Madagascan child with AidPod. Image credit: Ellie Stoneley
It’s amazing the lengths ColaLife supporters will go to, to help out. One such is the intrepid Ellie Stoneley who has just braved leeches, gun-toting rebels and giant spiders on a trip to the Looking Glass island of Madagascar for Kitchen Table Charities Trust. On route between a conference in Prague and a trip to France, Simon and I caught up with Ellie in the relative calm of the British Library Tea Room, to retrieve the ColaLife Flip video, the ColaLife T-shirt she’d borrowed and a rather battered Aidpod, now complete with a signature set of muddy finger prints supplied by the young lady above – or one of her friends.
You can hear more about Ellie’s adventures here, in an apparent paradise where Chanel clad ladies lunch in Tana, the capital, yet around two thirds of the population live below the UNESCO poverty line, there are only 3 doctors per 10,000 people and over 10% of children die before they are five – that’s 60,000 children each year, mainly from water borne diseases. It is slightly larger than France, but with only one proper main road, distribution of medicines presents all the usual challenges. Ellie had made time around her other work to talk to people about ColaLife and find out a little more how the fizzy drink supply chains work. As in many places, Coca-Cola and Fanta are seen as luxury products here – even among the wealthy elite – and the ‘pull’ of the brand means that small entrepreneurs will walk two or three hours from their village to the main road to pick up crates for their ‘local’ shop. Via interpretation supplied by Ellie’s driver, Mamy, she tested out the responses of one such shop keeper. She ran the only one shop in a 15 mile radius – so hardly ‘local’ but a great deal more accessible than the nearest health centre, more than 3 hours away. Health visitors do come, she said, but in between times there is no access to medicines; when children become ill, they have to be carried into the town, a slow journey they may or may not survive.
Yes, as usual, despite the remoteness, there was the Coke – delivered twice a month to this particular little shop. Both the shop-keeper and Mamy were bemused, says Ellie, to hear that an Englishman and his 12,000 virtual supporters might care about the health of the children in their village. Ellie reports that behind their typical Madagascan politeness and reserve, they were fascinated by the ColaLife concept. The shop-keeper was honoured to think that her shop might receive AidPods and wanted to stress that she would take good care of the supplies. What kind of medicines would the AidPods bring? How much would they cost? How would the AidPods be made to protect them from the torrential rains, that often wash away the mud brick houses? Their main reservation was whether there would be space to bring enough medicines for all their needs.
Mamy was astounded that Ellie made him a parting gift of the ColaLife T shirt – that’s one we won’t be getting back, but it’s gone to a very good cause. Previously Mayor of his village, Mamy is now finding out all he can about ColaLife from his internet-literate daughter, has appointed himself ColaLife representative in Madagascar and has promised to seek a driving job with one of the Coca-Cola bottling plant bosses just as soon as he can, making sure he wears his new shirt (‘the ONLY ColaLife T-Shirt on the island’). Now, that will be one taxi-driver rant worth a listen, I hope! And, for Mamy’s daughter, if you’re reading this – please tell us what happens next…..