Thursday, September 5, 2013

ATSIKA: Improving lives together.

Worlds collide in the Ankarana region of Madagascar.  Christi Tuner and Julia Nelson are an unstoppable duo, changing the lives of those living in the region.

Atsika's mission is to improve the lives of the people of the Ankarana region of northwest Madagascar by increasing access to education, developing alternative livelihoods, and building local capacity while promoting environmental conservation and cultural preservation.  

In the language of northern Madagascar, Atsika means we or us.  It is a word often used to invoke a sense of community, unity, and collective experience.  Atsika’s vision is to bring together diverse people on a global scale, and through our partnerships, to improve individual lives and community well-being in the Ankarana region of northwest Madagascar. 

The founders, Julia Nelson and Christi Turner, both served as Peace Corps volunteers on the Antsaravibe area in the Ankarana region. Christi served 2004 to 2008, and Julia continued until 2009 when the political coup forced Peace Corps out of the country and put all development projects on hold. Both stayed in contact with the Antsaravibe community and their needs. During Julia’s visit to the area in 2011, a friend told her how happy she was to receive a donation from a visitor to send her kids to school in Antsaravibe. She hoped they would grow up to be smart enough to work in the local tourism lodge.  The cost to send a child to school for the year is approximate US$25. Other members of the community expressed how they want to rebuild the local community-managed nature park and eco-tourism activities into a source of livelihood for the community, but they did not known how.

Peace Corps can serve as a fantastic incubator for community development projects; however because Peace Corps volunteers only stay for a few years, ensuring project continuity and sustainability is a challenge.  After Julia’s visit back to the Ankarana region in 2011, she and Christi began talking about ways to continue to build capacity in the region by formally starting a non-profit. By 2012 Atsika was born, a non-profit that supports and builds on the projects that the two women started during their Peace Corps service.  Atsika aims to bring long term continuity to the development projects in the region by promoting education and working with local tourism industries to create opportunities for growth.

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