community members build a well in a Madagascan townJan. 17, 2024 - During the year she was volunteering with the Peace Corps as a teacher in Madagascar, CSU Channel Islands (CSUCI) alumna Alyson Lucas witnessed the severity of the country’s water crisis on a daily basis.

“In the high school where I was teaching, my students were walking two kilometers to the nearest rice field to get water in order to cook or just wipe down the blackboard,” Lucas said. “When I tried it, I really struggled carrying it. It’s 45 kilos per Jerry Can.”

Lucas went to Madagascar with the Peace Corps right after she graduated in 2022 with a degree in Global Studies and stayed until fall of 2023. Then, she and another Peace Corps worker from Wesleyan University in Connecticut, Will Huestis, started their own non-governmental agency (NGO).

It’s called Zarasoa - which means “sharing good” - and the mission is to train Madagascar locals to harvest rainwater using a technique developed by another similar NGO that concentrates on a different part of the country.

The system involves building 5,000 liter basins to trap rainwater, and has proven to be an economical and effective alternative to drilling for water.

“The rainwater is good quality as long as the gutters are kept clean and the tank has a maintenance schedule,” Lucas said.

Lucas met her partner at pre-program training in Washington DC and they both served in Madagascar. Lucas and Huestis were immediate best friends and had the same goals to help countries by working with local leaders.

“Our mission statement is to train local leaders versus rainwater harvesting,” Lucas said. “We have a team of construction workers we trained with the construction of rainwater harvesting systems. It’s one of the first construction-based organizations to include women.”

CSUCI Professor of Political Science Andrea Grove said she was “blown away” by her project, and that, after her return to the U.S., she spoke to two of Grove’s classes about the water project and the NGO. Grove is not surprised at Lucas’ resourcefulness, which she noticed in Global Studies classes and during the Peace Corps preparation program Lucas completed.

“She was in Model UN the first semester she came,” Grove said. “It was immediately clear how sharp she was, and eager to develop her skills. She had a real commitment to leave the U.S. and experience what it’s like to be in another culture.”

Lucas taught English to Malagasy high school students when she served in the Peace Corps, and the experience, she said, was even richer than Lucas expected. Madagascar is a culturally diverse country with 17 different dialects and ethnicities.

“I learned how to speak Malagasy,” Lucas said. “When you greet people you say ‘Akory n’y ala’ or ‘how is the forest doing?’ It’s one example of how connected the people are to the land.”

Lucas said she can’t thank Grove and Political Science Lecturer Chris Scholl enough for inspiring her to go on the adventure of a lifetime, which is just beginning.

If you would like to learn more about or donate to the NGO Lucas and Huestis run, visit the Zarasoa website.

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