Jamie is just mad about Madagascar
Balloch man set up charity to help combat poverty
A Balloch man’s dream of tackling poverty in Madagascar has seen him set up a charity which has transformed the lives of more than 200,000 people.
Jamie Spencer fell in love with the African island during a trip there as a young anthropology student almost 30 years ago.
The ambitious conservationist went on to found Feedback Madagascar, which has built 86 schools, given hundreds of thousands of people access to clean water and taught locals the skills to sell their wares to a top Japanese designer.
And last month, the charity received a huge boost when Princess Anne visited Madagascar and met Jamie and his team of 70 volunteers.
The Princess Royal made a special trip to the island, while Jamie was visiting with his mother Hermione, who is also from Balloch and is a trustee of the charity.
He spoke to the Lennox Herald last week on his return and told how he expected her endorsement would pave the way for more exciting opportunities.
“She is a world expert in development and it was a real honour to have her take the time out to spend with our charity,” he said.
“She works incredibly hard and I was so impressed by her interest.
“It is the most wonderful endorsement and it can have the power of suddenly changing everyone’s perspective of you.
“For 22 years, since the charity was founded, we have tried to explain to people what we do and why our aims are so important, but having this endorsement reassures everybody.
“It opens doors and I think it will really boost our plans of taking the charity to the next level.” Jamie, 50, has always had a fascination with natural history and his love affair with Madagascar began during a visit to a lemur conservation project as a university student.
He realised that supporting the poverty-stricken communities lay at the heart of protecting them, as well as helping eradicate the threat to wildlife.
He went on to learn to speak the language and founded the charity, which aims to tackle poverty through recognising the relationship between poverty, environmental degradation and poor health.
Its focus encourages local people to identify their problems and needs, helping them to create their own solutions.
He continued: “Wildlife is in crisis and people are in crisis. Our focus is to find solutions that meet the needs of communities.
“Imagine waking up in the morning with no money or food but having five children to feed.
“You might resort to cutting down trees for charcoal to sell, and burning trees to create fields, which become useless after a few years when they become infertile.
“They are totally unserved by the government, who are broke themselves. There are no jobs and no industry. They have to completely fend for themselves.
“It’s also important that we don’t go in there and tell them what we think they should do or tell them what their values should be.
“It’s easy for us to go in there having watched lots of David Attenborough programmes about endangered species and tell them how to live their lives.
“We now have lots of solutions to their plights which are working really well.
“It’s about helping meet their immediate needs in a way that helps to protect the forest for everyone’s greater needs.”
One of the charity’s most successful initiatives is the Wild Silk project, which is saving the last remnants of a threatened forest by helping communities earn a good living from it.
Jamie and his team have trained an incredible 650 weavers who are creating silk scarves spun from cocoons harvested from the wild silk moth.
It means the weavers have a vested interest in protecting and replanting the forest and earning a living which is seeing their wares bought by Japanese design firm Muji, as well as Bono’s wife, Alison Hewson, who runs a business called Eden.
Six years ago, Jamie watched his life’s work on television as part of David Attenborough’s show Madagascar, which featured the Wild Silk Project.
As part of their four-part series, the crew spent three days filming this project as an example of good practice being carried out in conservation and development. Jamie handed the responsibility for the charity over to the Madagascar team several years ago but has recently taken the helm again in a bid to drive the organisation’s aspirations forwards.
He added: “We are now going to focus on 150,000 hectares of land, which has a population of 400,000 people.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us but have an amazing team of volunteers, in Madagascar and here locally in Gartocharn and Drymen.”
Jamie and his mother Hermione, who used to run Hermione Spencer Designer Knitwear in Alexandria, returned back from their trip with a collection of beautiful handmade products, including scarves and crafts which they now plan to sell at local Christmas markets as part of their fundraising efforts.
Royal visitor Last month the charity received a huge boost when Princess Anne visited Madagascar and met Jamie and his team of 70 volunteers
Lifeline Feed Madagascar has touched 200,000 people