Their love for each other and the endangered lemur species led Shana and Vlad Vassilieva to Madagascar for their honeymoon. However, engaging in rich cultural exchanges and exploring Madagascar beyond its designated tourist zones left the Vassilievas with an admiration for Malagasy people and culture, beyond anticipation. Their respect for Malagasy culture helped the Vassilievas discover the mass poverty that Malagasy endure. With the desire to help alleviate poverty in Madagascar, the Vassilievas founded a mobile library system in partnership with an NGO called Zara Aina. It aims to tackle poverty through educational empowerment.
Poverty and Education
Access to education is a guarantor of poverty alleviation. Studies have proven that educational empowerment and opportunities protect individuals from socio-economic vulnerabilities. Education also equips individuals with essential skills that increase employment opportunities, along with the likelihood of attaining sound employment. With just essential reading and writing skills alone, an estimated 171 million people could escape poverty.
Poverty in Madagascar
In 2019, nearly 75% of the Malagasy population were living below the international poverty level. The country’s economy is mainly dependent on agricultural production. However, constant locust invasions and severe droughts, among other things, result in low economic productivity. This leads to inadequate food production for the country—nearly half of the Malagasy population under 18 suffering from severe malnutrition.
Additionally, according to UNICEF, two out of every three Malagasy children do not complete primary school. Just 17% of students reach minimum reading standards by the end of their primary education. Also, only 20% reach minimum mathematics standards.
The Madagascar Mobile Library Project
Upon recognizing the correlation between educational empowerment and poverty alleviation, Shana and Vlad Vassilieva founded the Madagascar Mobile Library Project. It promotes literacy-based skills to help the population escape poverty.
Each month the mobile library travels to four villages for two days, in coordination with schools. It improves literacy, community health, livelihood and protection of the environment. The program provides educational resources, including books, reading lessons, agricultural documents, workshops, community events and literacy materials to Malagasy communities. Both children and adults can borrow books from the mobile library and receive rewarding incentives such as new clothing for completing books. The program also hosts relevant group discussions and workshops, focusing on environmental issues, acceptable health practices, literacy lessons, events related to UNICEF and much more.
Furthermore, the founders of the program have also begun a seed sharing system in which people receive seeds from the library, plant the seeds and harvest them. Afterward, those people return some seeds, which will then be distributed to others, creating a sustainable cycle. This encourages agricultural practices and provides a source of nutrition for many.
The Path Ahead
Overall, the Madagascar Mobile Library project has made tremendous progress since its founding in 2015. At that time, the library had just one van able to distribute just a small amount of books to villagers. Today the program has two vans, reaches many more people and offers a wider variety of books and resources. The program’s seed sharing program has also done tremendously well as it provides a source of nutrition for children in schools. Many of these trees are ananambo trees that offer medicinal value and valuable nutrition. The Madagascar Mobile Library Project’s goals demonstrate a unique but simple solution that can be implemented in many other places in the world in efforts to eliminate poverty.
– Stacy Moses