Jamie is just mad about Mada­gas­car

Bal­loch man set up char­ity to help com­bat poverty

Lennox Herald - - LIFESAVER - Jenny Foulds

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

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