WINTER CAME and we began the work. We thought: “On the airport construction site we have all the expertise we need. Why don’t we harness it for this project? And the airport’s investors could surely give something to the association.” I did the rounds and everyone said yes! I call that positive contagion. Incredible! Earthworks, plumbing, electricity… everyone gave their time freely. Starting with the architect, the design manager. The site foreman then took over to supervise the work. It’s quite something to build a 200 m2 reception centre to cater for 40 children, to support them from school age right through to finding a job.

GOOD IDEAS and good will drove the entire project. We took log picnic tables from the airport construction site for the centre, as well as the workers’ wooden lockers. They were recycled and turned into bookcases by young people who had travelled over from Saint Malo in France after seeing our Facebook page – they wanted to do something for Madagascar. The children themselves painted them in a multitude of colours to decorate the walls.

IN JUNE, we still didn’t have any electricity so, as is common in Madagascar, we ran a cable from the neighbour’s house. But this was not a long-term solution. I spoke to one of the managers on the airport project and 24 hours later I had a quote! Everything fell smoothly into place.

TODAY, the centre is thriving. We started out with 16 children, with an average age of between 10 and 12. We now have 30 children. One person lives there full time so that children can be accommodated day and night if necessary. We’ve installed washrooms. The kids often live in slums. We organised a rota so they can wash twice a week at the centre. They are given a meal a day. And as well as filling their stomachs, we try to fill their heads. The association pays their school fees. The children are opening up, learning to say a few words in French and doing well at school. They used to beg in the street, now they have their future back. I still can’t get over how it all came about, through the sort of lucky encounters that happen in life.

AND TOMORROW, we’re going to go further still. We’re currently creating community gardens around the centre, with half of the produce grown going to parents, and half to the association. We’re looking for new partners to continue to fund the children’s meals. We’re also helping an orphanage and a local school near the construction site. How far can we go? When everyone lends a hand, there are no limits.

THREE YEARS after arriving in Madagascar, we’ve come a long way. A few days ago, my wife went shopping and some of the association’s kids went into the supermarket and hid to surprise her with a hello. That would have been unthinkable two years ago. We’ve got them off the streets! As for our own kids, they realise the extraordinary benefits of getting to know the real country as it truly is, beyond the picture postcard image. We no longer wonder what they make of the poverty. They now know that we can all play our part, in our own way. That’s the best discovery.

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