I have exciting news: The ZAZA Project is expanding! As many of you know, since 2011 we have been awarding ZAZA Scholarships to the top students finishing primary school in Anevoka, the village closest to Maromizaha Forest where I conduct my research on lemurs. Through the donations of thoughtful people all over the world, we are currently supporting 30 students in their schooling. One year of school for one student, including school fees, uniforms, notebooks, books, pens, pencils, geometry kits, pencil cases, coloured pencils etc. and room and board for 5 days a week during the school year (there is currently no secondary school in Anevoka) costs roughly $100. Most people in Anevoka are subsistence farmers and live off their rice and bean crops, they don’t earn actual cash, making it impossible for them to pay these school fees. Therefore, most children do not receive schooling past Year/Grade 5. So far, the ZAZA Scholarship program has been an enormous success. Families of the students and the students themselves, beam with pride when they are awarded their scholarships at our yearly ceremonies. The scholars are chosen based on their academic achievement in Year 5, and the top 10 students from each graduating class receive the awards. I make it clear during these ceremonies that the award comes from people all over the world who care about them, and their continued education (not from me) and that support each year is contingent on donations and on the student’s continued hard work in school.
Have you heard the saying: “Give a man a fish and he has food for one day, teach a man to fish and he has food for life”? Well, I have been thinking about that idea a lot over the past several months, as I struggled with how to continue the whole project long-term (lemur research and scholarships). So, in 2014 we have decided to add a new element to the ZAZA Project called the ZAZA Local Monitoring Program (ZAZA L.M.P). This program has 3 main goals: 1) provide dependable employment for local assistants, 2) continuation of data collection on focal lemur mothers and their infants, and 3) protection and conservation of Maromizaha Forest. Since 2010 when I conducted my first study in Maromizaha, I have been training a core team of local assistants how to: collect behavioural data on lemur infants and their mothers, input this information into an electronic database, and, most recently, use the internet to email the database to me. In March I received a donation that I used to purchase a small project computer, internet stick and photocopy datasheets. James Shelton, a Peace Corps volunteer based in Anevoka facilitated internet training for the team. So right now, exactly when the new baby lemurs are being born, my local assistants, Ndrinuasolo, Raelison, Olga and Fréderique are ready to start following these new tiny lemurs and their mothers, recording their every move, and helping me to learn more about infant development and maternal strategies of lemurs in this forest (see photo). They have already reported that the female diademed sifaka, Tandra, who had a baby (Kintana) in 2011, has a new infant, that the team has named ‘Tsikivy’, meaning ‘in good spirits’. I am very hopeful that with a little bit of help, I can provide work for these 4 local assistants, while collecting data on this year’s baby lemurs. Here is the really remarkable part….One day of work for one assistant costs 5$ and for all 4 assistants to work for one day costs $20. I have managed these costs thus far using mostly personal funds, but as my PhD funding ends this August, I would love to see if the ZAZA community, scattered all over the world, could help me fund these 4 assistants for the next 6 months ($2,160 will provide work for these 4 people for 6 months…where else in the world can we make such a positive impact?). From the ZAZA Scholarship program we know how far a bit of money can go. We also know how happy people are when their kids get to go to school. Imagine how happy they would be when they earn the money, themselves, to support their child’s schooling, their families and their community. Providing work for local assistants gives greater value to forest conservation and when the lemurs are routinely monitored they are less likely to be targeted by poachers (a real problem in Madagascar these days). I really think this could work, so this year, we are expanding our ZAZA dreams. From donations over the past several months, we already have funds for 25 of our 30 ZAZA Scholars to go to school in 2014/15. Yay! If you would like to donate to the salaries of these local assistants through the ZAZA Local Monitoring Program or to the ZAZA Scholarship Program please let us know. Also, if you know someone who might be interested in helping, please share this information with them. As always, please let me know if you have any questions at all. I hope to have updates on new baby lemurs and the local research team soon 🙂