Alison Jolly

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IMG_1847The old Brighton Pier breaks from a storm on February 4, 2014

Recently, a series of events prompted some major changes in my life and movements. We lost Alison Jolly on February 6, 2014, and rather than continue waiting for perfection, I decided to leave my secure job and nice little apartment in Boston to take a chance on the dreams we made for Madagascar. I’m on my way, stopping through England, where I was given the honor to dedicate a talk to her at the meeting for the Great Britain Primate Society. Reflecting on our time together, it’s her beautiful character, and the honor of taking her investment in my life forward, that will guide my life for many years to come.


Alison Jolly has my family over for tea and crumpets during their UK visit

Here is the memory I shared for her memorial at the American Association of Physical Anthropology 2014 meeting in Calgary:

“The last day I spent with Alison, we had just returned from my evening seminar and other meetings at Oxford Brookes. We were back at the University of Sussex, where I did my MA in International Education and Development. Over tea in my supervisor’s office, she shared her earliest observations and the enduring hope she had for education. This was the first time I ever heard her explain it so personally: what it meant to her for education to rise on the conservation agenda, and how grateful she was for my next steps. She showed a pride in me that I’ve never seen from anyone. She never told me she was sick, but as she shared post-colonization’s affect on education and endorsed my goals, she gently suggested that she would not take a central role in the outcomes, but trusted we would see it through. She said goodbye with a warm smile and a glimpse of tears. I never thought that the next time I would be in England, she would no longer be here with me.

As I begin to take the steps we’ve dreamt, I keep breaking into tears, and need to channel her reassuring focus and glimmer of magic that she inspired on becoming a voice for a world much greater than us. It’s her gentle, consistent faith that she drew on to reframe my setbacks as though they were interesting lessons on a much longer journey. It’s an honor and great responsibility to know I hold in me a big part of her dreams. I am trying to remember how lucky I am to have so many blissful memories from her house, on the phone, or alongside her, as she kept me, and those around us, mesmerized. I will hold on to my memories to channel the comfort in knowing that the one I had admired most, also believed in me, cared that I accomplish my dreams, and saw our time as its preparation.

She showed me that to care with an open heart, you must always care for your happiness, too. It was clear she saw it as a gift to channel the wonders of all life in Madagascar, and could appreciate the beauty of all of our worth. I hope in her honor, we will build better bridges to include each voice to work together in the development of a sustainable future.

I am beginning to understand that her enduring hope was always courage, even in her final days. I will take you with me wherever the road may lead, tompoko. Misaotra betsaka. ”

Also, one obituary referenced this blog, accounting for Alison’s education outlook: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/39230/title/Esteemed-Primatologist-Dies/

I was the lucky recipient of a beautiful goodbye party and a lot of good wishes from my kids at the school in Boston.

Taking it all on the road with me! xx


Reality and the District Conference

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Dear Readers,

I generally post here to report on the latest great news, reflecting from a safe distance on past growing pains. During my year as an Ambassadorial Scholar, I felt so liberated flying ahead with the scholarship’s supportive space, that I could easily share with a room filled with people the times when I was told that Madagascar was a crazy dream. I would joke about losing friends, while fighting to keep going, since in that moment, my crazy dreams were becoming real. But coming back, those past moments became real again.

After my summer thesis in Madagascar and follow-ups on changing policies and partners, it was time to head back to the drawing board. Back in New York with old family, friends, and a mini public window, creative reinvention demanded fierce adamancy and definitely patience, both with myself and the time it takes to open space for sustainable change.

I do hope to find reality, but I’d like to create it, not come back. I have an uncle who likes to ask what I’m doing in my life, and when I say lala Madagascar, he always says, “oh, still not past that..?” And confused, I say, “no, I’ll probably never be past that..?”

