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"If Sailors' Society had not been here, I would have fallen"

Vohita and Augustine with their family
Vohita and Augustine with their family

Madagascan Vohita Arsene is a 56-year-old former seafarer.

He lives with his wife Augustine, their children and grandchildren.

During his last contract, Vohita fell ill with heart problems.

He was working in the ship’s engine room when he felt pains in his chest unlike any he had felt before.

He says: “I was paralysed by the cramp and fell into the machinery.”

Luckily, one his colleagues was on hand to lift him out of the machine.

It took time for Vohita to get back home to Toamasina, when he arrived in port he had to leave his ship and rest.

A career coming to an end

Vohita was determined to get better and return to sea; he was willing to take any job on board a ship.

But his hopes were crushed when he discovered he couldn’t get a contract.

His heart condition means his body is unable to cope with the strain or pace of life at sea.

“I saw a doctor and he told me to stop working,” he says.

The news was a severe blow to Vohita and his family. Not just financially – Vohita was the main breadwinner – but also psychologically. Working on board a ship was his whole life and he found not being able to return to sea difficult to accept.

His friends were sad to lose him and collected money for him so he could travel to the capital and try and get a job with his former employer back on board a ship.

But by the time enough money had been raised for the trip, the company had gone bankrupt.

In 2008, Vohita got a job as a shopkeeper in a garage and his income went towards family expenses.

Unfortunately, four years later, the garage closed.

"It was difficult for me to provide school kits for the children,” he says.

Augustine inherited a piece of land. The family decided to move there but misfortune hit again and their house burnt down.

Augustine with one of her daughters
Augustine with one of her daughters

Slowly getting back on their feet

Despite the setbacks, the family has built a modest hut on a friend’s land.

Augustine sews for a living. Her real passion is making traditional items from raffia to sell at the market. She earns about £5 a week - the family’s only income.

The couple’s eldest daughter works in another town and sends a big bag of rice home each month.

How the Society helps

Our family outreach officer, Fify Ravaoharisoa, visits the family once a week. She’s been able to offer a listening ear and emotional support during the family’s difficult time.

At the start of the school year, Sailors’ Society provided school kits for the children.

Vohita couldn’t afford the medication he needed, so Sailors’ Society helped him in the form of a medical grant.

Augustine registered on the Society’s wife and children project. She attended money training, learning how to grow her business and increase her savings.

Vohita regularly attends the reintegration project and prayer group, where he finds support and is able to share his concerns with his peers.

One of their children attends the new generation project where she gets weekly English lessons followed by dance classes, where she can make friends with children similar to herself.

The family is just one of many former seafarers and their dependents being helped by Sailors’ Society in Madagascar.

Once a month, the reintegration project holds a lunch for all of the families the Society supports.

More than 20 ex-seafarers, their wives and children come along to discuss ideas for how the Society’s different groups can help them and exchange advice on finding a job and getting back on board a ship.

Help us help more like Vohita and Augustine by making a donation today.