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Nathaniel Delafield and Sarah Osterhoudt : working in Imorona, Madagascar

Nathaniel Delafield and Sarah Osterhoudt are a married couple who served in the US Peace Corps in a village called Imorona, in the Mananara Nord region of Madagascar since 2005.

Nathaniel has an undergraduate degree in sociology and two master's degrees in Urban Planning and Social Work from the University of Michigan. He grew up in a small town in the western New York State and has always had a strong interest in community issues, rural agriculture and environmental issues, mainly due to his parents influence.

Sarah grew up in a small town in New York State along the Hudson River. She has a degree of Sciences in biology and philosophy and a graduate degree from the Yale School of Forestry. Sarah has lived in Venezuela and Bolivia teaching and conducting economic botany research and her speciality is in agriculture and environmental anthropology.

We joined Peace Corps in February of 2005, after applying for the position in March of 2003. We both had a strong interest in doing development work abroad, and thought that Peace Corps offered a nice program for married couples and a good time frame to really learn a new language. We had both known about Peace Corps for a long time and had considered it before in the past.

Life in the Community

Living and working in the field was amazing - the most difficult, inspiring and fascinating experience one could ever have. One day could bring an absolute low point and the most exhilarating moment of inspiration and clarity, all in one afternoon. Mastering the language and customs was a daily struggle that had to be incorporated into every activity and every conversation.

We were invited by a vanilla farmers association to assist in finding new markets for vanilla, and this became the main focus of our Peace Corps experience. We always tried to let ideas for our projects develop out of the community as we played the roles of facilitator, liaison, information gatherer, organizer, educator, student, and even representative for the association depending on what was needed throughout our two years. The project really helped the community by allowing several groups to access export markets directly and for several other groups to access materials they needed to increase the production quality of their vanilla. This served as a pilot and we began to see more groups participating in the project.

We lived in a house made with travellers palm materials (roof, walls, etc.) with no running water or electricity - cell phone towers were constructed after the first 6 months of our assignment. The community did not have a regular market, and was very low on vegetables and other staples and quite often we would walk or ride a bike to Mananara, about 12 km away on a hilly dirt road.

A Typical Day in the Field

We woke up at 5:15 in the morning every day, made coffee that we roasted and ground in a mortar and pestle the day before, and ate rice or leftover dinner for breakfast before the sun was up. We worked in the tree nursery for 4 hours and returned to our house for lunch. At the end of the day, a group of children would crowd the doorway, eagerly waiting for our English club to have a language session. We would work with the group playing games, singing or drawing pictures then would begin working on dinner. It was wonderful.

Challenges Faced

The biggest was health as we both contracted several serious illnesses including cerebral malaria, dengue, chikungunia, with the closest hospital being about 30-40 hours drive south down a very rocky road. We were also the first Peace Corps volunteers to work in this village, so initially there was a lot of mis-communication and mis-understandings, and we had little or no privacy.

The scope of our project with the vanilla farmers was another challenge because we had to first learn about exporting from Madagascar and then teach the farmers how to do it. We approached this methodically by asking family members to help coordinate in the U.S. by sending us books and resources, and to ask for help from Peace Corps staff in the capital city. We also received a grant from FAO, and this support was extremely helpful in completing the project and overcoming these challenges.

Lessons Learnt

We both learned a great deal about ourselves, that we have the ability to overcome many obstacles and to adapt to almost any situation. We will cherish the wonderful people and the fullness and richness of the days spent in the village. This was an opportunity to learn about a different culture and language and to see projects develop and continue that are really changing people's lives for the better. To have two years of such inspirational and life-changing experiences as grown adults in the midst of their career is a treasure to be cherished, and we will always be thankful that we chose this path.

Post Peace Corps....

We went back to the village after officially leaving, but before we left the country, and found that our tree nursery had inspired two other groups to develop their own large commercial nurseries. They had built them and cared for them and had collectively planted 6000 new clove seedlings and this is a major source of income for many families in the village. We discovered that 7 different farmers associations that had not worked together in the past had begun talking about joint projects on how to support an organic certification cooperative, which we had begun working on before leaving the village.

After their assignment in Madagascar, Nathaniel and Sarah decided to start a fair trade business that will partner with farmers associations in the village and in other areas of Madagascar to assist in direct export and marketing of their products in the U.S. and Europe. Nathaniel is now working on this new project full-time.

Nathaniel Delafield and his wife Sarah Osterhoudt

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