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Villanova University Partnering with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to Improve Access to Clean Water and Sanitation in Madagascar

Villanova University Partnering with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) to Improve  Access to Clean Water and Sanitation in Madagascar

Villanova University began a partnership with Catholic Relief Services (CRS) in 2005 and, since that time, has worked collaboratively to advance global solidarity through education, research, advocacy and service. Villanova recently expanded upon its work with CRS and is currently working with the organization in Madagascar to improve conditions with respect to water, sanitation, and hygiene.

“Our participation in projects such as the Madagascar project enables us to develop a model of research and direct action whereby our students and faculty can work with communities to determine ways we can match skills and resources with the needs of people in local villages,” said Barbara Wall, Vice President for Mission and Ministry. “This way we may all be part of working for authentic human development and the furthering of the common good.”

CRS came to Madagascar in 1962 to provide humanitarian aid in regions with high levels of poverty and malnutrition. For more than 50 years, CRS has carried out food and nutrition programs for underprivileged mothers, children, the disabled and victims of natural disasters. CRS serves as one of the country’s largest INGOs. In October 2014, CRS Madagascar (CRS-MG) was awarded a $38 million, 5-year USAID Food Security grant that builds on best practices and lessons learned from its other USAID multi-year assistance programs addressing the complex and multifaceted nature of food insecurity. The new program, Fararano, which signifies “harvest season” in Malagasy, is focused primarily on improving the health and nutrition of pregnant and lactating mothers and their children through the “First 1,000 Days of Life.”

With access to reliable sources of clean water and sanitation essential to the success of the program, CRS-MG has been investing significant resources to improve water, sanitation, and hygiene. CRS-Madagascar Country Director Laura Dills, formerly CRS’ Program Manager for Haiti, knew of Villanova’s engineering expertise in water resources through a training workshop that the University’s faculty and students developed and delivered for CRS Haitian water engineers following the 2010 earthquake. She was also aware of Villanova’s long-standing partnership with and commitment to CRS since 2005.  Last May, Dills reached out to Villanova to consider collaborating with CRS on its Fararano programming in Madagascar. 

The first phase of collaboration was piloted successfully in 2014-15 with Villanova incorporating some of the data from Madagascar into its academic programs. Two fall courses in the College of Engineering – Design of Gravity Water Networks and Water Resources Engineering Design – worked on designing solutions for clean water and sanitation systems.  In the spring semester, students in a French Internship course in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences translated major program reports from French into English and Villanova’s engineering designs into French, while students in a team-taught Business/Engineering Course (Global Social Entrepreneurship and Microfinance course) designed a template for assessing the business plans of the private utilities companies with whom CRS-MG works.

During this time, a member of the Engineering faculty traveled to CRS-MG to deliver and install water monitoring equipment and train water utilities personnel to use it. Additionally, five Villanova undergraduates and one graduate engineering international development fellow have been interning with CRS in Madagascar for eight weeks this summer.

Between July 25-August 5, a Villanova team will travel to Madagascar where they will visit CRS’ programming in sectors related to water and sanitation, business, and health and nutrition; offer initial observations and recommendations; gather information and data for use in potential teaching, courses or research; and determine how to integrate this relationship into Villanova’s colleges and research centers. They will also meet with officials at the Madagascar and U.S. Embassies and government and church officials.