A campfire sits next to a building painted with a light-blue exterior with red, purple and yellow paper lanterns hanging in the windows in Lavavolu, Madagascar. Children gather around the campfire for the inauguration of their new school, a gift from the other side of the world in Omaha, Nebraska.
Lavavolo is a village in southwestern Madagascar home to one of the few remaining endangered greater bamboo lemurs and radiated tortoises.
Poor economic conditions in Lavavolo prompt many people to resort to illegal pet trade to provide for their families.
“It’s all about survival in Madagascar,” said Susie Louis, Conservation Fusion founder.
Conservation Fusion is a nonprofit organization engaged in discovering new species, promoting biodiversity in Madagascar and educating children through Conservation Fusions Dream Schools.
“I love Madagascar. It’s like a Dr. Seuss land,” Louis said.
Louis, a UNO graduate, worked as a zookeeper and in the molecular genetics lab at the Center for Conservation and Research at Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo and Aquarium. Louis now works at the Conservation Fusion offices full-time in Bellevue, Nebraska.
Louis said she visits Lavavolo three times a year to meet with the community about the needs for the village.
Feedback from the community to have a bigger school for students, Louis said, prompted her and Conservation Fusion to build Dream School 2.0.
To build the second dream school, however, Louis needed to raise $14,000.
UNO instructor Herb Thompson was Louis’s speech coach for a TEDx talk at UNO in 2017. Thompson additionally worked with Louis on other presentations to prepare Louis for leadership sessions she presents to teachers in Madagascar.
“A natural partnership developed,” Thompson said. “You don’t always find people as gifted as she is doing so much good.”
Thompson’s Small Group Communications class worked with Louis and Conservation Fusion in the summer of 2019 to help raise money to build the new Dream School.
“I thought it was just going to be a regular class,” said UNO student Armando Rodriguez.
The class was split into two teams, Thompson said: the Omaha Events team and the Madagascar supplies team.
The supplies team made tortoise helmets, lemur masks, a mural of Madagascar and sent hygiene kits of toothbrushes and toothpaste for students. The events team promoted Conservation Fusion’s Shine Gala, Brew for 2.0 fundraiser, and the Dream School 2.0 through social media and television news packages.
“That’s what it takes sometimes—giving something everything you got in order for the completion of a goal,” Rodriguez said.
Each event included live and silent auctions for people to bid on books, T-shirts, handcrafted baskets, raffia animals and silk scarves. Donors also had the opportunity to have their names engraved in the new Dream School. The events combined raised over $14,000.
“Knowing what we have here in Omaha and here at UNO is a lot more than what those kids have,” Rodriguez said. “It just gets a little soft spot in you knowing that you’re helping kids.”
Conservation Fusion hosts events in Omaha throughout the year, which UNO students can attend or assist by volunteering. Conservation Fusion additionally participates in UNO’s Seven Days of Service, where students can make educational arts and crafts for children to use in classrooms in the Dream Schools.
For more information on Conservation Fusion, follow the organization on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram or visit its website at www.conservationfusion.org.