No matter what happens, some may always be waiting for me to come back to reality. The only thing to do is keep going, undeterred, as plans grow even crazier and involve further leaps into the unknown. Certainly, logic about my ‘career path’ no longer deters me (though, to be fair, not sure it ever did). In telling Alison Jolly about a not-so-encouraging meeting, she says, “well we can’t give up on Madagascar, what would happen then?”

All I know is that Alison Jolly, who has brought hope to Madagascar since 1963, is including me in her ‘we’. So, even at the messy part of new educational partnerships, I am trying to get up and speak about what is real to me. While it is always easier to speak on vulnerabilities when past them, I stood up shaking at the District Conference this weekend, and spoke to many accomplished Rotarians about reality.

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The hope for Madagascar, for science, and for children’s learning are all a curiosity with the great ‘unknown’. So rather than being afraid of it, I’m trying to get comfortable again with that reality. The possibilities will only be understood if we dare to explore them.

Best always,


Plotting in England…

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I officially am a University of Sussex alumnus, which seems to conclude my scholarship year. With that I offer you my Final Report.

Attending graduation with fellow colleagues made for a great time to catch up with friends and exchange ideas for our next moves. It was so nice to be among classmates!

During my week in England, I also had the incredible fortune to return to Oxford Brookes University and give their evening seminar for the Primate Conservation MSc, hosted by Professor Anna Nekaris. A huge honor, Dr. Alison Jolly came along for the day, and we not only met with students pursuing research in Madagascar, but also had the opportunity to meet with many from the Madagascar conservation and education communities. It was a great chance to hear from allies in the field and learn about all the ways this field is growing stronger every day.


Before I left town, I met with mentors to discuss ongoing research and planning for the next major steps for educational development in Madagascar. We are currently in the process of putting together plans for rooting conservation education in communities, through intergenerational exchange between the global scientific and local knowledge, using literacy as a means for developing local action from the foundation of ecological identity, so that science can truly become a resource for the Malagasy people.

And now that I am back in New York, I would love to visit any clubs in District 7230. I will gladly share how the Rotary has been influential for opening doors to global engagement.

Hope to see you soon!!


Between New York and Madagascar


To My Readers,

It has been a long time since my last update, but I have not forgotten you, Rotary!

In fact, despite the lack of photo evidence, I have had a welcome return to my home District 7230. I’ve spoken to inbound scholars about giving Rotary talks, attended Rotary UN Day (where I met RI President Sakuji Tanaka, who spoke eloquently about peace from within), I’ve spoken to the Rotary Club of Larchmont and Rotary Club of Ossining, as well as Rotaract UN, which was exciting (as it was my first time at any Rotaract and my first time bringing friends along). I also attended the RC Larchmont holiday party and met with some district Rotarians, particularly interested in my goals and progress.

Rotary UN Day

And today, a good friend reminded me what it is that drives my achievements: love. Maybe cliche, but without love, I would never have gathered so much support or kept at it. I would never be able to face the challenges that lie ahead in Madagascar, the looming threats that the forests are projected to be fully destroyed in a single decade, the politics and the incredible people behind it, and the responsibility that comes along with being in a position unlike anyone else in the Madagascar community.

The Rotary taught me that being diplomatic is not about hiding the truth. It’s about telling the truth in a way that fully respects those that paved the way for education to even be on the conservation agenda. In Madagascar, time is far too critical and the challenges too integrated for critical advocacy alone to lead the luxury of change. And my hope is to become the kind of researcher that isn’t afraid to get muddy in the action.

That being said, I am currently pouring myself into plans to balance further academic research with social action. My respect grows every day for my heroes that have given their whole lives and hearts to Madagascar without the comforting assurance that every new step will work out for the better. I still have so much to learn from them, and with continued love for Madagascar, I am ready to keep trying.

My heart belongs to you, Madagascar. Hope to see you soon!


NamanaBe Hall


Today was a major day for Centre ValBio- the inauguration of the new research, arts and community outreach building, embedded in the southeastern rainforest of Ranomafana, NamanaBe Hall, meaning “big friendship”.

