5:00am wake ups are easier when these mountains call for you to get out of your tent. Photo by Cecelia Palmquist (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest, 1st Place), Nepal Semester.

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Where There Be Dragons

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    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_153975" align="alignnone" width="1080"] Photo by Christy Sommers, Madagascar Summer Program.[/caption]

 

ESSAY BY MICAH LeMASTERS

Follow the trade winds southwest out of Indonesia, keeping the Indian subcontinent to starboard, and you will eventually find Madagascar, adrift, at the edge of the Indian Ocean. It floats alone, a dust-red crescent moon, stretching nearly a thousand miles from north to south. Traveling from the central highlands to the coast, one is never quite sure whether the massive island is drifting slowly westward toward Mozambique or slipping slowly south and away from the great African continent. It is known for its astonishing endemic flora and fauna and, of course, as the only place on earth where lemurs live in their natural state.
If you want to travel to Madagascar to “save the lemurs” then you should have come 20 years ago.
If you know anything about Madagascar, it probably has something to do with the eponymous animated film series or, more likely, the lemurs—the most endangered primates on the planet and the principle force driving the Malagasy tourism industry. The situation for these prosimians is so dire that scientists estimate up to ninety percent of the population could face extinction within the next 20 to 25 years. If you want to travel to Madagascar to “save the lemurs” then you should have come 20 years ago. Madagascar has a single digit percentage of its original forest left and that number is shrinking by the day. Generating tourism dollars or publishing spectacular photographs may buy lemurs some time, but it won’t prevent their extinction. The challenge is much greater than a marketing campaign can solve. In order to stave off extinction, Madagascar—a country with a per capita income around $450 dollars, approximately 30 percent less than North Korea—needs to provide viable alternatives to impoverished farmers who have few options to generate a meager subsistence other than clear-cutting forest timber to sell as charcoal.
Unless significant and strong action is taken to stem the upsurge in unsustainable and illegal logging and exploitation of other natural resources, the ultimate risk may be irreversible loss of forest and biodiversity for Madagascar.
According to USAID, “The illegal export of...threatened and endangered species that are found nowhere else on earth will result in the loss of globally renowned biodiversity. Unless significant and strong action is taken to stem the upsurge in unsustainable and illegal logging and exploitation of other natural resources, the ultimate risk may be irreversible loss of forest and biodiversity for Madagascar.” Although Madagascar is listed as the seventh poorest country in the world, the travel and tourism sector contributed $1.16 billion to the economy in 2014, one-sixth of the country’s revenues. Tourism isn’t suffering from a dearth of funds, the people of Madagascar are. The problem is economic inequality. According to the World Bank, 99 percent of Madagascar’s population lives on less than four dollars a day. Poor policy has led to mass poverty, and the resultant desperation has led to the destruction of critical ecosystems.
Tourism isn’t suffering from a dearth of funds, the people of Madagascar are. The problem is economic inequality.
A small cadre of both amateur and professional scientists and intrepid explorers spend thousands of dollars to travel across continents to see the few remaining lemurs that still live free and wild in the dwindling forests of the Red Island. These people touch down in the dense, polluted air of Antananarivo clad in adventure-grade pants, floppy-brimmed hats and vests made to hold rolls of film no one has carried in years. They are whisked from the tiny airport in air-conditioned 4x4 trucks and set off on a small predictable loop that takes them to the few well-known spots where they stand a reasonable chance of seeing what they came to see.
A person traveling to Madagascar for the sole purpose of seeing a lemur runs the risk of missing an incredible number of amazing things
A person traveling to Madagascar for the sole purpose of seeing a lemur runs the risk of missing an incredible number of amazing things that can’t be found in the dwindling forests. They will miss the inviting smell of rice cakes cooking in an early morning market. They will miss the singsong of an excited seller loading unsold bread at the end of a long day or the choke and cough of an ancient taxi running out of fuel on a steep hill. They will miss the way the sun slides across a terraced rice paddy as a day quietly  ends. They will miss the warm embrace of a sincere handshake. They will miss the taste of too much sugar and condensed milk in the tiny cups of coffee sold on the back streets of Antananarivo. They will miss the heavenly taste of freshly fried bananas. They will miss long afternoons chewing sugarcane under the shade of a