What We Do

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 tuitions, as the Malagasy government provides no free schooling opportunities. Often, students are forced to drop out of school and work in order to support their families.

Zara Aina’s model aims to help students and families tackle this particularly difficult period in a Malagasy child’s education.

One of our partner NGO’s, ManaoDE, in Antananarivo, Madagascar, provides us with 15 students every year who are about to start their first year of middle school, and these students become a part of the Zara Aina Youth Company.

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 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 confidence2. enhances their self-expression; and 3. engages them with their community.

The responsibilities and opportunities for our Youth Company increase with each year of the program, and eventually culminates in a third-year touring performance circuit.

Year One — Mouse Lemurs (“Tsidy”)

Children entering Zara Aina’s Youth Company for the first time will be given an introduction to the stage through dance-centric work. Mouse Lemurs will learn the stage directions and how to enter and exit the stage, and will strengthen their stage presence, all while exploring different dance styles.  Work with the Mouse Lemurs will culminate in a short rehearsed dance performance piece. Students are introduced to the Zara Aina pedagogy 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.

Year Two — Ring-Tailed Lemurs (“Maki”)

After successfully completing their theatre training as a Mouse Lemur, members of Zara Aina’s Youth Company take what they’ve learned and apply it 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. The work with the Ring-Tailed Lemurs will culminate in a showcase of character scenes.

Year Three — Dancing Lemurs (“Sifakas”)

In the final tier, Dancing Lemurs begin preparing for a full-length production. Much of their theatre training will be focused toward the creation and rehearsal of this production. Students use their lessons from the first two years to devise their own original production based on a Malagasy folktale or current local/national issue. Character 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, Dancing Lemurs 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 based on the same principles they learned as part of the Youth Company.