July 31, 2019

IVLP Alumna is Demystifying Autism through Advocacy

As a human rights advocate, community organizer, and mother, Raveloarimisa Lala Mbolatiana shines bright in her local community and on the national stage in Madagascar. She currently serves in a variety of leadership positions, including as Executive Secretary of Radio Coalition for Peace, part-time lecturer at the University of Antananarivo, and author of a chronicle in the “Express de Madagascar” newspaper. While her impact resonates throughout Madagascar as a force for positive change and progress, Raveloarimisa is perhaps most well-known for her advocacy on behalf of individuals with autism. After participating in the International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) in 2014, Raveloarimisa used her new skills and experiences from her exchange to establish a thriving organization: Autism Madagascar.

Raveloarimisa’s involvement with autism activism began with the birth of her son, Achille. As a mother of an autistic child growing up in Madagascar, she has confronted unique challenges including the difficulty of accessing appropriate healthcare and addressing the social stigma of autism in the country. She writes, “[While] fighting for better living conditions and care for my autistic son, Achille, I realized that nothing has been done in Madagascar to meet the needs of people with autism. No law, no public policy, and no knowledge about autism. This leads to frequent false diagnoses and inappropriate medical care.”

From September to October of 2014, Raveloarimisa visited several cities in the United States as part of her IVLP exchange experience. During her time in Washington D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia, she met with U.S. organizations involved in civil society and autism advocacy. Through a number of interactions with experts she met and the meetings she attended, her IVLP experience served as a catalyst for change and inspired Raveloarimisa to establish Autism Madagascar. Five years later, it remains one of Madagascar’s leading organizations in the field of autism awareness and advocacy.

However, Raveloarimisa did not become a powerhouse autism activist overnight. Many people in Madagascar believe that autism results from witchcraft, and Raveloarimisa has made it her goal to replace these beliefs with scientific truth in order to reduce the stigma that autistic individuals face. For the past five years, Autism Madagascar has been conducting community awareness campaigns and activities and to provide support for parents of autistic children. The organization works with everyone, including doctors, tribal and religious leaders, teachers, and social workers. In April of 2018, Autism Madagascar was selected by the World Bank Group as a Top Ten African Champion Organization for social inclusion in Africa.

Managing Autism Madagascar certainly keeps Raveloarimisa busy; but she still finds time to remain active in the Malagasy U.S. Exchange Alumni (MUSEA) community, where she has served as a founding member and as secretary since 2015. Through her involvement with MUSEA, she collaborates with local alumni and artists on a variety of community service projects and programs.

Despite the long hours and dedication necessary to grow Autism Madagascar and destigmatize autism, Raveloarimisa remains committed to the cause of demystifying autism and helping families regain their dignity through local, national, and regional advocacy movements. She insists that “being both an activist and a single mother of an autistic child is not easy. Every day I have to find the right balance between my professional commitments, my civic duties, and my responsibilities as a mother. But despite everything, my two children give me the power and the drive to continue the fight, not only for them- but for all children.”

Each month, the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs’ (ECA) Office of Alumni Affairs recognizes one outstanding alumnus or alumna. Congratulations to Raveloarimisa on being named July 2019’s Exchange Alumni Member of the Month! We look forward to seeing what she will do next.