Flying to Madagascar :)

Hi ZAZA friends,

I hope you are all well 🙂  Tomorrow I am flying to Madagascar to visit the forest, the lemurs and our Malagasy family.  Thanks to all of your help, we are able to offer 30 scholarships to local children this school year!!!  I will be in touch with photos when I can.  For now though, here is a new and fabulous video about the lemur babies growing up in the forest.  This is what my PhD is all about!  Huge thanks to Alastair for capturing all of these precious moments xo
Best wishes,

Zaza Project News July 2013

Dear, Wonderful people all over the World,

I hope that you are all doing well, wherever you are 🙂

We have some exciting news to share about the Zaza Project.

I have been awarded a small research grant to cover my airfare, so at the end of July, I am returning to Madagascar for a short field season:)
I will be presenting at a conference, and am also hoping to teach the Lemur Behaviour and Ecology course again at Maromizaha.

This means that the Zaza Project research assistants are at this moment tracking down all of the lemur moms in the forest, and checking to see if anyone has babies yet….Exciting!!
It also means that I can personally oversee the distribution of Zaza Scholarship funds for this, the THIRD year of Zaza :):):)

Thanks to the generosity of so many people, we currently have enough money to fund 30 children for their next year of school. This is amazing, and makes me SO happy!!

We appreciate all that we have been able to do so far, and we are grateful for the opportunity to make such a difference in the lives of these families.

We are continuing to collect donations, so that this program can continue for future years, and we are currently trying to raise a little bit of money so that I can buy my research assistants in Madagascar new rain gear.  Let us know if you would like to help 🙂

Best wishes,

Jody & The Zaza Team

October 2012 Zaza Project Update :)

Dear Friends of the ZAZA Project,

Hello from the ZAZA Project, we hope you are happy and healthy.  It has been an incredible few months for the ZAZA Project and we wanted to take some time to update you on the Scholars you are sponsoring and on the different projects that have been undertaken over the past few months in Madagasar.

To begin with, it was wonderful to be welcomed back into the community of Anevoka with so much warmth and trust.  We arrived in Madagascar in the end of June, and everyone we saw expressed how happy they were to see us back at work in Maromizaha Forest.  The field research went really well.  I employed a team of 3 guides, 1 guardian and 1 cook as my core team to camp in the forest with us and work almost every day, and employed additional cooks, porters and guides when needed.  I have attached a photo of our AllStar Team so you can see their beautiful smiles.


This year we had births in 4 Indri groups and 3 Sifaka groups, and so we were very busy finding, following, and recording the every move of the baby lemurs 🙂  The forest has recovered considerably from the devastating cyclone that hit the forest in February.  Our friends told us that there were NO leaves on any of the trees after the cyclone, but by June most of the trees were covered with fresh new juicy leaves again.  There were also many huge old trees that went down in the cyclone, and the staff worked for weeks to clear trails to make the jungle penetrable again.  This work continues, and is a very labour intensive job.

We stayed at a new campsite this year, as the two others had been badly damaged by the cyclone.  This campsite was very close to the village and so we had many more opportunities to interact with the locals.  Waking to the sounds of song birds, lemur songs and roosters, was a continuous reminder of the ever-increasing pressure of the very poor and very hungry people of this country on their forests.  Forests all over the country are threatened by slash-and-burn agriculture and from international mining and timber exploitation.  


We know that if Maromizaha Forest is going to have a chance of surviving, the local people must be involved in projects from the ground up.  Alastair often told me I was doing “more than I can” but to me it always feels like there is more I do.  We ran English Lessons at our camp every Saturday.  It was open to anyone who was willing to make the 30 minute hike into the forest, rain or shine.  We had a core group of 30 students, mostly children, that would indeed arrive over an hour early every Saturday for English lessons, even when it was windy, cold and horrible, they made the trek to learn English.  I gave them oral tests and certificates at the end if they successfully completed a certain number of tests.  There is a photo of the students holding their certificates attached to this email.  Look for your ZAZA Scholar!  Many of them participated in the English Lessons 🙂 


James Shelton, an American Peace Corps volunteer, is now stationed in Anevoka.  He is the one with the wild hair in the picture with Alastair.  He is wonderful for many reasons.  For one, he has inherited all of my teaching supplies and is continuing the Saturday English Lessons with the students.  For another, he has made one room of his Peace Corps house into the beginnings of an interpretive centre, with huge maps and photos of lemurs with captions that we have written out in English and in Malagasy.


