Fanyah boosts her life skills to adapt to the drought
In the south of Madagascar, years of drought have made daily life a constant struggle. For Fanyah and other children with a disability, the challenges caused by climate change are ever-present.
In the early morning, 14-year-old Fanyah walks carefully on the path leading to the river Antsozo. Even though the river is close by, she is accompanied by her niece, 13-year-old Tsimanotry, who helps her avoid stones which could cause her to fall. Fanyah was born blind and lives in Anarabe, a small village in the south of Madagascar. Once they reach the river, the two girls collect water from small puddles of water, all that is left from the river due to the lack of rain in the region. They come back home with buckets on their head, feeling the heat of the harsh sun.
“It is our morning routine. It is hard for me to walk alone on this type of steep path. But I can still help my stepmother with housework like cooking and washing the dishes” insists Fanyah, while starting a fire to cook the midday meal. Fanyah is the youngest in a family of nine children. Her parents have divorced and she now lives with her dad and stepmom who are farmers.
In the south of Madagascar, consecutive years of severe drought have wiped out crops and endangered access to food. Between cyclones, floods and droughts, the island is battered by the effects of climate change, even though it is among countries with the lowest CO2 emissions.
A bright student
The next day we meet Fanyah again, at the state primary school of her village, in Grade 4. According to her teacher, Homaro Sylvine Gabrine, she is a bright student who quickly grasps what she is taught. “We try to be as inclusive as possible so that children with a disability can understand the lessons”, explains Sylvine, who is proud of her student. Fanyah is enthusiastic about French and puts it to good use whenever visitors come to her village.
In 2020, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights published a study recognizing that persons with disabilities, especially women and children, are disproportionately impacted by the climate crisis. According to another report which introduced the Children’s Climate Risk Index, Madagascar is ranked 10th among countries where children are the most exposed to climate change and environmental degradation.
In the same community, we meet 10-year-old Etsiharogne, who is playing with other children of the village. Etsiharogne is a child who is deaf and studies in Grade 2 at the same school as Fanyah. He can read lips and communicate with simple gestures. “A, o, i, e”, he repeats while writing the letters on the ground when one of the neighbors asks him what he learnt at school.
Homaro Sylvine Gabrine teaching Fanyah and the students in Grade 4, at the state primary school of Anarabe, in the south of Madagascar.
Fanyah and another participant in the programme to boost life skills take part in the activities offered by instructors.
Etsiharogne, in the middle, writes letters on the ground surrounded by the other children of the village.
Adapting to climate change
Fanyah participated in the 16 sessions of the programme to boost life skills, in the framework of the child protection pillar, with the support of UNICEF and its partners. In this programme, instructors teach children and youth how to learn about themselves and others, and about their environment. “Thanks to this programme, I exchanged ideas with other young people like me. I made a lot of new friends, and it helped me grow and evolve in everything I undertake”, says Fanyah. According to Rakotozandry Violette, an instructor in the programme, “it is important to provide children and youth, especially those with disabilities, with practical advice so that they can reach their full potential in an environment where drought has been plaguing the communities for years.”
Multiple interventions have been carried out by UNICEF and its partners since the beginning of the climate crisis. Sustainable water supply infrastructure was built, several actions regarding nutrition, health and social protection have also been undertaken, most notably the implementation of a universal cash transfer for 7,850 households, which include children and persons with disabilities.
After its participation in the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference, Madagascar is on the right path to commit to the Declaration on Children, Youth and Climate Action, which has already been signed by 37 countries. One the main points of this pledge is strengthening the capacities and knowledge of children and youth, especially of marginalized youth, on climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts.
While waiting for decision makers to enact commitments, Fanyah goes after her dream of becoming a midwife in her small village, and maybe beyond. “I would like to get the support I need to reach my goals and thrive like other children my age”, she continues with a glimmer of hope in her eyes.