Freddie Mahazoasy, a protected areas specialist in Madagascar, saw the chance to pursue higher education in the United States as a way to prepare himself for a leadership role in his country’s environmental future. With help from a USAID project, he and six other Malagasy students got that chance. The group was selected to receive scholarships through a rigorous application process in August 1999. Since their graduation, all are putting their knowledge to work in environmental institutions in their native country.
The participants, who all work in Madagascar’s environmental sector in public, private, and nongovernmental organizations, were nominated by their respective institutions to compete for graduate scholarships under the USAID Landscape Development Interventions Activity.
Training is a cornerstone of the project’s efforts to promote environmentally sound agricultural and business practices in Madagascar. Since 1998, the $19-million USAID-funded project has helped combat rural poverty while protecting the country’s unique flora and fauna, especially in conservation zones.
Once the scholarship recipients were selected, the project helped identify the most appropriate graduate program for each participant and organized their trip to the United States The students went on to graduate from Cornell, Michigan State, Temple, and the University of Florida with Master’s degrees in environmental or resource management.
Mahazoasy was the first to graduate, earning a grade point average of 3.8 from Michigan State University. The experience has done much more than hone his academic and technical skills — it has profoundly affected his worldview, particularly toward the United States.
“I have learned so much more than technical and academic information and I have a completely different view of the United States,” he says. “I believe that I will always be an ‘ambassador’ for U.S. culture in my future positions back in Madagascar over the next 30 years of my profession.”
English language skills are not a predetermining factor in the students’ success. Michele Andrianarisata, the last student approved for a scholarship, is a case in point. Her English scores were among the lowest, but after a rigorous three-month language program Andrianarisata became a top student at the University of Florida’s School of Forest Resources and Conservation, earning an outstanding grade point average of 4.0.
Now working in forestry management in Madagascar, Andrianarisata thinks the scholarship program helped pave the way for her to make a lasting difference in her country’s efforts to preserve its rich natural resources.