We had several positive experiences with the ZAZA Scholars from the first group (2011-2012 cohort) and we know most of them, and their families quite well now.  We had a special native tree planting ceremony at our camp where each scholar got to plant their own tree.  We also planted several trees with a groups of Study Abroad students that came to Maromizaha Forest for a Lemur Behaviour and Ecology Course in September.  Trees are so important for a forest!!


The next group of Scholars we don’t know as well, yet, but several of them have been part of the English Lessons and we know several members of their families.  Thanks to you, there are now 22 students being sponsored by the ZAZA Project 🙂  Thank-you so much for your part in making the world a better place 🙂


The project is still in good hands.  Alastair and I are back in New Zealand and I have started the task of entering the thousands of hours of data into my computer.  Before we left Madagascar, I organized a team of local research technicians that had worked with me for several months and they will be continuing the follows of my baby lemurs until December, when they will hopefully be weaned.  Five members of this team are close relatives of ZAZA Scholars, the 6th is a Master’s student from the University of Antananarivo called Lova.  I have a ZAZA Project bank account in Madagascar now, and each month, money for salaries is delivered to the village.  We will definitely be back to Maromizaha, but in the meantime, while we work to finance our next trip and the completion of my PhD, I am completely enthused and I glow, knowing that the project continues in our physical absence.

Enjoy the smiles, and thank-you again for your part in making these smiles so beautiful,

Best wishes,

Jody 🙂


News from ZAZA :)

Dear Friends of the ZAZA Project,
We hope this letter finds you well and happy in your many different homes around the world 🙂 As some of you know, Jody and Alastair are heading back to Madagascar to conduct another season of research on rainforest lemurs.  They will be visiting the 2011-2012 ZAZA Scholars and their families and having group gatherings at the local primary school to check on their progress. Jody is set to leave Canada in early June 2012, and we hope to send more scholarship funds over with her.  Thanks to the generosity of many, many people, we have already have sufficient funding for the first group of 10 ZAZA Scholars to complete the first 2 years of high school 🙂  Currently, our goal is to raise scholarship funds for the next group of students finishing primary school (Grade 5).  Again, we hope to provide scholarships for at least 10 children with the top grades.

At this point, Jody doesn’t have the trip after this one scheduled. She will be analyzing and writing her PhD after this visit and that will take her to August 2013.  Therefore, we are hoping to send enough money to sponsor both groups of ZAZA Scholars for the next 2 years. This will ensure there is sufficient funding to carry these 20 children well into high school. After that time period if politics and life plans permit, Jody and Alastair hope to return to Madagascar to continue their research and the ZAZA scholarship project.

Thanks to the many donations received already, we are actually quite close to achieving this goal.  At this time, we are seeking approximately $1,500 to ensure that these 2 groups of Scholars are funded for the next 2 years.  Remember that $100 provides a full scholarship to a student for 1 year.  So even a gift of $20 helps a lot.  If you would like to support this initiative through donations or other forms of support, please contact Jody or myself.  We would also love to see this initiative shared with other friends and family, so please feel free to send this email and our website ( to others who might be interested.

If you have already supported a ZAZA Scholar and would like to send them a letter and or photos, please send these to Jody before the end of May.  Thank you again for the wonderful support you have given these children and for the joy that the ZAZA Project gives us 🙂

Best wishes and heartfelt thanks,
Jill Weir

Happy 2012 from ZAZA!!

Happy 2012 Everyone!

Alastair and I are in New Zealand now, after a very successful and inspirational field season in Maromizaha Forest, Madagascar.

