Guy Norget in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar
"We want to ensure that every community takes its destiny in its own hands," says Razafimbelo Fidèle, the new president of the Fianarantsoa regional committee of the Madagascar Red Cross.
"Our fight against poverty will only succeed if this challenge can be met. The Madagascar Red Cross cannot do without community development," he tells a meeting of members and volunteers on providing community development to the most vulnerable communities in this south-eastern province, which covers one-fifth of the island.
The Madagascan Red Cross is working hand in hand with the Dutch Red Cross to implement a number of micro-projects in the province, where in 2000, in the space of three months, 13 per cent of the population was badly affected by three successive cyclones - Eline, Gloria and Hudah.
The triple battering left already impoverished communities reeling, devastating the agricultural production on which they rely. Rice and vineyards grow on the province's high plateau, while in the south-east coffee, tropical fruits and vanilla are the main crops.
The micro-projects are designed to assist the greatest number of people, particularly the most disadvantaged, and to ensure they take responsibility for them.
In the year that followed the programme's launch in March 2001, 52,357 people in 38 village communities benefitted from projects like drilling new wells, hydrological schemes, improvements to primary schools, river transport and health centres.
"We used to have to search far and wide to find our daily water. But today, we can stand tall because of the pump we received from the Red Cross," said Ralaivelo, one of the 210 inhabitants of the village of Iboaka that have benefitted from this particular micro-project.
In the village of Ankera, bamboo water pipes that were routinely destroyed by rainy-season landslides have been replaced by metal ones. Slopes have now been strengthened and water is flowing normally and irrigating 102 hectares of rice fields which will feed 867 people once the harvest arrives.
A six-member committee of the local Red Cross examines the proposals submitted by the various communities. "Hundreds of projects are submitted, but a shortage of funds makes it impossible for us to take a decision on a large number of them," said Henk Bruyn, the project coordinator.
The Madagascar Red Cross is currently looking for a new local and international partners to help them run the US$ 120,000 micro-project programme.