Hello friends and family — Vasco Possley, here. I'm about to set out on an epic adventure and I could use your support.
I was just accepted into a unique gap year program in early 2020 where I'll be living in MADAGASCAR
for three months through the Where There Be Dragons organization. They only take 12 students, who travel with three teaching staff, each semester. So I'm super excited.
Madagascar, the fourth largest island in the world, is located in the Indian Ocean off the east coast of Africa, not too far from where I’m from (Malawi). For those of you who are unfamiliar with Madagascar beyond its vanilla extract and the animated film series (now you probably have that ear worm "I Like To Move It, Move It" stuck in your head —sorry , me too), Madagascar is literally like no other place on earth.
Most of the wildlife in Madagascar's diverse ecosystems—95 percent of its reptiles, 89 percent of its plant life, and 92 percent of its mammals (including more than 60 kinds of lemurs), according to the World Wildlife Fund—exist nowhere else on the planet. Unfortunately, the irreplaceable eco-systems of Madagascar, the second
-largest island nation
in the world after Indonesia, are also under threat. According to USAID, the loss of one hectare (about 2.5 acres) of forest in this country can have a larger effect on global biodiversity than forest loss anywhere else on Earth, making Madagascar arguably the highest biodiversity priority on the planet.
But Madagascar faces other challenges as well. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with more than 75 percent of Malagasy people living on less than $2 a day. The country has to try to balance the economic development needs of its human inhabitants with the impact they have on the ecological system. This complex tension, between development, politics and environmental preservation, is one of the main focuses of the three-month Where There Be Dragons program.
(Madagascan ring-tailed lemurs)
How development, economic interests, and politics affect the natural world is a complex issue I want to better understand. I live on the ocean in California, where I surf regularly. Laguna Beach is a marine preserve and how pollution affects the water is something I see in real-time when I have to wait a day after it rains to get back in the water because of all the pollutants from street runoff. That’s a small issue compared to what’s at stake in Madagascar, I realize. It may be an island in the Indian Ocean and I live on the Pacific, but it’s all connected.I'm not interested in simply being an eco-tourist or as my mom says, "a tourist in someone else's misery." When I was looking at gap-year options, I wanted to find something that immersed me in the life of a culture, where I would not just get to meet people but get to know them, with a deeper understanding of what their lives are really like, and not just be passing through. Where There Be Dragons' programs are designed to do exactly that.
Where There Be Dragons' Madagascar program is a blend of classroom and field study with homestays—where I will live with local families in different parts of the island—and experiential learning, such as trekking in the rainforest or exploring the fragile ecosystem by water-taxi, and language immersion. Malagasy and French are both the official languages of Madagascar. I hope that learning French in a real-life place where people speak it , where I will have to use it to communicate day-to-day, will be more successful than my high school classroom attempts were. J'espère!
The Madagascar program seems to blend all of the above well. It also includes several areas that already are of interest to me and others that I’d like to learn more about, including comparative religion, the arts, African history, and the legacy of slavery. As most of you know both of my parents are writers and religion is a big talk in our family—my mom and I talk about spiritual beliefs and cultures a lot, and I often discuss issues of race, economics, and justice with my dad. I look forward to having similar discussions with my host family, professors, and fellow student travelers.
(Along the Manambolo river)
I learn best by experience, in hands-on situations. In the last year, I've tried to figure out what my passion is, what I want to study, and where I might want to study it by taking classes at a local community college. The results were mixed, but what became clear to me was that throughout my life so far I have learned the most from the experiences I've had traveling with my parents and meeting new people, some who have become longtime friends and shape the way I see the world.
My hope is that, by living in Madagascar and having a variety of hands-on, real-life experiences with the people who live there, I will come home with a better understanding of the world and myself. One of the additional important areas that the Where There Be Dragons program explores is what non-governmental organizations are doing to care for at-risk and underprivileged children in several different regions of the country. I know what it feels like to be one of those kids.
(Me, age seven, in Blantyre, Malawi.)
In many ways, I feel like I’ve been training for this trip my whole life. As many of you already know, I was born in Malawi, and I lived alone for some time when I was a young child. When I lived on my own, I had to figure out things for myself that kids should not have to. I had to find my own food, with little or no money. I had to find my own shelter and I had to figure out how to keep myself safe. This is where I learned street smarts, how to adapt to my surroundings and deal with unexpected events. I was nine when my parents adopted me and I moved to the United States, where I didn’t have to worry about my most basic needs. I was safe and had everything I needed to be healthy and grow. I've always imagined myself some day going back to Africa and helping children who need my help.
The big picture? I have no doubt that living in Madagascar will give me better perspective and tools for how I can best help people in need in Africa and elsewhere.
But first, I need your support to help get me there.
The total cost of the program (including air, ground, and water travel) is $17,470.00. I am hoping to raise $16,000 of that on my own.
Thank you in advance for taking the time to read about my upcoming adventure, and for any and all help you might be able to give me. I promise to make the most of it.
(Me, today, ready for the next big adventure)