Photo by Dede Randrianarista (Taken from: Scientific American Blog)

Today, Dr. Patricia Wright was the first (and only one) to be awarded the third and highest honor that you can receive in Madagascar, the Commander Medal of Honor, for exceptional work throughout her career. It was a major celebration. Children throughout the local villages performed dances, and major bands, including grammy award winning Tarika Be, performed, traditional zebu were killed as part of traditional ceremonies, and other impressive guests, including the President of Stony Brook University and Helsinki University, the Prime Minister, and Miss Madagascar arrived into town. Our researcher home expanded to fit almost 800 people from the local and global community, to join us on a day pouring with rain- a sign of good luck in Madagascar.

I was given the honor to design a room in NamanaBe for the children, which is home to the new education resource library, as well as a creative workshop and learning space for the children and youth. Study abroad students and fellow researchers helped me pull this room together, and in Dr. Wright’s kabary (speech), she acknowledged us by name, her longterm researchers, as those who keep Ranomafana moving into the future. And after the children’s dances, I also gave a short speech alongside Education Director, Florent Ravoavy (customary to keep it short, since I am young) to celebrate the energy that the children and youth are bringing to care for the future of the Ranomafana’s forest and its communities. So… the NamanaBe children’s room:

Study abroad student, Dylan, checks out the children’s artwork. And here are the children working on their artwork… 

Dr. Wright and I pose below the Malagasy Proverb, “One tree doesn’t make a forest”.

This ladder, used for the stuffed lemurs (made by the local women’s artisan group) and for the Ako books (Ako Project), was taken from the construction of the building.

We’re hoping this room provides a creative base for the core education team to lead the children and youth in transforming a healthier and more sustainable future. Of course, in Madagascar, it’s as important to celebrate now, as it is to plan for the future, so when Tarika Be performed, we all had a great time —

Most photos courtesy of Noel Rowe (Primate Conservation International)

Back in Ranomafana

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So, I made it back to the rainforest of Ranomafana, surrounded by old friends, and seeing how things that have changed and stayed the same. Lots of exciting new developments.

Particularly research, with an emphasis on tackling health challenges in local communities. A team from Emory University led by Dr. Sarah Zohdy is looking at zoonotic transmission of infectious diseases from people, livestock, and lemurs to understand the correlation between forest health and local livelihoods, and the Medical Department from Stanford University will be setting up a brand new genetics lab to identify naturally occurring variations of mouse lemurs to understand human disease, which Dr. Zohdy helped pioneer to include local training and education, and hopefully conservation and local understanding of their species.

So, I’ve been working with study abroad students to share with them the local value of parks as inclusive spaces for children’s learning about their environments and improving livelihoods. We’ve also been looking at the different UNICEF programs to understand how they could be better unified in practice to achieve broader access for youth to lead the way for children’s involvement in protecting their future. Lots going on.

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A day the study abroad students joined all the UNICEF groups for a major clean up, sustainable artisan, and community day in Ranomafana.

And some recent highlights-

A feature on the recent Environmental Education Conference:  Sussex News

And a local article on my recent work in Madagascar: Larchmont Daily Voice

Until next time, Veloma!

I’m back!

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Salama Readers,

Here I am yet again in the land that changed my life. The smell of vanilla welcomed me back, and the Malagasy spirit reminded me why I’ve given every day of my life to a place so far away. But, it seems that Madagascar never left, but entered with me into every part of my life since. It is so nice to find it so familiar, as if I never really left…

So, for all of you interested in conservation, as I first stepped foot in the airport, I met the Russell Mittermeier (President of Conservation International), who coined Madagascar the single greatest conservation priority in the world, and said,

“If they [the Malagasy people] had the means to safeguard their island’s treasures, both natural and cultural, they surely would do so.”

And that’s pretty much the basis of my dedication to Madagascar. I am sure that they will do so, once given the educational access and tools to transform their own lives and protect their future.



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