I hope you are all healthy and happy wherever you are 🙂

Since my last update we have had two more meetings with the 2011-2012 Zaza Scholars and their parents/guardians.  These kids are SO keen to learn!  They spend 20 minutes observing every detail of a page in an illustrated animal encyclopedia!  They are also impressive artists and drew many colourful pictures for you.  We also helped them write a short letter to each sponsor in English.  I took photos of their letters, the kids themselves and their art to show you.  If you sponsored a student for the 2011-2012 season, I will send you their specific letters/photos in a separate email.  Below, there is a group photo of the 10 Scholars from this year and a photo of the Grade 5 students who will be taking their final exams in June, to see if they are admitted to highschool for the 2012-2013 school year.  They seem a super bright bunch and I ended up donating all of my animal encyclopedias to their class along with pencil crayons, markers and a few other resources.  We hope to be able to sponsor another group of students from this class towards their highschool education and so far we have money for at least three, 2012-2013 Zaza Scholars :):):)  Our goal is to be back in Madagascar late June, 2012 to resume our study of infant development in lemurs and to present scholarships for the next round of Zaza Scholars.  We will also be supporting the first 10 through their second year (this is already covered through your generous donations), assuming they keep up their grades and continue to take part in our monthly meetings in Anevoka 🙂  I ended up purchasing most of the actual school supplies for them (using their scholarship money) because you can’t actually get these things anywhere near the village, and they received cash for things like school fees, uniforms, room & board etc.  It still blows my mind that $100 allows a kid to go to highschool for a year (room & board and all!!!)

Overall, we are absolutely overjoyed at the support and encouragement we have received from people all over the world towards this project.  It makes us feel SO good to be able to be the conduit channels of goodness from all over the world into a tiny, very poor village bordering a rainforest in Madagascar.  I absolutely glow head to toe when I shake hands with a child who is getting to go to highschool thanks to our friends and family.  I think I glow because this project makes me realize that ” with all it’s sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world”.  At our last meeting, the kids brought us bananas and dried beans as gifts of appreciation.  The elders of the village made us traditional hats.

Smiles and heartfelt thanks to you from all of us,

Best wishes for 2012!

Jody 🙂

November Update from ZAZA :)

Dear Friends,

Greetings from Madagascar 🙂 I hope that you are all doing well! We have had a spectacular month in the jungle and have posted some new videos our website if you are interested (  I am delighted to tell you that the ZAZA Project has been an absolute and total hit in the village.  The people are very very VERY thank-full to all of you, children and parents.  Here are some updates:

1.  The children’s names are Tiana, Cristine, Marie, Antoinette, Victorine, William, Herve, Manasse, Justin and Emile.  They are the students who received the highest grades on the final exams in Year 5 (qualifying them for secondary school and Year 6).

2.  It turns out that I was slightly mistaken when I quoted the cost of a year of secondary school.  Once I actually saw the school supply list, including things like uniforms, pens, pencils, notebooks, school tuition, etc (I can send you the itemized list if you are interested), it came to approximately 50$ Canadian.  On top of that, because the secondary school is not in Anevoka (where the families live) they need to pay 5$ Cdn per month for room/board (so for ten months it costs 50$ Cdn). Sooooooo instead of a school year costing 200$ as I had previously thought, it costs 100$.  Of course this was very humbling again (it was a translation mix-up), and I thought of whether we should support twice as many students OR guarantee support to the top ten students for 2 years of secondary school.  I decided to do the second option, because I wanted to give people as much assurance as possible (because now they don’t have to worry about these fees for two years).  I also let the parents know that the scholarships will be available to their children for their entire 4 years of secondary school so long as they continue to do well in the studies and on their exams.

3.  On October 22 I had a meeting at the school in Anevoka (the primary school) and was able to meet all of the parents and 6 of the children.  The other 4 are attending secondary school in places farther than the others and the parents could not afford to bring them back for the weekend.  I made a little speech and my Malagasy University Student translated into Malagasy as I told them all about these people all over the world who wanted to support their studies.  Then I presented each student with a certificate, a blank notebook, a packet of pencils and the first installment of their scholarship (approximately 30$).  After the formal bit, we brought out an animal encyclopedia and the kids (and parents) were absolutely glued to it.  It was a very happy time, many many smiles.  You helped make some very poor, but extremely hard working people, very VERY happy.  I have attached photos of the group to this email 🙂

3.  I set the next meeting for November 19 and I tried to have the parents understand that it was important for me to meet all of the students at that meeting.  At that meeting I will present the balance of the first year scholarships and we are going to do some drawing of animals from the encyclopedias.

