Participation and Expression
For Dzaomaria, getting an education means that life is full of opportunity. "Before I used to look after the cattle," he says. "But my parents made sure I went to school, and now one day I am going to be a vet."
Strictly speaking of course, these are not Dzaomaria's words - because the young boy is a puppet character in a play about child rights, written by children for children.
During a week-long workshop in Madagascar's capital, Antananarivo, 20 children from across the country learnt not only how to make life-sized puppets for the stage, but also produced five short plays on child rights. The performances covered the themes of education, nutrition, health, child protection and birth registration - giving the young artists a chance to express their thoughts on issues affecting their lives, upholding their right to participation and expression as enshrined in the international Convention on the Rights of the Child.
"I have learned that children have rights - to education, to healthy food, and to protection"
The characters in the stories provide revealing glimpses of how children themselves perceive the challenges that they face. For Koto, after walking 6km home from school, he must go to fetch water - a task that he dreads doing in the dark when he is tired and hungry, and has homework to do. Tina, who works as a domestic helper away from home, is lonely and exhausted after labouring all day to clean the house for her demanding employer.
For 13 year-old Nirina Rahantamalala, the workshop is more than just a creative experience. "My favourite memory is of making a puppet on a stick, but I have also learned that children have rights - to education, to healthy food, and to protection," she says. "I am going to apply what I have learnt to my life, and tell my friends."
Like the other young participants, Nirina is part of a local organisation working with children in her home village and will now help to teach other children how to use theatre to learn more about child rights.
"For me it was an unforgettable experience," says the youngest participant, 11 year-old Marie Rasoanatoandro. "I never know how to make my own puppet or write my own story. As soon as we go back, we are going to make lot of stories with our members."
For UNICEF, supporting initiatives that encourage young people to speak out about their rights is a priority. In Madagascar, 50 per cent of the population - or nearly 10 million people - are under 18 years-old. However, most adolescents and young people have poor access to training in life and vocational skills, limited economic prospects and little exposure to media and other sources of information. This often leaves them unaware of their rights and with limited means through which they can speak out about abuse and injustice.
"Children's expression and participation is a fundamental right often forgotten by adults," says UNICEF communication specialist, Daniel Timme. "It is UNICEF's responsibility to help support Madagascar's young people in claiming these rights. Through theatre created by young people for young people, children can communicate directly with each other, raising awareness of their rights, and helping to build a generation of young people equipped with knowledge that allows them to meaningfully participate in society."
Antananarivo, May 2011