By Alex Sanderson
Vestability was founded in October 2015, but it really began in the summer of 2014. I had returned from a three month volunteering experience in Madagascar and was inspired to address some of the issues I had learnt about. During those months, I undertook typical British youth volunteering tasks: my team built a school, constructed latrines and monitored the destruction of a rainforest and lemur population.
These experiences often cause volunteers to return home with a fresh realisation of the hardships faced around the world, and the relative comfort of their own day-to-day lives. But this was my third volunteering experience in Africa, and I returned home with a different attitude. The best part of my time in Madagascar had been getting to know the Malagasy community. I enjoyed learning from them, and listening to their aspirations, hopes and dreams, alongside their worries, troubles and hardships. I had a strong feeling that many development organisations didn’t address what exactly the local people really wanted. So I returned home determined to address some of the problems I had listened to, and, on top of this, enable the local population to address these issues themselves.
One issue affected me in particular. Whilst visiting a local stitching cooperative in a fishing village called Sainte Luce, I met a woman whose husband and sons had drowned whilst fishing. In coastal communities, fishing is the main source of income for families. However, it was proving to be an extremely risky business. The woman I met was not alone in her grief: there is a high incidence of drowning for fishermen across Madagascar, who face turbulent seas in unstable boats every day. On top of this, the majority of their families have no other source of income. If a fisherman looses his life, his family are left vulnerable to extreme poverty.
Further research showed that the majority of fishermen are unable to swim, and on top of this, there is a complete lack of available safety equipment.
It quickly became clear that providing swimming lessons in some form would be an obvious, but inefficient solution. This is due to the length of time it takes to teach an individual to swim, and the large amount of resources required. Providing safety equipment had the ability to reduce the risks faced by fishermen, in a short length of time. I spoke to a member of the charity I had volunteered with, and he had seen fishermen trying to create life jackets from tying plastic bottles together with fishing nets. I thought that if I could design a working, safe buoyancy aid that could be made by locals with local materials, it may reduce the incidence of drowning for fishermen. This inspired me to found Vestability and begin devising a buoyancy vest. Find out more in my next blog post!