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Volunteer in Madagascar

Volunteer in Madagascar and explore an island that offers beautiful beaches, lush jungles, rough mountains, and most importantly a truly unique animal population...

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Volunteer opportunities in Madagascar

Volunteer work in Madagascar

Madagascar is one of the world's treasure houses of biodiversity. Thousands of creatures inhabit this large island off the coast of Africa. And the vast majority of its species of fauna and flora are endemic to the island. Sadly, much of Madagascar's wildlife is under threat due to habitat destruction, specifically deforestation. Additionally to this, the severe poverty of the island's inhabitants has caused serious damage to its environment. Less than 3% of the island is protected, despite its global biological importance.

Become a volunteer in Madagascar and combine exploring the intriguing country with doing something meaningful. We are sure it will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Biodiversity and its conservation

It is believed that Madagascar split from the Indian Peninsula around 88 million years ago, allowing native plants and animals to evolve in relative isolation. This might be the reason why Madagascar is a biodiversity hotspot: over 90% of its wildlife is found nowhere else on Earth! Unfortunately, many of Madagascar's biological blessings are threatened by redwood harvesting and the destruction of forests for farming and charcoal.

Madagascar hosts more than 10,000 plant species, of which more than 90% are endemic to the island. The endemics include five unique plant families such as the baobab trees or the traveler's palm. The island has all sorts of vegetation and there's a distinction between the West, centre and East vegetation: dry forests and grasslands dominate the Centre; the East receives more rain from the Indian Ocean, which propitiates the existence of rainforests; meanwhile, the Southwest features unique spiny forests and it is also the driest region of Madagascar. Sadly, deforestation has led to the decline of many native vegetation types and has changed Madagascar's natural flora dramatically.

As a volunteer in Madagascar, you can join a conservation project to make a real difference in the effort to preserve the unique fauna of Madagascar. Many conservation projects will be located in the south of the island. The south is perhaps the most unique part of Madagascar in terms of scenery and flora. Depending on the volunteer work in Madagascar you will join, typical tasks might include:

  • Working at the primary field station or at tree nurseries
  • Collecting seeds within an established forest
  • Preparing for a community planting event
  • Sorting compost
  • Placing seedlings into growing bags
  • Organizing the tree inventory
  • Planting trees with the local community groups or school children

As a volunteer in Madagascar, your work can make a significant and lasting contribution to the social project goals

Animal and wildlife conservation

As Madagascar was an isolated island for about 70 million years, this resulted in the development of a unique endemic fauna. Before humans arrived about 2,000 years ago, there were many large and unusual animals living in Madagascar. However, a large proportion of these endemic Malagasy animals have died out since the arrival of humans to the island.

Despite this, Madagascar has positioned itself as home to an incredible array of wildlife, and it has become a primary spot for ecotourism, with more than fifty national parks, as well as protected reserves. The lemurs are probably the best known of Madagascar's mammals: they can only be found here! Because they do not need to compete for food with monkeys or other primates, they have adapted to a wide range of habitats and they have diversified into numerous species. Recent assessments made by the IUCN now show that the lemurs are now the most endangered group of vertebrates in the world, with 94 species being classified as threatened with extinction!

Joining a wildlife conservation project will enable you to help the locals in their effort to protect the lemurs and other animals from extinction. As a volunteer in Madagascar, you can directly contribute to important research and your typical tasks will involve:

  • Learning an array of surveying techniques
  • Surveying lemures
  • Habitat mapping
  • Fisheries studies
  • Coral Disease Surveys
  • Contributing to the to the local community through educational outreach activities

Teaching in Madagascar

Historically, the Madagascan school system has been characterized by an unequal distribution of education resources among the regions of the country: there is a continued lack of educational opportunities for the poorest members of society. Additionally to this, the education system rewards those who are the most proficient in the French language, despite the fact that the country is officially bilingual. If one considers that around 9 million Malagasy speak only Malagasy, one can easily imagine that this fact frustrates the future educational attainment of lots of children.

