Anosibe is a large, densely populated slum in downtown Antananarivo. One afternoon, the adults were all out working or trying to find work, and the hundreds of children were unattended in their squalid wooden habitats. Suddenly the children heard the noise of a helicopter hovering over their area, which is very unusual for this part of town. Some of them ran out of their huts to watch the helicopter, and to their horror, realized that a fire had started in one of the huts and was spreading very rapidly.
The alarm was raised and within minutes the children, including many toddlers and infants, were all able to escape safely. Sad to say, however, an elderly invalid woman died in the fire. Due to the extremely crowded and labyrinthine configuration of this area, local firefighters could not reach the raging fire on time. A few hours later, the 250 inhabitants of this slum had lost all their meagre possessions.
Several hard wall buildings were also destroyed in the fire. The only building spared was the local church. The next day, many of the families who never attended church went to see the pastor and asked him to baptize their children.
In the days following the fire, our team brought some emergency food and basic needs such as blankets, cooking pots, dishes, buckets, and clothes and food for the victims. We worked in coordination with the local pastor who had just made available all the classrooms of his nearby school to temporarily house the hundreds of victims.
In this country, the direct clash between ostentatious wealth and immense poverty is easily seen on a day-to-day basis. For this reason, we decided to call our project the “Lazarus project”, named after the biblical parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Once we started to visit the neighboring areas, we met many people in dire need, including a very young mother working as a servant, who had just given birth the day after the fire. She is now staying temporarily with other very impoverished people who have shared half their tiny living space with her and her baby. It was very touching to see the solidarity between the poor.
A little boy had injured his eyes while playing on top of a mountain of garbage and his eye had become swollen and infected. We sent him urgently to the hospital where we know the head of the ophthalmologist service, and his eyes received the best care available in this country.
We discussed at length with the people about their needs and their future and we relayed our observations to the mayor of Antananarivo, with whom we have regular contact, to see what plan of action could be implemented to rehouse these families and help them to rebuild their lives before start of the rainy season starts within less than two months.
We later heard from the mayor’s office that they had followed up on our visit and relocated all the families involved. Since then, we have visited again and brought school supplies to the children for the school year.
Published in 2019.