Off the southeast coast of Africa lies the beautiful island of Madagascar. While the children’s

Madagascar movies paint a nice scenic picture of the island, there are serious issues taking place.

Rachelle Czerwinski was born and raised in the northwestern region of Madagascar and now lives in Vancouver. She left the country in 1984 when she met her Canadian husband. In 2009 a political coup took place, and sent the island in economic and social turmoil. She returned for a visit later that year to help her community.

“Many years ago I bought a plot of land because I did not want to see it get into the wrong hands,” Czerwinski says. “In 2009 I donated it to be used for the community.” During her return, she help the community of 100 people create a garden and build a well. It was hard work at first, but after a while they managed to grow corn, eggplant, tomatoes, and medicinal herbs.

Now, Czerwinski’s goal is to establish a summer camp for the children in the village where her garden grows. To help bring this goal to life, Czerwinski teamed up with Whitehorse resident Barbara McLeod to bring forth a culinary/charity event called Discover Madagascar.

“There are many children over there who have never even held a crayon,” Czerwinski says. “My goal is to create a week long camp where they can practice art, and have full meals.

For this dinner, which takes place at McLeod’s home, true Madagascar fare will be served. Czerwinski says Madagascar cuisine has a mixed influence of Indian, Chinese, and Polynesian styles. Some of the items being served will include a coconut curry, lentil stew with yams and spinach, Madagascar Slaw – which is their take on coleslaw with the green and red colours of the national flag. Dessert will feature a tropical fruit salad, and a special surprise featuring vanilla from Madagascar. Since the event is taking place in Whitehorse, Czerwinski thought it would also be nice to pay tribute to her host in the form of a cheesecake with Yukon berries.

Once Czerwinski has completed her goal of creating a kids’ camp, she has a few more goals lined up.

“I want to be able to provide solar-powered stoves for families,” Czerwinski says. “A lot of damage is done to the forests because trees are cut down to be used as coal.”

Czerwinski would also like to educate inhabitants about environmental responsibility.

“I know old habits die hard, but if something is not done, there will be no more trees in 50 yeas,” she says.

One particular issue that hits close to home is the illegal exportation of rosewood. What’s even more infuriating is that the exportation is not regulated, and the millions of dollars made do not go to help communities, Czerwinski says.

What many people may not know is that Madagascar is also home to many plants and animals that don’t exist anywhere else in the world. The lemur calls the island home, but due to poaching and survival needs, there are only 150 left. There are over 300 types of orchids which grow naturally in Madagascar, but are threatened by deforestation.

Czerwinski hopes that by teaching people how to grow food, they can have more sustainable options and the ecosystem will have a chance to rebuild itself.

The other goal on Czerwinski’s list is to open a Bed and Breakfast operation and encourage “voluntourism.”

“If people can come and enjoy the island, and help with teaching crafts or English, that would be great, she says.

To learn more about Czerwinski’s goals, drop by Discover Madagascar taking place on Saturday, Sept.19. Tickets are $85 and include dinner and dessert. For more information contact Barbara McLeod at 867-667-4586.