Finally, another challenge of the Malagasy education system is that education is inaccessible for a great part of the population. This is mainly caused by the decreasing support for public schools by the Malagasy government. In contrast, the private school system grows and offers a better educational quality for those who can afford it.

Volunteers helping at a teaching project may have the greatest impact on those who need it most. Volunteer work in Madagascar focusing on assisting with educational initiatives provide a better education for local children, but also for illiterate adults. This is a great chance for everyone who couldn't afford to go to school otherwise. Quality education is the key to the positive development of a community. Especially good English skills are extremely helpful for locals to find a job. That's why your help as an international volunteer who teaches English in schools is highly valuable. Depending on your own English skills, you could help with:

  • simple English homework
  • practicing the conversational skills
  • more complex grammatical lessons

In addition, volunteers might have the opportunity to help with extracurricular activities which will vary depending on personal skills and interests.

Supporting community services

You are more of a person that loves working with people and you want to volunteer in social projects which support the community? Then there are plenty of possibilities to do that: help developing programs aimed at social development, the prevention of violence, and the protection and defense of children who are victims of violence. As a volunteer in Madagascar, you will also live with natives and experience their way of life.

Volunteer work in Madagascar at a community project includes but is not limited to:

  • assisting in building and painting schools
  • building wells and latrines
  • building classroom furniture
  • light construction work
  • renovating playgrounds
  • making tables and chairs, making pathways, building toilets, repairing school walls and building new classrooms
  • maintaining and building infrastructures
  • educating

Cost of living

The suggested daily budget for living as a volunteer in Madagascar is between US$12 and US$26. This is an estimate made considering the average price of some of the services you might need and things you might want to buy. It gives you a general overview of how much things cost in this country, so you can be prepared and save the money you will need for your volunteer work in Madagascar.

Additional costs you should consider as a volunteer in Madagascar:

An exemplary overview of living costs in Madagascar (in US$, for one person) is:

Things to know before you volunteer in Madagascar

When you travel to a different country for voluntary work, it is important to familiarise yourself with its culture and social characteristics. This helps you to settle in quickly and avoid misunderstandings. These are some tips that you might find helpful when preparing for your volunteer work in Madagascar:

Safety & precautions

The overall crime rate in Madagascar is lower than many other African countries. The country is therefore considered a relatively safe travel destination. Nevertheless, high unemployment rates have resulted in a rise in crime, particularly muggings and robberies and also petty crime (mainly pickpocketing). To be on the safe side, you should keep the following safety guidelines in mind at all times during your volunteer journey in Madagascar:

  • There are a few trouble spots around the capital city Antananarivo and the southern districts within the Toliara and Fianarantsoa provinces. Consider hiring a reputable guide if you want to travel to these areas.
  • If you are traveling by car, always keep your vehicle locked with the windows rolled up and make sure valuables are well hidden.
  • Limit the amount of cash you carry and leave valuables, such as passports, jewelry, and airline tickets in a hotel safe or another secure place.
  • Be aware that pickpocketing often occurs in crowded areas and airports.
  • Avoid walking at night in urban areas.

Culture & religion

The first archaeological evidence for human foraging on Madagascar dates to 2000 BC. Scientific records state the human settlement of Madagascar occurred between 350 BC and 550 AD by Austronesian peoples. Later, other groups such as Indonesian and African settlers came to Madagascar. Madagascar is also a former French colony with a colorful history of influences from Arabs to Indians to Jewish immigrants.

Together, these influences have created a unique, culturally diverse nation. As unique as the Madagascan culture is the mix of religions in the country. It is estimated that approximately 55% of the total population adheres to traditional beliefs. The remaining 45% is made up of 40% Christians and 5% being Muslim. But the fascinating mix of cultures also makes it necessary that travelers familiarize themselves with the local laws and customs prior to travel. Showing respect for the local customers in Madagascar can go a long way to not causing offense and keeping you safe.

