Awards and Honors, Student News

Building a Library in Madagascar

With the support of a $10,000 Davis Projects for Peace grant, Jullian Androkae '23 established the Vahombey Project, a library in Bekitro, Madagascar.

"With Davis Projects for Peace, we were able to set a strong foundation for educational work moving forward, empowering the community of Bekitro in bettering their educational environment and fostering the flourishing of new and established interests," said Jullian Androkae '23.

Androkae used his Davis Projects for Peace Grant from The Davis Foundation to establish a library in Bekitro, his father's home village in the region of Androy, Madagascar. 

"Bekitro is where my father was born, a place I had often visited over the years, and its place in my heart made me choose it as the site," said Androkae. "Bekitro, as a first step, was ideal because it was challenging—geographical isolation in the poorest and driest area, along with complicated local politics—yet comfortable in its familiarity, as my family and I are part of the community. We did not come off as outsiders trying to fix the village, but more as children of Bekitro coming back to help."

The Vahombey Project library was set up to empower Bekitro schools in reinforcing and transforming their educational systems, offering continuous support and opportunities to both children and adult learners."To me, peace is a societal state where people are free to thrive individually and communally, free of pressure from war, systemic oppression, natural disasters, poverty or lack of awareness, or other obstacles," said Androkae. "With this project, I recognize poverty and lack of literacy as two large obstacles holding Bekitro’s people back from peace, and our hope is to plug into the village’s environment and work on taking down these walls one step at a time."

Image of front of the library
Inauguration ceremony and the front of the library
Image of a library sign
The library sign on the front of the building
Image of people welcoming others with flower crowns
Welcoming local authorities with flower crowns at the school gate

The project began in 2018 with a drive to support the community of Bekitro. Androkae eventually settled on the idea of building a library, after visiting Bekitro and its community, as providing an educational outlet as a means to resolve conflict and poverty would be a sustainable driver for peace in the region.

Androkae noted that the Malagasy educational system was critically outdated, preventing educators from accessing the resources they needed to productively teach. Additionally, the educational system does not entice students to find and flourish in the fields that suit them best.

"In 2018, people in Bekitro did not believe that school would lift their children out of poverty, or that it would better conflict around them," said Androkae.

While Androkae's travel back and forth to Bekitro was limited due to the COVID-19 pandemic, he successfully liaised with two on-site project managers, Angela and David, who worked with him to organize volunteers, oversee construction, and meet with local political, law enforcement, health, and education partners and authorities. 

In summer 2021, the Vahombey Project bought 2,500 books, acquired necessary equipment and material, and sent a dozen volunteers to oversee the project. Volunteers met and stayed in Tulear to prepare and held team-building activities, the first opportunity they had to get to know each other offline. Project volunteers came from four large Provinces of Madagascar: Toamasina, Fianarantsoa, Antananarivo, and Tulear.

After 10 days, the volunteers took the 240 miles road to Bekitro, with the books, equipment, and materials. They arrived at the end of July to prepare and build the space and left after the library's inauguration. In that time, they hired the current librarian, as well as a security guard. 

The library's inauguration was held on August 4, 2021. The ceremony included performances, speeches, a cocktail reception, as well as performances and speeches by local children. Androkae's team also organized educational activities, games, and videos.

Image of inauguration ceremony
Library inauguration ceremony
Image of children studying at the library
Children studying at the library
Image of ribbon cutting event
Library ribbon cutting event

Workshops held in the early days after the library's opening were illuminating to Androkae. These events helped introduce children to the use of the library by holding reading sessions, helping children pick their books, and reading with them when words were too difficult. These workshops were also the first time in Bekitro that lessons were given with a video projector, or that people had a local source of knowledge.

"In the short term, I hope that Vahombey Project will ignite the interest in learning and exploration in the
children and adults of Bekitro, that they get invested in their passions and are enabled while doing so,
inspiring others to follow," said Androkae. "In the long term, I hope that Vahombey will be a network of libraries and cultural centers, supporting education around Madagascar, and allowing knowledge and people to exchange
more freely, connecting different cultures around the country and creating a supportive environment, a
peaceful one at that."

Already, library patrons are asking for more book options in the library, particularly for science and agricultural books. Androkae and his team are now planning for the library's future and to increase its resources. As students returned for this school year, the Vahombey Project also donated 10 school kits to children.

"We want teachers at the schools to gain more access to our equipment, so they can project maps and videos in their classes, or have allocated slot times each week to use our space," said Androkae. "We are preparing forms that will enable library members to request specific books each month, allowing us to tailor our collection to their needs."

"A lesson that I have learned is that a vision or project is nothing without the people who believe in it, and that surrounding yourself with people who have the passion to make the vision reality will save the endeavor," said Androkae. "One of the scariest, yet most fulfilling times, of this summer was a couple of days before the inauguration. At the time, my team was in Bekitro with limited internet, our schedule was locked in, and there was not much I could do anymore from my small room in a different country. The way in which the team and everyone involved doubled down on making the project a success, even in my absence, showed me that the hopes of the project were no longer in my heart alone."