briefing we surprised the UNICEF staff with soft-toy gifts. We continued to the airport and left to Maroantsetra on North-East side of the island. The 6km bumpy road to the school was a half hour driving challenge for us and the bus.

The students at the Community School Varincohitra were already waiting for us. Together with the parents and community officials prepared us really warm, singing and dancing welcome.

Welcoming us singing and dancing

Welcoming, singing and dancing – by Barbara Favento

We were informed about the building construction and had a great opportunity to talk with the teachers and scholars. That we all understood each other some English, French and Malagasy translations had to be done.

Children in the classroom - by Barbara Favento

Children in the classroom – by Barbara Favento

Reinhard on the blackboard

Reinhard on the blackboard

After we asked the kids, what they want to become later on in their lives, some shy answers popped out. Landy wants to be a doctor, girl behind her wants to be a teacher and boy from the next row wishes to become a policeman.

Landy in the middle - by Barbara Favento

Landy in the middle – by Barbara Favento

As soon as we started to show the photos of themselves on our cameras, the kids became braver and braver and smiled at us.

Robert in the middle of children

Robert in the middle of children

The day, full of new impressions is slowly ending and we are already looking for a second school visit. There will be a boat day tomorrow!

About Reinhard Wandl Prucha

I have worked for IKEA for almost 10 years and enjoy being part of the global IKEA family. As Sustainability Developer, I implement the People and Planet Positive strategy. I live with my wife and my two kids, Moritz and Matilda, in a small village near Linz. Our 150-year-old house is packed with a funny combination of IKEA and vintage furniture, and we enjoy redecorating the house every year. We love to travel the world, meet new people and spend precious time with friends and family. The trip to Madagascar is a great opportunity to get to know another part of the world and experience the impact of the cooperation between UNICEF and IKEA firsthand.

Welcome to Madagascar


IKEA co-workers from Austria are on their way to Madagascar, where they’ll visit UNICEF projects we fund through the Soft Toys for Education campaign.
In this post, Roger Ramanantsoa, an education specialist for UNICEF Madagascar, explains the devastating impact that poverty and lack of education has on Madagascar, and how UNICEF is working tirelessly to change these trends.

In Madagascar, around 1.5 million children are out of school. There has been a 5.5% increase in drop-out rates over the past five years, and  only 3 out of 10 children actually finish a full cycle of primary education. An estimated 92% of the Malagasy population lives below the poverty line.

Children are suffering in Madagascar, and we in the education section of UNICEF are trying to do our best to make sure that they are not the primary victims of the crisis.  We have a responsibility to ensure that all children have the same start in life and that no single generation is sacrificed.

What are the major issues?  Children often have to walk several kilometers (4-7km) to get to the nearest school, exposing them to many risks along the way. They arrive tired, hungry and unmotivated. There is also a lack of functional school facilities and, unfortunately, little investment in the expansion of schools.

School supported by UNICEF

School supported by UNICEF

To this must be added the lack of classroom equipment as well as learning materials. There is a shortage of teachers, with around 70% of teachers employed directly by the community, an additional financial burden on parents who are already struggling to send their children to school due to schools fees, uniforms and materials that need to be bought.

In order to survive, families need their children to work in the fields or to do other menial tasks to earn money.  Also, teachers have invariably not finished a full cycle of schooling and have received little or no training, impacting negatively on the quality of the teaching offered in classrooms.

Many parents also have a negative perception of education and are themselves illiterate, so they don’t see the value of education for the development of their children, their families and the community at large. Unfortunately, the reduction of the government’s education budget, especially in this time of instability and uncertainty, only exacerbates the problem.

Given this bleak picture, we at UNICEF work on a daily basis with the Ministry of Education to maximise the use of the minimal resources that exist.  We’re working to improve children’s access to a better quality education by:

  • building and equipping classrooms
  • supporting the implementation of school-based improvement plans
  • allocating grants to community teachers
  • supporting the development of teacher-training networks
  • providing school kits for all primary school children
  • promoting school registration and back-to-school campaigns
  • designing innovative solutions for excluded children to be included

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Thanks to funding from the IKEA Foundation’s Soft Toys for Education campaign, we are able to reach [hundreds/thousands] of children with better schools, better teachers and better opportunities for the future. We want this generation to reverse the damaging trends that poverty and poor education have inflicted on their parents. Thanks to your support, we have a chance to change children’s futures.