  • It is important to respect the elders and authority figures in Madagascar.
  • When addressing anyone older than you as well as military, police or government officials, use the word "tompoko" (toom-pook), which is similar to "Sir/ Madame" in English.
  • Madagascar is regulated by numerous local taboos, known as Fady. The Fady vary from region to region. It is always advised to educate oneself of the local taboos before entering each region to avoid making somebody uncomfortable and remain respectful.
  • Some Fady concern forbidden foods, like pork, lemur, turtle, etc.; others prohibit the wearing of certain color clothing or bathing in rivers or lakes.
  • Avoid taking pictures of the Malagasy people or the beautiful surroundings without permission.

Health advice

Going abroad always includes some issues and precautions that need to be taken into account, especially if you are traveling to a country with tropical temperatures and wilderness. The risks to health whilst traveling will vary between individuals and many depend on your activities, length of stay and general health.

  • Eat and drink safely: Don't eat undercooked food, avoid eating street food and don't drink water from the tap!
  • Also, wash your hands often, especially before eating.
  • Plan for how you will get health care during your stay. Get a travel insurance and bring medicine with you, especially if you need special medication.
  • Prevent bug bites: You might want to cover exposed skin, use an insect repellent and use a bed net.
  • Be aware that rabies exists in dogs, bats, and other mammals in Madagascar. If you are planning to do volunteer work with or around animals it is recommended to get vaccinated.
  • Make sure you are up-to-date on routine vaccinations before every trip. These include MMR, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, chickenpox, polio, yellow fever and your yearly flu shot. Moreover, the US-based Health protection agency CDC recommends hepatitis A and typhoid vaccinations because you can get these diseases through contaminated food or water in Madagascar.

Who can volunteer in Madagascar?

You might have noticed by now that there are a lot of different projects that require different skills and abilities from their international volunteers. While you can find out the specific requirements for each project on their profiles on Volunteer World, here are some general requirements that apply to most projects in Madagascar:

  • You need to be at least 18 years old for most of the volunteer projects. When in doubt, we advise you to get in contact with the local project manager, as in some projects you can also volunteer when you're 16 years old.
  • You should have an intermediate level of English knowledge; some projects also require an advanced English knowledge.
  • Depending on the project you're interested in, you might need to provide a criminal background check and a health declaration before volunteering.

What visa do I need to volunteer in Madagascar?

You have made it to the last section of this guide, which is another really important aspect while planning your trip: getting your volunteer visa for Madagascar.

Please consider that the following information is based on a best practice approach, which has been made according to the best of our knowledge and in cooperation with several volunteer organizations. That's why you should please make sure to discuss your visa requirements with your contact person on Volunteer World. If in doubt, we also recommend getting in touch with the Madagascan Embassy or consulate in your country.

General immigration information

There are some general requirements you should comply upon your volunteer work in Madagascar:

  • Please check the current validity of your passport. Your passport should have at least 6-month validity from the date of arrival in Madagascar.
  • Make sure your passport has at least three blank Visa pages. Madagascar requires that you have adequate unused pages in your passport, allowing for any necessary stamps upon arrival and departure.
  • Please check if a transit visa is required for any connections.
  • Make sure to be in possession of a valid return ticket.

Best practice for short-term volunteers

If you are planning to volunteer in Madagascar for less than 90 days, you must obtain a tourist visa. You can apply for a visa in advance or get a Visa on Arrival (VoA). As the name suggests, this visa can be obtained at the airport where you will arrive. We recommend volunteers to obtain a tourist visa prior to arrival in the country as this will save you time and will avoid the hassle of having to fill out forms and wait in a long queue at the airport. You can obtain your tourist visa at your closest Madagascan embassy or consulate.

Best practice for long-term volunteers

If you are planning to volunteer in Madagascar for more than 90 days, you have to apply for a 'One Month Extendable Visa'. A one month visa is transformable and extendable into a long-term visa and can be issued by Malagasy Embassies. Be sure to clearly specify that you are applying for the one month visa for the purpose of obtaining a long-term visa in Madagascar. Apply for this Visa before entering Madagascar at your closest Madagascan embassy or consulate.