A New Home for Voahangy

Farmer Field School inspires local woman to improve her life and her community

Voahangy looks out across the rice fields from the comfort of her third story window. Her brick house sits at the back of the valley, on a slope that rises toward the rocky summit, and it has a vantage of all the activity below.

Workers in colorful shirts till the soil, cows bellow under the strain of the plow, and voices can be heard echoing from the neighboring homes, all of which look as nice and new as the one in which Voahangy currently sits.

“I have been longing for a house of my own for at least six years, but I never managed to do it because I didn’t have enough money,” she said. “It’s not always easy to live with your in-laws. I always wanted to leave but I didn’t have the means, so we had to stay there.”

When she got married to her husband, Sebastien, Voahangy left her family to live with his. She had a child, then another one. Years passed, and the young family scraped together what income they could, but they only ever had enough money for food and basic school supplies for the children.

Voahangy felt her dreams disappear more each year. Then, in 2015, the young mother heard about a development project called ASOTRY, supported by USAID, in a neighboring village. The project offered a Farmer Field School to teach members of the community to farm more efficiently.

Voahangy saw an answer to her problems.

“I was mainly interested in the promises of knowing improved techniques in agriculture,” she said. “Before ASOTRY I was farming rice, beans, peanuts, maize, and lettuce, but I didn’t follow any techniques, and the yields were bad. I could sell my crops before, but in small quantities.”

Voahangy decided to attend the meetings. For the four months of the program, she walked to the next village to learn about how to improve her farm, her yields, and her income. She continued to go, despite the criticism of her friends, community members, and even her husband.
“There was conflict between them in the beginning,” said Rina, the ASOTRY Field Agent for Agriculture and Livelihood in Ambato Mitongoa in Anjoma Commune. “Her husband thought she should be bringing back money and not be wasting her time. He was even jealous because she was traveling with ASOTRY so often for trainings.”

It did not take long for Voahangy to prove herself. As soon as she began to implement advanced farming techniques, her income increased dramatically.

“Before, if I planted 100 cans of beans, I could harvest 180 cans of beans,” she said. “Now, the same quantity will yield three times that amount. I plant the same crops as before, but the yields are much higher.”

“I notice an improvement in my income now,” she added. “The best part is that I was able to build my house with the income that I got from ASOTRY activities.” In November of 2018, Voahangy and her husband finally moved out of their crowded, multigenerational house, and into a brand-new house they built high on the hill.

“I was very happy because before I used to live with my parents-in-law,”she said. “I felt like we weren’t fitting in the house. Here it is big, and I feel free. This is my house.” The change has been noticed by everyone in Ambato Mitongoa. Since Voahangy came back from that first Farmer Field School, she has helped set up an Farmer Field School in her hometown, plus a Village Savings and Loans and Farmers Business Association.

“We have trainings with everyone, but sometimes people don’t engage or listen,” Rina said. “When we leave, we need a key person like Voahangy to continue the project. We work with that person to become a partner of the project and a leader of the community.” There is no doubt that Voahangy is now a leader of the community.

“I see that I am very respected. Even the village president told me I should be the head of this village,” she said. “My reputation goes beyond my own village. Even now people come here to ask advice on success. They say ‘we see your success, what is your secret?’”

Voahangy is happy to share her success with everyone. Most of all, she is eager to share that success with her children.
“When I was a kid, I felt very limited. my parents were poor and could not give me many opportunities,” she said. “Now my kids have access to more opportunities than I did. I don’t want them to become like me, but to be better than me.”

Thanks to her income, her new house, and the private school she can finally afford for her children, her children are on track to do just that.

Voahangy and her husband apply composting, a farming technique taught by ASOTRY.