small tree. They will miss the loom of ancient baobabs in the distance. They will miss the warmth of burnt-rice tea. They will miss the excited laughter of children racing water carts down the dirt-and-stone roads of some forgotten highland village. They will miss the scent of saltwater and the sound of a traveler’s palm bending in the breeze. They will, almost undoubtedly, miss the actual essence of what it is to be someplace as preternatural and wondrous as Madagascar. The problem is that Madagascar’s chances to attract attention, international aid and tourism dwindle with each passing year, and each year fewer lemurs remain in their natural habitat. Sadly, most people who make it to Madagascar end up missing the real beauty of the place. And in missing the beauty, they miss an opportunity to learn about and draw attention to the conditions and factors that are perpetuating irreversible harm to the fragile ecosystems that support the last remaining lemur populations. What the tourist or scientist misses on the preordained journey is tragic because it neglects the human factor. To neglect the human factor is to ignore the agent singularly responsible for the extinction of the lemurs.
To neglect the human factor is to ignore the agent singularly responsible for the extinction of the lemurs.
Madagascar, like so many countries in the world, is infinitely more important and fantastic than we think. As Westerners, we tend to push our own values and expectations onto the places where we travel, and because of this we tend to build a very narrow and unstable idea of what a country should be and what it should offer us. Long before we board the plane, we tend to decide what an experience should look and feel like. We imagine photographs of dirt-stained farmers and coy children half-hidden behind open doorways. It is unfair and unsafe to allow a place as unique and beautiful as Madagascar to be pigeonholed as some sort of tropical bazaar or uncanny nature park. It is home to around twenty-five million of the most welcoming and compassionate people on the planet. People that will, without fail, invite you into their homes to share whatever they have (although often they have next to nothing) with you. A few months back I was traveling from the capital city of Antananarivo to Lac Aloatra, about 250 kilometers away. A friend of mine heard I was going that way and came over to ask if I would get her a couple of fish from the lake and bring them back for her. In making the request she held up her right arm, bent at the elbow like a Hula dancer, to indicate that she wanted a fish at least as big as the distance from her elbow to the tips of her fingers. I agreed to keep an eye out for some nice fish and bring them back for her. While I wasn’t crazy about the idea of hauling any number of fish 15 hours from Ambatodranzaka to Antananarivo without a cooler or ice, I did wander through a couple of fish markets just to see what was available and maybe snap a picture that could serve as a surrogate gift. I immediately noticed a lack of fish and when I asked around I quickly found that the lake had been drying up at an alarming rate and that huge parts of what used to be open, fresh water, were now just a mixture of muck and silt run-off from the deforested hillsides. My friend, who lives just a few hundred kilometers away, had no idea that what once was Madagascar’s biggest freshwater lake and the center of what was referred to as Madagascar’s “rice bowl” is but a glimmer of what it used to be. Similar stories can be told of the beautiful remnants of forest that streak down the eastern coast of the island and the bizarre and unique moonscapes of the western deserts. Madagascar’s unique beauty is slipping away and not many people seem to be noticing. If you ask a Malagasy person what is unique about their country, they will tell you about their beautiful forests and their lemurs. They are proud of those things and rightfully so. However, Madagascar is losing huge amounts of forest every year, most lemur species are near extinction and too few realize it. One of the best things that can be done for the lemurs and forests of Madagascar is to create space and opportunities for people to truly understand and appreciate all of what the island has to offer and not just the few things that we expect it to provide for us.
One of the best things that can be done for the lemurs and forests of Madagascar is to create space and opportunities for people to truly understand and appreciate all of what the island has to offer
Frankly, there is more at stake in Madagascar than the prolonged existence of the lemurs. Madagascar, like a ship caught in a storm, wildly sliding down the face of a churning wave, is jettisoning its last few precious resources in hopes of keeping her bow pointed into the wind and sea. Madagascar, an island in distress, is frantically holding on, tossing endangered species and precious hardwoods overboard in desperation, because there seems to be no other way to stay afloat.  
MICAH LeMASTERS is a former Peace Corps volunteer in Madagascar and led the first Dragons summer course in Madagascar. He graduated from IU with an MA in Education. Read more about Micah.
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Featured Post

