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I’m always excited to find connections between Madagascar and the United States. I’m even more excited when I find a connection to Nebraska specifically. There are more than one might at first think. There are a handful of Malagasy students who have studied at Nebraska universities as well as several well-traveled Malagasy who have visited or at least know of Nebraska. One new connection that I was fortunate enough to stumble upon was an Engineers Without Borders team from my alma matter, UNL.

For nearly ten years, UNL has sent a team of engineers to work on various projects in the rural, southeast village of Kianjavato. Their first project in the community was to help build and train people on a simple to make and easy to use a water filter. Their most recent project has been installing solar panels to give light and electricity to the local schools. They asked me to join them to translate, as well as help in the actual labor of the projects.

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The team was small this year. It was two students and their professor. For a little over a week, I accompanied them as we went from school to school to touch up previous jobs, make repairs, and finish the installation at a new school. The team was highly motivated and had prepared very well for the task ahead. All together we repaired and or finished the solar set up at four schools.

Getting to talk to the community, I was touched to learn of how much they appreciated the project and the work they were doing there. To many people of Madagascar, America seems like a distant concept. A faraway land where the people don’t care about the problems of Madagascar. But in the village of Kianjavato, they know that is not true.

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Stephan Laboy is an agricultural extension volunteer serving with the Peace Corps in Madagascar. His story can be followed at stephanlaboy.wordpress.com.

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