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About Juli Riegler

Juli is the IKEA Foundation's Digital Communications Manager. Next to managing the IKEA Foundation's website and Facebook account she works closely with Save the Children and UNICEF and IKEA's yearly Soft Toys for Education campaign. She enjoys doing a lot of different sports, travelling and connecting with people from around the world.

On the other side of the earth


There might not be many Japanese people who can find Madagascar on a world map or globe. For us, it feels that Madagascar is almost on the other side of the earth. I was lucky enough to go there with UNICEF, to see projects funded by our Soft Toys for Education campaign.

Maroansetra is located near the cost north-east of Antananarivo, the capital in Madagascar. There are five primary schools built by funding from the Soft Toys for Education campaign, and we visited three of them.

Anantonambilay School was one of my memorable schools on my trip. We were supposed to be there around 10 am after 1.5 hours of travel by boat and a 1km walk.

Washing clothes at the river

Washing clothes at the river

People wash their clothes, draw river water, and kids play on the riverside… I saw people enjoying the benefits of the river.

We were well behind the schedule on the river because the boat was stranded many times due of overloading and the low water level in this dry season. Finally, we decided to walk 7-8 km to the destination.

Road signs, trying to find our way

Road signs, trying to find our way

Even though we kept walking, we could not find the school after seeing the sign saying 800 meters to the school (also it says it is built by the IKEA Foundation).

I started worrying if we would get there… But, right after my thought, we heard singing voices. Children were coming to welcome us with singing.

Children on their way to welcoming us

Children on their way to welcoming us

My fear suddenly disappeared, and my heart filled with their warm welcome.

Outside the school building

Outside the school building

The building, desks, benches and learning tools in this school were donated through funding from IKEA’s Soft Toys for Education campaign. In conversations with children, parents and teachers, they told us that they all are very happy about the donation. Moreover, many families move to the area so their children can attend the school. As a result, the local community and economy grow. For example, new stores open in the area. I truly felt that this is exactly the result of our vision: “to create a better everyday life for the many people”.

Madagascar became a lot closer to me after such a wonderful experience.

Happy kids at school

Happy kids at school

About Satoko Naito

I started working at IKEA Kobe in December 2007. Then I moved to Children’s IKEA in October 2009. Now I’ve been working as a sustainability coordinator since August 2011. I enjoy watching movies on my days off and love spending time in nature doing things such as trekking. イケア神戸で2007年12月セールス セルフサーブGLとしてスタート。 2009年10月HFB9 キッズに異動。2011年8月より現在のサステナビリティ・コーディネーターとなる。

Soft Toys fact of the week: Madagascar


The IKEA Foundation donates €1 for every soft toy sold in participating IKEA stores in November and December. The donation goes to Save the Children and UNICEF, and is spent on children’s educational projects.

Every Wednesday during this year’s Soft Toys for Education campaign, we’re sharing a fact about how the campaign helps our partners change children’s lives.

This week’s fact is about the work our partner UNICEF is doing in Madagascar.

Madagascar Soft Toys fact

Follow us on Facebook to get daily updates about the campaign.

About Juli Riegler

Juli is the IKEA Foundation's Digital Communications Manager. Next to managing the IKEA Foundation's website and Facebook account she works closely with Save the Children and UNICEF and IKEA's yearly Soft Toys for Education campaign. She enjoys doing a lot of different sports, travelling and connecting with people from around the world.

Why I am committed to Soft Toys


I often take out a map of Africa just to get my head around those remarkable moments in Madagascar that I experienced a few months ago. Moments when I am treading through a rice fields emerged in water to reach what feels like one of the most remote school buildings on the planet. Moments when I am sharing a bowl of fried fish and rice with the Head of Education in the town of Masoansetra. Or moments when I am testing the new toilets of a school with hundreds of smiling onlookers just outside the door.

Hiking across rice fields

Hiking across rice fields

These are remarkable memories that I share with my travel companions. But there is something else that is even more remarkable. In one of my earlier posts I shared my admiration towards the committed people working in the field for UNICEF. Nonetheless, in these villages on Madagascar there are local men and women committed to creating a better life for their kids who in many cases do not have a bright future. Whether it’s building toilets and classrooms, giving vaccines, educating about malaria, teaching mathematics, or simply coming up the means to go to school – with little resources, great innovation and a strong sense of community, they succeed.