4.  If you have committed to sponsoring the year for a particular student, I will send you their specific info in another email.  And of course, I will have more happiness to report next time I am out of the forest (mid-December).

Many smiles from Madagascar 🙂


Happy Thanksgiving from ZAZA!!!

Dear Friends

Jody and I are so very impressed with the positive response to Zaza……a HUGE  thank you to everyone for your help and ideas. We now have enough money to provide scholarships to ten children for their first year of high school!!!!

Anyone who has still to send money for this first year, please send it along to me. I have “bank-rolled” those whom still have to mail in their contribution (but who have told me they will).

Tomorrow Jody heads back to Madagascar to continue her work with the lemurs. She will meet with the village leaders and the primary school teachers to determine which children will be offered the scholarships.  To those of you who have committed to funding a scholarship, please understand that Jody has very limited access to internet (it is the rainforest!) so it will take time to make the first report.  However, we will aim to provide you with the information on the students selected before December 🙂

From this point we have decided to stop at ten children for the 2011/2012 school year. Any extra funds that come in, between now and Jody’s next trip to Madagascar will be banked in anticipation of the next school year.  Jody hopes to return in July 2012, when she will be able to assess how the program has progressed. At that time we will assess scholarship needs for the second year, and communicate this with you.

We cannot express how happy we are at your generosity. All the funds received will go directly to the children’s education, a priceless gift.  We are so very thankful to have people like you in our worlds 🙂

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jill and Jody

Introducing Baby ZAZA!!!

Dear Friends,

I have never done this sort of thing before, but I have an idea that I’d like to share with you.  As you know I have started a research project in the Eastern rainforest of Madagascar examining the development of young lemurs from birth until weaning.  The research is going really, really well, we learn SO much, every single day.  But, as you know, babies grow up remarkably fast.  I’m hoping to make this a long-term project and so for starters, I will be back in the rainforest with the lemurs in less than 2 weeks 🙂

So what is this letter about?  Well, since I started working in this forest with these people, I have developed a burning sense of responsibility for the people who work for me.  Madagascar is one of the 10 poorest countries in the world.  The people who work with me, and who are so critically important to my research, make between $2 and $5 a day.  “So pay them more Jody”, that’s what you must be thinking, that’s what I thought too.  So I hire more people, give them more work, feed them 3 meals a day, I’ve bought them good rubber boots to work in and I buy them warm clothes for their kids.  The village is high in the mountains where it rains a lot, and it is quite cold.  Most kids do not have shoes or warm clothes.  Personally, I find it so overwhelming and sad, sometimes I feel like I should take the money I spend on flights to get to Madagascar and just give it to these people instead!  But that’s not sustainable.  By developing a lemur research project, there is much more potential for long term jobs and income for these people…so I need to make my research funds last.

Here’s where you can help.  Public school in Madagascar costs money.  Parents have to pay per month.  In Anevoka (the village near my research site) even if kids do well in primary school and pass their final exams with flying colours, they will most likely not continue schooling.  That means that at 10 years old, most kids are finished with school.  The closest secondary school is in a village only 15 minutes away by car….but there are no cars/buses available to these kids so it is a 2 1/2 hour walk.  And of course there are the fees.  I’ve been thinking about this so much, and here is what I’ve worked out.

* The secondary school year starts in October.

* School fees are $15 a month ($150 for a school year)

* To pay for room and board as well is $5 a month ($50 for a school year)

The daughter of my guide is named Antoinette.  She is 10 years old, a talented artist, and is superbly bright.  I think she would make a fantastic biologist one day, and I’d really love to see these kids grow up to work in their forests as researchers.  When I explained all of this to my Mom, she said she would love to pay for Antoinette’s secondary school education.  And so we got to thinking….and ZAZA was born (ZAZA means child in Malagasy).  This is a tiny project, no administration fees.  If you would like to take part, in any way, please contact my Mom or myself through this blog or by email.  My Mom will wire any money to me in Madagascar, and I will give parents cash for their child’s secondary education.  I will gift it to them as a scholarship, and I will let you know exactly who got your money, and how it is being spent.  I know I can’t solve all of the challenges facing these kids, but I know this will help.  The number of scholarships will depend on the amount of money raised.  Thanks so much for reading this, Misaotra beseka!

Jody 🙂