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Agawam native finds unique career path

Date: 3/31/2010

March 31, 2010.

By Lori Szepelak


AGAWAM -- Michael Mangano realized at 25 he didn't want a "normal career" -- and found his calling after he started traveling to developing countries in 2004.

After graduating from Boston University (BU), he said he needed to "get away and think about my future."

As he was leaving a stint in southeast Asia, the tsunami of 2004 hit.

"That was the first time I was exposed to the field of international relief and development," he said during an e-mail exchange recently with Reminder Publications. "From there, I traveled to Uganda in 2006 just before starting my master's program at BU in order to transition my career."

Mangano said his "previous life" consisted of jobs as a bike messenger in Boston and bartending for nine years.

"Now, I'm loving life in Africa, feeling like I'm making a positive impact on society at large and feeling comfortable with the surroundings and the people," he added.

Mangano, now at 31, works for the Agence d'Aide a la Cooperation Technique Et au Developpement (ACTED), a French non-governmental organization (NGO). In English, the NGO is the Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development. He's the area coordinator in charge of activities in seven districts, as well as overseeing a staff of 65 who are currently working on five projects. He also coordinates efforts for four major international donors, the United Nations Development Programme, the Norwegian Embassy, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Previously, he served a stint as a field operations manager in eastern Uganda for a grassroots American NGO in child health, the Foundation for International Medical Relief of Children.

Mangano admits he got into this line of work late.

"If younger people are looking for a fun, unique life where they have a positive impact on society, I recommend they consider this type of work and start traveling to developing countries," he said.

Mangano explained that in northern Uganda, ACTED started with infrastructure projects in 2007 to support the return of internally displaced people back home after a 20-year insurgency had prevented people from living normal village lives.

"The roads, schools, markets, health centers, latrines and water points that we've rejuvenated and constructed are allowing people to reintegrate as they return to their villages of origin," Mangano said. "Now, we're moving more toward livelihood development, supporting small business development, running farmer field schools and building capacity of local savings and loan institutions appropriate for their setting."

Mangano noted his "overarching goal" is to keep doing this kind of work for as long as he continues to love it.

"I'm always open to things that come my way, but it would be nice to start a sustainable business that both helps improve lives and generates a profit," he said. "The private sector is a more market-based approach to development that's been proven to last over time as it's not reliant on outside donor money, but rather sustainable from within."

Mangano, the son of Chris Mangano of Agawam and Mike Mangano of Chicopee, expects to live in Uganda for at least a few more years.

"With the laid back pace of life here, the affordability of land, the natural organic foods, the warm-hearted, peace-loving people, the 12 months of summer, the national parks and the unique daily life, I don't know if I'll ever leave for good," he added.

As a native of Western Massachusetts, Mangano is representing all of us on the global stage whether it's buying avocados from a village woman or rubbing shoulders with European diplomats.

"I'm representing both the United States and Western Massachusetts every day on a personal level," he said. "It's difficult to improve our national image overnight, but there are a lot of people like me giving the U.S. (and in my case, Western Mass.), a name that we can all be proud of ... and gaining some cool experience in the mean time."

Mangano reiterated that individuals who have patience, courage and are open-minded, should consider a career that empowers others.

"If they enjoy the traveling and cultural immersion, this could be the career for them," he added.

For more information on the types of organizations that Mangano touts, visit or