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Maia Freudenberger ’13 Starts Leadership, Service and Mentorship Program in Madagascar

Maia Freudenberger ’13 grew up far from Founders Green in Fianarantsoa, Madagascar. And after her May graduation, the growth and structure of cities major will return to her roots, moving back to the island country for a year to start a new leadership, service and mentorship program of her own design.

Freudenberger’s project will train eight 18- to 24-year-old mentors for yearlong placements in at-risk middle schools, where they will organize after-school activities and integrate pre-teen health messages into their programming. This new program—Freudenberger hasn’t picked a name for it yet—is an outgrowth of another project she created two summers ago in Madagascar, located in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Africa, as the recipient of a Davis Projects for Peace grant. With the Davis money Freudenberger and a Malagasy co-worker trained young, local volunteers to serve as peer health educators who spread messages about contraception, HIV/AIDS and other sexual health issues—through sports, arts and after-school dances—in one of the poorest neighborhoods in her hometown of Fianarantsoa.

“Over that summer, my colleagues and I learned that few programs specifically target middle school students, even though teenage pregnancy and other health problems are emerging among this group,” says Freudenberger, citing a 2009 United Nations Population Fund study that says in the Fianarantsoa province, 50 percent of Malagasy girls are married by the age of 18. “We also know that it is important to include a leadership component because how will middle school students, and especially girls, make safe health decisions in high school if they do not have the confidence, self-esteem or support to make strong life choices? Positive role models and leadership training and experiences are crucial in this transition to adulthood.”

So Freudenberger went to work crafting a new program that specifically targets middle school-age children. Using the grant writing, budgeting and project management skills she acquired working with Davis Projects for Peace, she set about researching and applying for grant opportunities, eventually earning a combined $27,000 from the Sara's Wish Foundation and the Ella Lyman Cabot Trust.

With the checks already in hand, Freudenberger is setting the groundwork for her new program as she finishes her final semester at Haverford. She has obtained the same office space she used two years ago in Fianarantsoa, found a small house in the neighborhood for herself, and begun the recruitment of the eight youth mentors. (Interviews will be held when she arrives in Madagascar in mid-June.)

Freudenberger hopes that, after a successful pilot year, she will be able to expand the program to other middle schools and eventually become the sort of service and leadership mainstay in Madagascar that City Year, Teach for America and AmeriCorps are in the U.S.

“This project seeks to provide Malagasy youth with a yearlong leadership fellowship where they will serve as valuable mentors, teachers, friends and support systems to middle school students,” says Freudenberger, who plans to eventually pursue a graduate degree in public health. “In turn, the middle school students will participate in health and leadership activities adapted to their interests, age and specific needs and will craft their own school improvement project. I hope that both age groups will be inspired to become stronger change-makers and leaders in their respective communities.”

-Rebecca Raber

Read more about Fords who have won fellowships, scholarships or grants.

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