“On Sunday morning we left SOS Children’s Village Vontovorona at 4.30am. Our driver Michelle took us to the bus station and we got on a very pink Mercedes minibus with really uncomfortable seats. It was a six hour drive to Tamatave and SOS Children's Village Mangarano. We were met by Hery, the Village Director.
We have moved from the cool central highlands of SOS Children’s Village Vontovorona to the east coast and the Indian ocean. This Children’s Village is located in a delightful setting near the centre of town, with low pale green bungalows for the children, a football pitch and a secondary school. There are lots of ducks and chickens wandering around, palm trees, avocado trees, mango trees and it is very, very hot.
The town of Tamatave is very different from Vontovorona. Tamatave is a port and the centre has crumbling colonial French boulevards lined with king palms and old French style grand buildings and villas. There are few cars and swarms of rickshaws. The streets are chocked with them and they are peddled with precision, never crashing and never having to stop; there is always a way through!
We are still in an exclusive club of two, the only white people. We are away from any tourist areas (my wife Maureen actually visited the main tourist office in Tamatave and she was the only visitor for the day). Life is still terribly poor and we think and talk about this poverty.
The children from the SOS Children’s Village really have been saved. The houses the kids live in are great, all meals are cooked on coal pots (as gas is too expensive), and we look at the menu’s nutritional value each week.
Schooling is right on the Village site, as is the SOS Medical Centre where I work with Dr. Sahundra. She has consulted me about her own children so I think she feels I know some medicine despite my beginners French! The waiting room contains droves of mothers with children, mostly screaming or crying. And the really ill are lying down on the floor.
We start at 8.00am and finish at 5.00pm and work non-stop. Infections are high; impetigo is common here, as is malaria. Every day we see massive malnutrition. The average birth weight in England is a little over 3 kg. Today, we had three kids of six months of age weighing 3.7 kg, and one desperately howling child of two months sucking on a dry tit weighing in at 2kg! Both Maureen and I are always caught out by children who look 11 years old but give their age as 19."