Don’t Save the Lemurs. The challenge in...

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11/29/18

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Micah LeMasters

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"As Westerners, we tend to push our own values and expectations onto the places where we travel, and because of this we tend to build a very narrow and unstable idea of what a country should be [...] Madagascar, like so many countries in the world, is infinitely more important and fantastic than we think." READ MORE...
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"It blends my love of cute things with India and this desire that I have for people to understand the rest of the world better," Sommers says.

This week, we are celebrating the recognition of Christy Sommers (Dragons South Asia Program Director) and her feature by NPR this week in a piece titled, "Dear Internet: Goats In Sweaters Are Cuter Than Kittens In Mittens." We encourage you to read the article and see for yourself seven "impossibly cute" photos of goats wearing sweaters!

From the NPR article:

"Christy Sommers, who takes the photos, first noticed the cuteness that is clothed goats in 2010, while living in a village in northwestern Bangladesh as a Fulbright scholar studying rural primary education. Now she considers the project as adding "net happiness" to the world and helping to share a little slice of life from parts of the world that Americans don't often get to see."

PS. There's also a calendar. Sales of which benefit local organizations in Varanasi, India. Sounds like Christy quickly sold out after the NPR feature, but she's working on a re-print! More details here. [post_title] => Christy Sommers & Her Featured Goats in Sweaters! [post_excerpt] => This week, we are celebrating the recognition of Christy Sommers (Dragons South Asia Program Director) and her feature by NPR this week in a piece titled, "Dear Internet: Goats In Sweaters Are Cuter Than Kittens In Mittens." We encourage you to read the article and see for yourself seven "impossibly cute" photos of goats wearing sweaters!  [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => christy-sommers-her-featured-goats-in-sweaters [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-12-13 10:04:27 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-12-13 17:04:27 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 640 [name] => Dragons Instructors [slug] => dragons_instructors [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 640 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featuring the words, projects, guidance and vision of the community of incredible staff that make Dragons what it is. [parent] => 0 [count] => 19 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 640 [category_count] => 19 [category_description] => Featuring the words, projects, guidance and vision of the community of incredible staff that make Dragons what it is. [cat_name] => Dragons Instructors [category_nicename] => dragons_instructors [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons_instructors/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 670 [name] => Recommended [slug] => recommended [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 670 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [parent] => 0 [count] => 7 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 9 [cat_ID] => 670 [category_count] => 7 [category_description] => Recommended reading, watching and listening. [cat_name] => Recommended [category_nicename] => recommended [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/recommended/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 654 [name] => Mixed Media [slug] => mixed_media [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 654 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [parent] => 0 [count] => 29 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 10 [cat_ID] => 654 [category_count] => 29 [category_description] => Featured Photography, Videos, Podcasts, Photo Contest Winners, Films & Art [cat_name] => Mixed Media [category_nicename] => mixed_media [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Instructors, Recommended ... )
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This week we are giving away 5 FREE Learning Service books written by star alum Dragons instructors Daniela Papi-Thornton and Claire Bennett on Instagram.

To enter the contest, go to Dragons Instagram Feed: 1. ❤️ this post (pictured right) 2. Follow Dragons on Instagram That’s it! We’ll randomly pick names of those entered (via both steps above) and announce the winners on Monday December 10th! Learning Service answers tough questions like: What does it mean to serve? Who benefits? How do you do more good than harm? For those engaged in service and volunteer work, it’s a must-read. [post_title] => Learning Service Book Giveaway on Instagram [post_excerpt] => This week we are giving away 5 FREE Learning Service books written by star alum Dragons instructors Daniela Papi-Thornton and Claire Bennett on Instagram. Read on for details on how to enter the contest... [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => learning-service-book-giveaway-on-instagram [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-12-05 15:42:16 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-12-05 22:42:16 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 697 [name] => Dragons Travel Guide [slug] => dragons-travel-guide [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 697 [taxonomy] => category [description] => [parent] => 0 [count] => 18 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 1 [cat_ID] => 697 [category_count] => 18 [category_description] => [cat_name] => Dragons Travel Guide [category_nicename] => dragons-travel-guide [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons-travel-guide/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 640 [name] => Dragons Instructors [slug] => dragons_instructors [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 640 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featuring the words, projects, guidance and vision of the community of incredible staff that make Dragons what it is. [parent] => 0 [count] => 19 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 6 [cat_ID] => 640 [category_count] => 19 [category_description] => Featuring the words, projects, guidance and vision of the community of incredible staff that make Dragons what it is. [cat_name] => Dragons Instructors [category_nicename] => dragons_instructors [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/dragons_instructors/ ) [2] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 651 [name] => Announcements [slug] => announcements [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 651 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [parent] => 0 [count] => 31 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 12 [cat_ID] => 651 [category_count] => 31 [category_description] => Announcements on: New Programs, Surveys, Jobs/Internships, Contests, & Behind-the-Scenes Activity. [cat_name] => Announcements [category_nicename] => announcements [category_parent] => 0 ) ) [category_links] => Dragons Travel Guide, Dragons Instructors ... )
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As our yaks from current programs are usually a week delayed, we're posting this lovely holiday reflection from past participant, Emma, of the Myanmar: Buddhist Traditions & Transformation Semester to celebrate the flavors of thankfulness this week.

