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On the east coast of Madagascar is a quiet beach town called Mahanoro. With a bank, a market, and electricity it is certainly more bustling than the many surrounding villages but with one road in and one road out of town, it is a far cry from a big city. From the bus station, one can venture back behind the market and into the more secluded residential areas. After about a 15-minute walk, you would arrive at a small cluster of buildings nested in a grove of tropical trees.

Housed in this group of unassuming buildings is an organization teaching English and computer coding to young adult Malagasy. It’s called Onja, which means ocean wave in Malagasy. I was first introduced to Onja when a woman in my community was frequently gone from the village at school. She told me about the curriculum and I was curious to see for myself. We went to Mahanoro together and she showed me the way to the campus where I met the founder, Sam Lucas, a New Zealander who has been living in Madagascar for the past three years.

When Sam set out to create his organization, he was drawn to Madagascar for a number of reasons. The cheap cost of living, the very clear need for job training, and relative safety and stability of the island made it the best candidate. One thing that is so unique about Onja is that it empowers its participants. In addition to the hard skills of English and coding, it gives the student the softer skills of confidence and communication. Their Malagasy motto translated to English is “There is nothing of greater value than the people.”

I’ve been coming out to visit Sam and the students at Onja for a few months now. I give some of my time to teach classes, help with one-on-one tutoring, or even teach and sing English songs with them. The students’ hard work and dedication always serve to re-inspire me in my service.

You can learn more about Onja and even find out about ways to get involved at Onja.org.

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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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