PLAY has been seven years in the making, and maybe longer. But as much as it’s about taking a chance, it’s scary to step in – as more than ideas, there’s new possibilities of failure. A mentor of mine, Alison Jolly, showed us that there is no such thing when you care, just lessons learned on a longer journey. So when she passed away this February, there was a hole of how to embody that hope to keep looking towards the future, seems I better try. Truth is it’s less confidence and more the only thing to do after losing the person whose positivity made you believe in possibilities: start leaping yourself.
What makes us give our lives to the unknown in this bizarre faraway land? It’s not only the needs – it always begins with inspiration. Alison Jolly first arrived to Madagascar in 1963 to study ring tailed lemurs, opening doors for research and caring measures throughout the island. She lovingly advocated space for the voices of children and lemurs, playing across policy and daily life, encouraging the talent of foreign researchers and the capabilities of its people, and keeping our Madagascar-loving community supporting those whose home and lives rely on it (Malagasy people).
She began her journey discovering female dominance of lemurs, noticing everything with the insight of a well-trained eye. Everyone and everything Madagascar-related drew out her glimmer, though she was deeply concerned with the education system. She observed powerful decisions being made, reminding conservationists to think about education as a priority. In her final years, she wrote a series of picture books to introduce children to their lemurs, which she hoped would evolve into avenues for traditional folklore and children’s storytelling.
Anyone that knew Alison knew she was fighting for education her whole career. She noticed early on that the education system never mentioned Madagascar’s unique biodiversity and only offered looming warnings that their means for survival would hurt their future and the forest. She taught me that empowerment arises from noticing the riches in what’s already there, and allowing these different voices to create their hopeful future.
PLAY will be dedicated to her: to listen to both those working towards conservation, and rural communities whose inclusions are subject to their will, to adapt inclusive conservation and education across perspectives.
I first came to the eastern forest to study. Madagascar didn’t follow any rules: a place with a rediculous imagination. It never added up that a place so wondrous and full of spirits, connected to life beyond the living, would give up hope for their children and future. I felt like I stumbled into hope one night, when hiding out from the rain in a schoolhouse.
During fieldwork, I’d been meeting remote teachers concerned about preparing children, noticing changing environments, yet insecure about what to do and where they fit in more globally. They were the most caring teachers I had ever met, yet were at a total loss to prepare their students for what matters. I began to think about the living laboratory right in their backyard, and how conservation was a resource for sustainable change, but they were left out of those conversations that shaped their lives.
I left the schoolhouse to sit alone on a rock under a full moon, thinking how the generosity and children’s untapped creativity all fit together, and got a feeling life was taking a turn (maybe that surreal setting – I don’t know). But it did. Conversations began with conservation mothers, Patricia Wright, who led me to Alison Jolly, and we would talk and talk about how to bring together expertise from different disciplines to include children in determining their future.
Madagascar’s traditional structure, complex needs, and her hope for the Ako books came up as an entry point to children writing their own stories and those from their communities. We would explore how teachers learn and how to begin working with them to come up with their own intentions. But all these conversations were conversations. And while it’s hard to imagine beginning this alone, this story can’t end about me, but it needs to become about Madagascar.
Join us for the beginnings, as we step foot into this project’s living story.
Mastoa, Daniella Rabino