By Alex Sanderson
We've passed the half way point and only have 9 days left in Maintirano. So, what have we achieved so far?
When we arrived, we dove straight into learning about the lives of the fishermen here. By the end of our first week it was clear that the fishing is risky, but fishermen have no other livelihood. In order to feed their families, fishermen must brave the open ocean in their tiny wooden canoes.
The risk of death increases with distance travelled away from the coast in order to fish. Often, fishermen can travel up to 65km from shore. If the weather is bad, the boats capsize and cannot be righted. The only option for fishermen is to swim to shore. Those who have travelled further, have a longer swim back. They become exhausted, and some drown.
Having met so many friendly fishermen and their families, we thought we better get on with offering them our solution. So, in our second week, we aimed to introduce our easy to make, sustainable buoyancy vests. To start, we had to make some samples. We found the help of a local tailor, who made 8 buoyancy vests using her hand powered sewing machine in two afternoons.
We then started to tell the fishermen we knew about our idea. They were all excited, and eager to have their own. Bonina offered to trial a vest on his next fishing trip. We met him afterwards to hear his feedback. Overall, he was more than happy; he thought that the vests were comfortable, and offered enough flexibility for fishermen to be able to pull in their nets.
We also had the opportunity to present our vests at a fishing conference being held in Maintirano during the week. The conference, organised by Blue Ventures, brought together the representatives of every fishing village in the local region. We were able to present our buoyancy vests in front of all 40 of them. Their response was incredible. Everyone was delighted at our idea, and the buoyancy vests were quickly passed round for closer inspection.
We had planned to give one buoyancy vest per mini region for them to try and then give us their feedback, but there was almost a riot over who would and wouldn't get one. Some men even started to take measurements and drawings of the vest whilst we were still presenting, in order to make their own. Eventually, we negotiated who would take home the buoyancy vests. The fishermen were all so friendly, and even thankful, lining up in order to take individual photos with us. We couldn't have had a better reception.
Encouraged by this, we are moving into step 3. During the conference, we passed around invitations for the two local villages, Ampasamandoro and Ampalanhonko, to come to a buoyancy vest creation workshop. We will be holding these at the beginning of week 3. We hope that this will begin to spread the knowledge of how to make the buoyancy vests throughout the region, even after we have gone.