I study the menu, running my finger along the laminated sheet as I try to decipher the eclectic assortment of Burmese dishes. Today is Thanksgiving, and I’m determined to have a proper Thanksgiving feast. In the end, I have to substitute a tomato chicken curry in place of the turkey, with a side of steamed white rice for stuffing. I know finding cranberry sauce will be impossible, so I settle for a bunch of grapes. But though I lost my beloved pumpkin pie this year, I have gained so much more to be thankful for.
they have welcomed a bumbling foreigner like me into their country with open arms...
I’m thankful for my fellow Dragons here, both peers and instructors. We’ve shared laughter and tears, germs and endless amounts of curries. They have become my family here, driving me to grow and supporting me as I test the limits of my comfort zone. My experience here would not have been the same without them. I’m thankful for their parents too, for giving me the chance to spend the last three months with their kids. I’m thankful for my family on the other side of the ocean too. Alexander and Cat, Mum and Dad. They believed in me when I first said I wanted to spend 83 days in this mysterious country 16 hours away from home, and helped make my dream into a reality. I’m especially thankful this year for my grandfather. He is the reason I chose to come to this country in the first place. He worked for many years for a charity called Prospect Burma, an organization which is dedicated to helping talented Burmese youth gain access to higher education in renowned institutions all over the world. I recently visited the headquarters of the charity in Yangon, and meeting some of the alumni I know I’m not the only one who is grateful. My grandfather truly loved and believed in this country’s future, even when the world said their was no hope. I’m thankful I can call this incredible man my Fafa. And of course, I am thankful for the people of Myanmar. They have fed me lunch, even though we don’t speak a word of each other’s language. They have offered me their beds, even though it means they will have to sleep on the floor. They have welcomed a bumbling foreigner like me into their country with open arms, even though I still can’t pronounce their names. Myanmar is an unbelievably beautiful country, but it is the warm smiles of the people I met here that amazed me the most. Happy Thanksgiving to all across the ocean! (If you’re interested in learning more about Prospect Burma, check out this their website: prospectburma.org) [post_title] => THANKSGIVING ACROSS THE OCEAN [post_excerpt] => As our yaks from current programs are usually a week delayed, we're posting this lovely holiday reflection from past participant, Emma, of the Myanmar: Buddhist Traditions & Transformation Semester to celebrate the flavors of thankfulness this week.  [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => thanksgiving-across-the-ocean [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2018-11-21 11:52:29 [post_modified_gmt] => 2018-11-21 18:52:29 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/ [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw [categories] => Array ( [0] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 638 [name] => From the Field [slug] => from_the_field [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 638 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [parent] => 0 [count] => 39 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 2 [cat_ID] => 638 [category_count] => 39 [category_description] => Featured Yaks, Reflections, Quotes, Photo Spreads and Videos from the Four Corners. [cat_name] => From the Field [category_nicename] => from_the_field [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/from_the_field/ ) [1] => WP_Term Object ( [term_id] => 646 [name] => Alumni Spotlight [slug] => alumni_spotlight [term_group] => 0 [term_taxonomy_id] => 646 [taxonomy] => category [description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [parent] => 0 [count] => 21 [filter] => raw [term_order] => 8 [cat_ID] => 646 [category_count] => 21 [category_description] => Featured Student Alumni and their projects/organizations/visions. [cat_name] => Alumni Spotlight [category_nicename] => alumni_spotlight [category_parent] => 0 [link] => https://www.wheretherebedragons.com/news/category/alumni_spotlight/ ) ) [category_links] => From the Field, Alumni Spotlight )
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    [post_content] => At Dragons HQ, we're head-over-heels for all the experiences and sentiments captured so beautifully in this fabulous video made by Laura Berry of the Fall 2017 Nepal Semester...


    [post_title] => Nepal Semester Video by Alumni Laura Berry
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    [post_content] => Each autumn, Dragons hosts a four-day seminar for educators in the majestic Rocky Mountains of Colorado focused on best practices in international global education. During this time, Dragons administrators teach the best of our training practices and offer a toolkit of activities and lessons for educators to share with students, either in the classroom or the field.

This is our 7th year facilitating the seminar, and it sells out every year (so we don't even advertise it)! But we're going to be posting live updates from the seminar to our (brand new) @DragonsEducators account on Instagram.



So check in @dragonseducators throughout this weekend for your sneak peak.

And then be sure to enroll early for 2019 to secure your spot for next year!
    [post_title] => Dragons hosting our 7th Annual Rocky Mountain Seminar!
    [post_excerpt] => Each autumn, Dragons hosts a four-day seminar for educators in the majestic Rocky Mountains of Colorado focused on best practices in international global education. We'll be sharing a live sneak peak into the seminar via our new @DragonsEducators account on Instagram! 
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    [post_content] => We're receiving fabulous footage this fall from our India and Indonesia Gap Year programs currently in the field.

These stories continue to build as the semesters progress so keep checking back. In the meantime, please enjoy the images, videos, and storytelling by our staff and students on these programs this fall...

Dragons Indonesia Semester - Fall 2018 Instagram Story

Dragons India Semester - Fall 2018 Instagram Story

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Where There Be Dragons on Instagram