Vindoor village meeting

Indoor village meeting

I am more committed than ever to making life much better for as many kids as possible. And in my daily job I have a fantastic advantage as well as responsibility to contribute to the philanthropic work of IKEA Foundation.

Child peeking through window

Child peeking through window

The annual Soft Toys for Education campaign is now starting in every IKEA store around the world. For each soft toy you buy, the IKEA Foundation gives one euro to UNICEF and Save the Children. I don’t have to tell you what I will get my family and friends for Christmas this year.

 

About Fredrik Bengtsson

I have worked at IKEA since 2006 with both corporate and commercial communications. I work mainly with children’s furniture and toys and how these benefit children’s development. Since the beginning, I've been very involved in running and developing the annual Soft toy campaign in cooperation with UNICEF and Save the Children, and today that's the project that I treasure the most. Being the youngest in my family, I was always allowed to explore at an early age, eventually leading to adventurous and long trips by myself before the age of 20. Today I am happily settled in the city of Malmö, where I love exploring the diverse choice of food and coffee with family and friends.

The people of Madagascar


It’s been a month now since we have returned from Madagascar but it still feels like yesterday. There hasn’t been a single day that I haven’t thought about the wonderful experience that we had in Madagascar.

Roadside view near Maroantsetra

Most of us know Madagascar from the cartoon ‘Madagascar’. And it is not surprising that the makers of the movie based their story on the creatures that only live on this island: the lemurs. They look so cute and cuddly – I just wanted to pack some in my bag to take back home!

Lemur

As Magnus already pointed out in his blog before the trip: while Madagascar is characterised as a biodiversity hotspot, and BBC documentaries pay so much attention to the unique wildlife of the island – and we had the chance to spot quite a bunch! – there is surprisingly little information on its population.

MushroomChameleon

And that is a pity. Because it was the people of Madagascar that made our trip truly unforgettable.

Students in Madagascar

If the company of co-workers was delightful and fun, and the UNICEF team from Madagascar fantastic, the welcome that we got from the people of Madagascar was simply mindblowing. There were several instances that we couldn’t keep our tears in, overwhelmed by the hospitality and the singing and dancing with which we were received in the villages.

Children peek through a fence

It is humbling to be received in such a grand way, the more so when you think about the living conditions of the people. In Madagascar, 7 out of 10 people live below the poverty line of 1 dollar per day. Despite the fact that people live in such poverty, we saw that they are very eager to send their children to school. Many teachers are appointed by the community and some of these teachers are being paid by the government (though these teachers were on strike when we visited the project site because they had not received their salaries for months) and some by the community – mostly in bags of rice since people simple don’t have cash.

Roadside stall Maroantsetra

There is no such thing as a pre-service training course for teachers in Madagascar so that means that no teacher actually had any training before starting as a teacher. To help the teachers to be more effective in their work, UNICEF  provides training to the teachers. However, the needs are very big and pupils don’t even have schoolbooks; the number of books available is insufficient and the books are kept at school and reused for many years.

Madagascar school book

Under these circumstances, it is amazing what people can still do. For instance, I was impressed by this school teacher, who had a very good interactive style of teaching.

Still, it is hard to imagine how people live and work under these circumstances. We visited a health centre on the way and found that it hardly had any medicines to treat people but more shockingly, it had no running water. The health centre was mainly used by women who came to give birth: can you imagine a maternity hospital that does not have clean running water?

Children in Madagascar

The birth rate in the country is high and currently 50% of the people are 18 years or younger. You can imagine the strain this puts on the education sector: even more schools need to be built, more teachers trained and more material provided to make sure that this young population get a quality education and the opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their family.

A girl in a Madagascar classroom

There are many challenges ahead for the people of Madagascar but I am very glad that we are supporting the work of UNICEF in a very important area: that of education. Because the children of Madagascar have the right to receive a good education and to opportunities to make a better life for themselves and their family.

To all the wonderful people that we met in Madagascar I would like to say: Misoatra! Thank you!

About Petra Hans

Petra is a Programme Manager at the IKEA Foundation. She manages and oversees programme partnerships, and manages our Soft Toys campaign. Petra is fluent in Dutch, Nepali, French, English and Spanish and is currently learning Arabic.

