Letter from Dan Turk
July 5, 2011
Elizabeth and I are in the United States on interpretation assignment, living at Mission Haven in Decatur, Georgia, next to Columbia Seminary. We will be in the United States for another year, our return to Madagascar having been delayed until July 2012 to give the situation there time to become more normalized. Our children, Robert and Frances, will be going into 10th grade and 7th grade in the Decatur public schools.
Madagascar has been in crisis since the coup d’état of March 2009. The de facto government, assisted by an appointed parliament, is not recognized by the international community. Efforts to set up a consensual transitional government tasked with preparing free and fair elections have thus far failed. Madagascar is under economic sanctions from the United States and the European Union and has been expelled from the African Union. The people are suffering greatly. Over 1.5 million people have gone below the poverty line since the coup. Crime and unemployment are way up, and many parents are no longer able to keep their children in school. A variety of human rights violations are used to help maintain the de facto government in power, including restrictions on the right to assemble, repression of the press, and imprisonment of opposition leaders. The radio station of PC(USA)’s partner denomination, the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM), has been shut down since May 2010. Ten employees, who were imprisoned for 100 days, are still awaiting trial. In February 2011 the director of the FJKM TOPAZA orphanage, Ms. Tantely Rakotoarivony, was jailed for allegedly harboring a clandestine radio transmitter on the grounds of the orphanage. She remains in jail. At the present time there is no clear path back to democracy and the rule of law.
The FJKM continues to be a witness in these difficult times through its evangelism program and the development department’s efforts to reduce poverty. We both feel blessed that the programs that we work with are continuing under able leadership while we are away from Madagascar. The Environment Program, Community Health Program, and the FJKM HIV/AIDS Committee are led by Rolland Razafiarison, Dr. Fara Rasoalivola, and Pastor Perline Cooper, respectively. Email and Skype are helping us tremendously to stay involved in the ongoing ministries.
Over the past five years the Environment Program has focused on fruit trees. Growing fruit trees offers tremendous opportunity to help subsistence farmers improve food security and get out of poverty. The program successfully introduced about 175 varieties of fruit trees from Florida, with help from ECHO in North Fort Myers, Florida. Efforts are now continuing to propagate these trees in 12 church tree nurseries, to evaluate the varieties in 14 demonstration orchards, and to help subsistence farmers grow good varieties of fruit trees in 7 extension projects. This month a new tree nursery and extension project will be launched in Toliara in the Southwest, an area severely hit by drought and the effects of the crisis.
The Environment Program also continues to plant native trees for environmental education at schools, churches, and public places, and to grow fast-growing trees (mostly Eucalyptus spp.) for fuelwood and construction wood.
The FJKM community health program continues working in villages training volunteers to do public health education as well as assisting communities to get safe drinking water and adequate sanitation. Last fall the FJKM completed 10 wells for the community health villages of Ambovombe Centre. One of the wells was at the dispensary. Since April 2009 the FJKM has been unable to purchase mosquito nets for its community health work. Now mosquito nets are once again available and the FJKM hopes to purchase nets for distributing to the graduating FJKM pastors and for use in remote areas without access to nets.
One of FJKM’s best AIDS prevention program is its youth peer education program. The PC(USA) is now the only funder of the peer education program as FJKM’s UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) budget has been cut. In 2010 three trainings were conducted with 50 youth trained as peer educators and 11 adults as supervisors. Because of budget constraints, only one training is planned for 2011. The FJKM AIDS Committee completed training the graduating pastors in AIDS awareness, counseling and prevention. Now the committee is preparing materials on HIV/AIDS to be included in the continuing education training for all active FJKM pastors this August.
Please pray for the FJKM as it continues to serve Christ and the Malagasy people in these difficult times; for the new nursery/extension project at Toliara, for the distribution of mosquito nets, and for the pastoral AIDS training in August; for a peaceful and just way out of the crisis; and for Tantely Rakotoarivony to get out of jail.
211 Inman Dr.
Decatur, GA 30030