A Letter from Dan and Elizabeth Turk, serving in Madagascar
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Because of the lack of housing for teachers, Mr. Rakotonirina Andriatsilavina lives in his office. Mr. Tsilavina is the principal of the New Eden School of the Church of Jesus Christ in Madagascar (FJKM) in Tsihombe, in the far south of Madagascar. He also heads the FJKM school district in southern Madagascar, a district with 15 schools and others in the process of being created. In addition, he teaches in the classroom.
Previously, Mr. Tsilavina was one of the top coaches of FJKM’s Evidence-Based Methods of Instruction Project (EBMI) in Madagascar’s capital city Antananarivo. EBMI is a program supported by PC(USA) to introduce proven teaching techniques into FJKM’s primary schools. He is now incorporating EBMI methods into his teaching at Tsihombe and working to help the seven other teachers at New Eden School use EBMI methods as well. The results speak for themselves: this past year, the New Eden School had the best results on the national primary school exit exam of all schools in Tsihombe district, public and private schools combined.
Elizabeth and I traveled to Tsihombe with FJKM officials and PC(USA) Pastor Tim Rogers-Martin and his wife Julie, who coordinates communication for the Madagascar Mission Network. We traveled the over 1,000 km from Antananarivo by road, taking over three days to reach the far south to visit FJKM ministries and to see how the FJKM is addressing the extreme poverty in the south. The far south of Madagascar is the poorest part of one of the poorest countries in the world. In the last few years, drought combined with the economic effects of COVID-19 have sent hundreds of thousands of people in the south deeper into poverty, with tens of thousands suffering from acute malnutrition.
Education is a major priority for the FJKM. When we met with FJKM president Pastor Irako Andriamahazosoa Ammi before the trip, he quoted Nelson Mandela: “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Synod President Soja said, “Sharing the Gospel and education are the best and most lasting ways to bring change for the better in the south and to help people get out of dependency.”
The New Eden School at Tsihombe started in 2016, with initial funding from the Atsimon’i Mahamasina FJKM church in Antananarivo. The school has required a new classroom each year to keep up with the progressing students. This past year the school was short one classroom. This coming school year (2022-2023), it will be short two classrooms unless funds are donated now for classroom construction. Similarly, the FJKM schools at Esira and Imongy are in immediate need of classrooms for the 2022-2023 school year.
Another challenge for the New Eden School and all FJKM schools in southern Madagascar is getting good teachers. Mr. Tsilavina explained that few qualified teachers are available locally, and few qualified teachers from elsewhere want to live in the extremely difficult conditions in the south. To meet this challenge, the FJKM has started a program to send students from the south to attend FJKM’s three-year teacher training college in Antananarivo. Currently, eight students from the south are studying there. Recently, Elizabeth, Tim and Julie met with them. The students spoke of their commitment to education and to helping others in the south as a “Holy calling.” Mr. Fanomezantsoa Vellentini, a first-year student, noted, “We from the south are the best suited to bring real change to the south.”
A major priority for the FJKM is to set up a teacher training college in southern Madagascar to produce hundreds of qualified teachers for the region’s schools. Shorter-term goals are to build more classrooms, establish more schools, provide students with a meal a day when in school, get more students from the south trained to become teachers and build a boarding house for students at Tsihombe. It would also be good to have more housing for teachers.
Another major FJKM priority is to complete the new teacher training college at Imerimandroso in northeastern Madagascar. This is part of a national effort to increase the number of qualified teachers at the over 650 FJKM schools throughout the country. EBMI methods will be taught to the student teachers at Imerimandroso. The FJKM is hoping to start training at Imerimandroso for the 2022-2023 school year; immediate funding is needed to help complete construction and purchase furniture.
Thank you very much to all who have contributed to helping the people of southern Madagascar. Please pray for the FJKM as it seeks to build necessary classrooms, establish a teacher training college, and do relief work still needed to help people recover from severe hunger and poverty. Please also pray that the FJKM can find the funds needed to complete the teacher training college at Imerimandroso.
Grace and Peace,
Dan and Elizabeth
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