The End of the Road – part 2


Read “The End of the Road – part 1″

When the whistle sounds the break is over. I enter the old building, where the youngest children have their lessons. It’s very dim inside but the teacher still notices the boy in the corner teasing the girls in the row behind him.

A child writes on a chalkboard in Madagascar

©Fredrik Bengtsson

Children in a class in Madagascar

©Fredrik Bengtsson

I meet the older children in the new building. They sit at their new benches designed as smart “flat packs” by the architect Mario at UNICEF in Antananarivo.

Mario with flat-packed school supplies

©Fredrik Bengtsson

We get the opportunity to ask questions directly to the children. “What will you be when you grow up?”. One boy says, “Farmer”, whereupon all the other children laugh. It was never really clear why it was so funny. Another boy says “wood collector”. One girl says she likes math and wants to become a teacher.

Children in Madagascar school

©Fredrik Bengtsson

Role models are important in all societies, but perspectives differ. At one point we tried to describe that we have snow and ice in Sweden and that it is impossible to grow pineapples there. I try to clarify and I refer to the ice cubes, the ones you have in drinks. Do you think that made it clearer? It is difficult to relate to the outside world, also for me.

Girl draws a map of Sweden and Madagascar on blackboard

©Fredrik Bengtsson

Today is the last day on our trip. But the journey does not end here. And why not? Well, it’s very simple – as long as these children have not reached their destination, the journey is not over. A child-friendly school building is a very good start, but a sustainable future requires a focus on the entire community, the ability and desire to get to school, hygiene, trained teachers, school supplies, etc. The list of needs is long. But UNICEF is listening. And they act with incredible innovation, even with the smallest means.

Children in Madagascar

©Fredrik Bengtsson

About Fredrik Bengtsson

I have worked at IKEA since 2006 with both corporate and commercial communications. I work mainly with children’s furniture and toys and how these benefit children’s development. Since the beginning, I've been very involved in running and developing the annual Soft toy campaign in cooperation with UNICEF and Save the Children, and today that's the project that I treasure the most. Being the youngest in my family, I was always allowed to explore at an early age, eventually leading to adventurous and long trips by myself before the age of 20. Today I am happily settled in the city of Malmö, where I love exploring the diverse choice of food and coffee with family and friends.

The End of the Road – part 1


Today was our last day on our field trip on Madagascar. Every day this week, I have traveled a little longer and have had far greater experiences than I had expected. Lotta from UNICEF (National Committee Sweden) sums it up well – You think you’ve reached the end of the road, but here you realize that the road goes further.

Child in Madagascar walks down a dirt road

©Fredrik Bengtsson

Today we visited the village Varingohitra four miles south on Highway 5.  A road like any other road in Maroantsetra – sand, boulders and giant potholes filled with water. The speed is slow and we have to get out of our van to push it when we get stuck in the sand.

Road in Madagascar

©Fredrik Bengtsson

The school is located a few hundred meters from the main road, has two buildings – a newly built, with two classrooms funded with money from IKEA’s Soft Toy campaign, and an old, with one classroom. 69 students attend the school, 45 boys and 24 girls. They share 48 school desks. Morning classes with writing and reading comprehension are in full swing. The youngest children read aloud in the old building and we hear them through their thin walls made from leaves of the travellers palm tree, “Ma, Ma, Ma, Ma, Me, Me, Me, Me”.

The School District Director speaks to the parents and teachers followed by open questions back to us. A mother is hoping for a better walk path to the school. The Principal wants more classrooms. The needs are the same as we have encountered during our visits.

A whistle interrupts the meeting. Time for break and time for play.

Co-worker playing with kids in Madagascar

©Fredrik Bengtsson

Kids playing in Madagascar

©Fredrik Bengtsson

Kids playing in Madagascar

©Fredrik Bengtsson

About Fredrik Bengtsson

I have worked at IKEA since 2006 with both corporate and commercial communications. I work mainly with children’s furniture and toys and how these benefit children’s development. Since the beginning, I've been very involved in running and developing the annual Soft toy campaign in cooperation with UNICEF and Save the Children, and today that's the project that I treasure the most. Being the youngest in my family, I was always allowed to explore at an early age, eventually leading to adventurous and long trips by myself before the age of 20. Today I am happily settled in the city of Malmö, where I love exploring the diverse choice of food and coffee with family and friends.