Smiley Movement logo

Voluntourism: how one girl is helping a whole island

Words by Abi Scaife

“I went to Madagascar to teach English as a foreign language [for] five weeks. Three months later, I was still there.”

When Chloe Lingard took time out to volunteer in Madagascar, she wasn’t expecting to leave with a love for the country and an idea for a non-profit organisation. Though she loved her time in Madagascar, she realised that there was so much more that could be done to help the Malagasy people.

“With a lot of organisations when you go and teach English abroad … you don't get told what the students have learned before,” explains Chloe, who became frustrated with the cavalier attitude towards their education. “We now do weekly reporting as to what students have learned. It's one thing teaching people English, but they probably can't then go and sit an IELTS exam, which is the exam that you need to get jobs and study in England or in a Western country where the main language is English.

"They're never taught how to do that. They're taught so they can become tour guides. That's literally the only reason.”

It was throughout the Covid-19 lockdowns that Chloe set up The Sustain Ability Project - or, TSAP Travel. In the three months that she spent living and working in Madagascar, she made lifelong friends and created a deep and unbreakable bond with the people, and the country. She wanted to help them in any way she could.

“I was really interested in the voluntourism [a combination of the words volunteer and tourism] sector, because I've met met a lot of friends and students through teaching English,” explains Chloe. “I was not an English teacher. I didn't know what I was doing. I found out that my influence in Madagascar was … very short term. They were just gonna wait for the next person to come and volunteer. What I had done hadn't really had a massive impact on their life.

“They'd enjoyed meeting me but it didn't have the value or the impact that I wanted it to have. I went on to do a lot of research about the volunteer abroad industry. And then I decided, well, nobody else is fixing the problem.”

Chloe’s mission is now to provide the people of Madagascar with the resources that they actually need and want. Yes, that means teaching English - but the help she gives doesn’t stop there. 

“The heart of what we do is showing young people in Madagascar that you can be anything you want. And, yeah, it's gonna be so much harder because you're from Madagascar. And because you're Malagasy, and there's so much going against you. But actually, it's possible,” explains a passionate Chloe. “That's the main thing that we do is really that we inspire entrepreneurship, we help young people start businesses so that they can employ other people so that they can, can fund themselves as opposed to always looking at tourists for money.”

The Sustain Able Project works through voluntourism - a style of volunteering that Chloe herself engaged in when she visited Madagascar the first time. Volunteers who wish to work in Madagascar for a time pay to visit the country, where they work with The Sustain Able Project to help those living on the island.

Unlike other voluntourism projects, Chloe tailors the experience to each of her ‘Changemakers’, so that they can get the experience they need for a future job, while helping the Malagasy people.

“We design bespoke projects to the Changemaker, because I was an English teacher that [had] never taught a class in my life,” explains Chloe. “For example, one of our changemakers last year was a business graduate, and she helped set up two businesses in Madagascar.”

“Another Changemaker came from a TV and film background, he filmed a lot of marketing content and stuff like that. So they both worked in their specialisms to help them get jobs post that Changemaker opportunity.”

Chloe is determined to help as many people as she can on the island. As a not-for-profit there isn’t a lot of available cash, but she will try to help out in other ways.  

“We have a policy; ‘how can we help?’ But there are limitations. We say if you need something ask, but that doesn't mean we'll say yes - we want it to be an open line of communication,” explains Chloe. “That also helps us understand what their needs are. If everybody on the island was asking us for a smartphone because they want to start a business … we understand that an internet cafe is probably needed on the island where we work.”

Ultimately, Chloe’s main goal is to help the people of Madagascar as much as she possibly can; that is through encouraging people to visit the island and invest time there, or through providing communities with the resources they need to thrive independently. 

“I think … how incredible the Malagasy community are for welcoming me and being just really open to what we had to offer,” says Chloe. “We wouldn't be successful without those people. I just can't believe how lucky we were.”

If you’re interested in travelling to Madagascar with The Sustain Able Project, you can apply through their website. If you wish to support Chloe, the people of Madagascar and their changemakers, you can do so through their Crowdfunder, or by following them on Instagram.

This article aligns with the UN SDG No Poverty.

This article aligns with the following UN SDGs

You might also like…