This past summer, five Villanova undergraduates— Sean Carney ’17 ME; Morgan Gruenewald ’16, Economics and Political Science; Stephanie Krakower ’18 CE; Tara Malanga ’16, French and Francophone Studies and Biology; and Kerby Souffrant ’16 ME—held eight-week internships with CRS Madagascar (CRS-MG). In addition, the College of Engineering awarded a fellowship to Sustainable Engineering graduate student Benjamin Bogardus to mentor and advise the students’ work on what is known as the “Fararano Project.” Fararano was created in September 2014 with a five-year, $38 million food security grant awarded to CRS, with a focus on maintaining the health of women and children and on raising household incomes.
Approximately 92 percent of people in Madagascar live in poverty. More than half of them do not have access to safe drinking-water supplies or sanitation facilities that meet basic hygiene standards. This is about as far from what Americans are used to as it gets, which is a major motivator for people who work with CRS. Villanova’s interns were there to help improve these conditions. As a group, they participated in the ground work of water sampling and testing, but each also had separate duties as well. Stephanie and Tara, who worked out of the port city of Tamatave (also known as Toamasina), the country’s second largest city, worked with the First 1000 Days food assistance program, which is a subset of the Fararano project that gives extra food rations and other assistance to mothers of young children. Sean and Kerby were stationed with VELO, one of CRS’ private/public water providing partners, to investigate ways to improve and expand the water supply infrastructure near Anivorano-Est, a more rural, inland area. Morgan was assigned to work with the CRS country office in Antananarivo to investigate the financial sustainability of water utility operators that are tasked with operation and maintenance of water infrastructure using a Public-Private Partnership model.
Life in Madagascar is clearly very different from here in the United States and the students encountered a number of challenges, including the language barrier and learning how to communicate without words. There were also great distances to be traveled. One day, Stephanie and Tara walked for two hours through the mountains to reach a small village. Stephanie notes: “The kids walk those two hours to school every day. We thought it was such a treacherous hike, but that’s just the way they get to the main road.” The reality of life in Madagascar led Bogardus to say, “What drives me is knowing that there are people that live like this; I don’t feel comfortable being here in the U.S. when I know what is being experienced there.”