It all started with the Peace Corps, in 1964. I was eight years old when I saw my first Peace Corps commercial and though I know it sounds corny, it was at that moment that I realized I wanted to spend my life in service to others.
When I joined the Peace Corps 53 years later, in 2017, for the first time in my life, I was finally able to fully realize my dream of living my life in service of others. I chose to serve in Madagasear. My official position within Peace Corps was an English teacher, in Mahajanga (a resort town on the west coast, population about 400,000), and I gave my all to my students, ranging from K-10th grade, in three different schools.
Living in one of the world’s poorest nations, I was overwhelmed by all the street dogs I saw, something you don’t see very much in the u.s. Despite living on only $200 per-month, and with almost no money to spare, I started feeding four neighborhood dogs who lived nearby.
After I left Peace Corps and left Madagascar (2019), I worked with the Humane Society in Belize, where we had a monthly clinic where we rounded up dogs and cats and brought them in for free spaying/neutering. We made a huge difference in the lives of Placencia area pets. I returned to Madagascar in early 2020, just before Covid closed our borders for nearly two years.
Living off of my Social Security retirement benefits, I had enough money to start feeding the seven dogs who lived across the street from me, every evening around 10:00 p.m. when I would sneak outside and feed them from two large plastic tubs full of home made dog food (rice, fresh fish, canned dog food, shredded carrots, maybe an egg or two). I was fearful to let the neighbors see me feeding the dogs because that might inspire someone to poison the dogs — sadly, a common occurrence in Madagascar because Malagasy people are taught that dogs are demonic.
In my daily travels around Mahajanga, I encountered more and more needy dogs, so three times each week, I would go out around town and feed some of these dogs, many of whom had owners. I also started working with a few veterinarians to provide needed medical care, birth control, and vaccines — all of which I paid for out of my own funds.
A few months later, my friend, Olivia, introduced me to the first orphanage we would support, operated by the City of Mahajanga, located in Mangarivotra, with about 18 kids. Then, in 2021, she introduced me to a second orphanage, this one privately owned/funded (Centre Fanovozantsoa), located in Tsaralaza, but comprised almost exclusively of street kids. There were about 25 kids living there, some of the youngest sleeping two to a bed because they were just packed into their space.
Working with the kids these past few years, has been one of my greatest joys. The kids are so wonderful, and most had never had any experience with arts and crafts, so I taught them how to do all sorts crafts, crocheting, working with glue and glue sticks, origami, painting, coloring with crayons, coloring with melting crayons, cutting snowflakes, yarn work, etc. I also made it a point to take each child shopping for his/her birthday each year so they could pick out whatever gift they wanted.
But Olivia wasn’t done. She also introduced me to a special needs school, where we enrolled Rija, one of the city-run orphanage’s kids, and from there, we ended up sponsoring seven other special needs children, many of whom were simply stuck inside their homes most of their lives, hidden from view, families either ashamed or unaware of what to do for them. In addition, several of these families had never taken their child to a neurologist, simply because they either were unaware, or lacked funds. We take each child to a neurologist twice annually, where medications are often prescribed, which we purchase each month and deliver to each child.
THAT IS HOW MAMA LEEZA CARES GOT ITS START.
As I posted all my goings-on on Facebook, many of my FB friends started sending me small donations to help me help the kids and the critters, and afraid all these donations were going to affect my Social Security, I decided it would be best to start a nonprofit. This is why I formed Mama Leeza Cares, Inc.
I decided to leave Madagascar after six years, because I missed my kids, and Madagascar was just too far for them to travel to visit me. Round trip from California to Mahajanga is one week of travel. It’s such a long trip, and with jet lag mixed in, and with only two week’s worth of vacation every year, there just wasn’t time. I’ve decided to move to Jamaica, for a while, then probably to Guatemala, both countries where my kids can visit me more easily. I will continue to help as many needy children and critters as I can, all the while continuing to support the programs I started in Mahajanga.
I NEED YOUR HELP
I am hoping to raise $1000/per month, which will allow us to not only continue the current programs already running, but to expand it to include neutering of male dogs, and eventually to find a large enough facility we can rent and create a much needed animal shelter — there currently is no such facility in or anywhere near Mahajanga. Until we get a facility, it simply won’t be possible to spay the females. Our ONLY option for them is semi-annual Depo Provera shots administered by one of the veterinarians with whom we work.
Here’s what your donation can do:
$10 Tuition, lunch, and transportation for one special needs child for one month.
OR Depo Provera (birth control) for two dogs for one year.
$25 Pay for neurologists visit for two special needs kids for one year.
OR buy enough puppy formula to feed 10 puppies for one month.
$50 Pay for the monthly meds for all of the special needs kids for one month.
OR pay for semi-annual Depro Provera shots for four dogs for one year.
$100 Pay for school fees and supplies for 35 kids, for one month
OR pay for planned veterinary fees for one month.
$500 Pay for the full-time tutor for the Centre Fanovozantsoa kids, for one school year
OR buy food for dogs and puppies (formula) for three months.
$10/month = Monthly medications for two of the special needs kids.
OR Depo Provera (birth control) for 24 dogs for one year.
$25/month = Satellite TV for the Centre Fanovozantsoa orphanage kids.
OR buy 50kg bag of rice per month, used to make the dog food.
$50/month = Monthly tuition for seven of the special needs kids.
OR deworming, vitamins, and vaccines for 12 dogs/puppies
$100/month = All school fees, uniforms, backpacks, and school supplies for all children
OR all planned veterinary visits, vaccines, deworming, birth control, vitamins, etc., for all the dogs in our care.
$200/month = Tuition, transportation, and medicications for all special needs kids,
OR all dog/puuppy food, and all planed veterinary fees
A gift from you would allow all these programs to continue.
Our efforts have helped reduce the unwanted dog population in Mahajanga. The tutor we provide to the Centre has helped the former street kids to not only catch up with their rightful grade but to excel. Our outreach efforts have helped educate pet owners about the proper way to feed and care for their animals. We have also found and/or re-housed homes for dozens of puppies and dogs.
Our support of the special needs kids has given them and their families new reasons to hope that their children might be able to learn to exist in the world, learning basic skills, possibly being able to be more self-sufficient.
We are transforming lives of man and beast, but none of this would have been possible without the support of my friends and family. I thank you for your continued support.
Lisa B. Lee
aka Mama Leeza
P.S. UNPLANNED EXPENSES:
• Veterinary fees usually throw me for a loop. If one of our animals gets sick, or if someone brings a sick dog or cat to me or my facilitator, Nazirah, we’re going to do all possible to save that animal, and in some cases, I had more than one vet working on the same animal. In extreme cases, I can easily spend an extra $200 caring for urgent needs any given month.
• New arrivals at the orphanage – Each time a new child comes to either orphanage, I give them a new set of linens (which I sew), a new bath towel, toiletries, and new shoes and underwear, and school supplies as needed.
• Field trips – Taking the kids from either orphanage to the beach is fun for everyone, and using local public transit, the fees are cheap, and I usually have Olivia cater the event, since she owns a restaurant. Depending on how many children and chaperones, a trip to the beach can cost about $100, and we normally do two per year (one per orphanage).