Middle school is a difficult time for all students, regardless of their background, but it is especially difficult for children in Madagascar, where the middle school dropout rate has surpassed 50%. This shocking percentage is rooted primarily in a lack of financial resources from students’ families who cannot afford the mandatory tuition, as the Malagasy government provides no free schooling opportunities. In addition, students are often forced to drop out of school and work in order to support their families.
Zara Aina’s work aims to help students and families tackle this particularly difficult period in the life of a Malagasy child.
Each year Zara Aina identifies children in the poorest neighborhoods of Antananarivo, the capital city, to join our Youth Company. At age 10, they enter as First Years.
Students spend three years in the Youth Company, which are the three years of their middle school education and the most crucial time for keeping them in school. During these three years, Zara Aina sponsors the cost of our Youth Company’s tuition, food, and medical costs, with the conditions that our members stay in school and show up to after-school theater rehearsals and additional instruction, including English classes.
Through these after-school sessions, Zara Aina aims to provide our student members with a safe, educational, and fun environment that keeps them engaged with their education as well as providing them with sustainable theatrical and storytelling programming that
1. increases their confidence
2. enhances their self-expression
3. engages them with their community
The responsibilities and opportunities for our Youth Company increase with each year of the program.
Children entering Zara Aina’s Youth Company are introduced to the Zara Aina pedagogy and curriculum by learning the basics of creative play: how to be silly in front of your peers, how to be confident in front of an audience, how to work as an ensemble. Students will be given an introduction to the stage through games, exercise, movement, and dance-centric work. Each semester culminates in a short rehearsed movement performance piece.
In the second year, students apply what they’ve learned to building a character and a story. Students learn to invest in and develop a character, begin scene work, and are introduced to the principles of want, conflict, and change. This work culminates in a showcase of character scenes.
In the final year, students build and rehearse a full-length production. Shows can be inspired by Malagasy folktales, Shakespeare, or other source material. Character and scene work continues, and a large emphasis is placed on the further development of the principles of want, conflict, and change. The beginning, middle, and end of the story will be introduced and explored.
In addition, third years earn the privilege of taking their show on tour to other parts of the country. Students are able to tour their production to different communities that Zara Aina partners with across Madagascar, sharing their work and facilitating local workshops in the same pedagogy and curriculum they’ve learned.
After the third year, students graduate from Zara Aina’s theater training, but enter a more practically-focused fourth year, in which they receiver tutoring, test prep, and more English and French instruction to ensure they pass their middle school exams, as well as the high school entrance exam. If students are not interested in pursuing a high school career, Zara Aina helps them to explore vocational training, and connects them to internships inside and outside the Center.