For immediate release
March 23, 2004
Officials from the government of the Republic of Madagascar and Abilene Christian University continued discussions this week in Abilene that may lead to as many as 22 Malagasy students studying at Abilene Christian.
Rajaonarivony Narisoa, ambassador from Madagascar to the U.S., visited the ACU campus March 21-23 "to explore some opportunities for our students from Madagascar to come and study in a Christian university in the United States."
Ambassador Narisoa said attaining job skills and a sense of integrity for the students are the two primary reasons this developing island nation off the southeast coast of Africa is considering this project. "Cultural diversity is important, and it is important for them to attend a Christian university," he said.
Officials began the discussions in November 2003 when Dr. John Tyson, vice president for development at Abilene Christian, visited Madagascar on a U.S. trade mission and as a representative of World Christian Broadcasting. Tyson met with President Marc Ravalomanana, the Minister of Education, and other officials in the capitol city of Antananarivo, and Tyson will leave March 27 for another one-week follow-up visit.
A nation of about 17 million people, Madagascar gained independence from France in 1960. French and Malagasy are the official languages, and Christianity and indigenous beliefs are the primary religions. The major industries are agriculture, meat processing, soap, textiles, cement, automotive assembly and petroleum products. Its major trading partners are France, Hong Kong, China, Japan and Singapore.
Narisoa said there are about 70,000 university students in Madagascar, but only a few students leave their country for higher education (most of them to France). He said the sciences, agriculture and agronomy would be primary areas of study for students who may eventually come to ACU in addition to business administration.
"Like in any developing country, corruption is a problem," he added. "It represents an additional tax to everybody. It is important for our public affairs to be run more effectively...I can see that this is a good place, an ideal place, for education. I am very impressed with the spirit of initiative, and I was surprised to see students from so many countries of the world." (ACU has enrolled students from as many as 60 nations, although it apparently has never had a student from Madagascar.)
Narisoa said his visit to ACU's daily Chapel on Monday was "the first time in my life I have seem something like this."
He visited with Dr. Royce Money, ACU's president, and also with faculty members, students and officials in ACU's Center for International and Intercultural Education.
"We need to see if this is a suitable place," Narisoa said during his first visit to Texas. "Skills alone are not enough, especially if you want to promote integrity. They need to develop Christian values, moral values. I have been impressed during my visit. Students can expand and really development in this environment. The faculty and students I met were very friendly and very helpful."
Narisoa received his undergraduate education in Madagascar and master's (University of Pittsburgh) and doctorate (Auburn University) degrees in the U.S. He has been ambassador since February 2003 and spends most of his time in the U.S.
In addition to soil erosion, deforestation and other agriculture-related problems, Madagascar is heavily exposed to tropical cyclones. The U.S. government this year has again sent disaster relief for thousands of Malagasy people left homeless by another cyclone.
Because of its isolation as the world's fourth largest island, Madagascar is home to a rich diversity of wildlife, including many mammals, birds and plants that exist nowhere else on earth.
Narisoa, married with three children, is a former deputy prime minister and minister of finance and budget for Madagascar. He has also been a lecturer and worked in research, economic development and public policy. He also served as an economic and commercial officer in the British embassy in Madagascar.
He said the ACU project could begin later this year.
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