Real World Wittenberg: Ten Months in Mahajanga, Madagascar

Courtesy of Zach Stewart.

Few countries in the world can be considered as exotic and unique as Madagascar. Wittenberg Alumn Zach Stewart, who graduated in 2012 with a major in history and a minor in education, gets to spend ten months in a remote part of Africa’s tropical island nation.

Stewart now volunteers through Young Adults in Global Mission, a program through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The program sends young adults from the ages of 18 to 29 abroad to volunteer with Lutheran partners in 8 different locations.

“I had a couple of friends who have done the program in the past in South Africa,” said Stewart, “I decided that it would be an awesome opportunity for me to experience something very new and different.”

After starting out with a typical 9-5 job after graduating from Wittenberg, Stewart decided he wanted to pursue something more exciting and different. “After sitting behind a desk staring at a computer screen and talking to people on the phone all day, I decided that I needed to do something a little more fulfilling with my life,” Stewart said.

After his acceptance into the program, Stewart met with other volunteers in Chicago for a week of orientation before getting sent to his respective site. Because of the language gap Stewart was expecting to face, another two and a half weeks of training in Madagascar were also required. “I spent about two and a half weeks with my group in country before being sent off to my respective placement site in Mahajanga from September 2013 to July 2014” he said.

Stewart’s experiences in Madagascar so far have been nothing but positive, “Madagascar is a really beautiful place that I didn’t know a lot about before coming here” he said. Contrary to what he expected, Stewart has access to paved roads, running water and internet. However, the natural beauty of Madagascar has made his time there all the more worthwhile. “Unfortunately, no I have not seen a lemur yet,” Stewart said. “I have seen a chameleon however!”

As for the future, Stewart is less certain. “At this point in my life I’m still not really sure what I want to do, but I think that’s the beauty of it,” he said. At present, Stewart is mainly concerned with mastering the language and getting used to his new diet in Madagascar, “My plans for the future currently include trying to learn Malagasy and increasing my rice tolerance,” Stewart said. “I think my long term future plans will probably include working in higher education.”

Having been abroad in Madagascar for several months now, Stewart believes the Wittenberg experience has remained invaluable to him. “I definitely think that Witt was a big help in preparing me for my role abroad,” he said. “Those tiny interactions that you have with people, students, professors and staff, all those help you develop into a well rounded person.”

Having been an Orientation Assistant at Wittenberg for three years, Stewart’s favorite memories on Campus have always been move-in day. “Nothing beats the excitement that I always had welcoming the new students,” he said “I remember how excited I was to start my new life as a college student.”

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