New Website!

We are happy to announce the launching of The Ota Initiative’s new website:  http://www.theotainitiative.org/ 

From now on, we will be using our new site instead of this blog. Please refer to theotainitiative.org for  up-to-date information about our programs and to read our latest news from Kayanga.

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Celebrating Christmas in Karagwe

Hello friends –

Fireplace

Ota’s stocking was hung by the chimney with care, and guests of Christmas in Karagwe stuffed it full with $587 in donations! 

First, I would like to start things off by thanking everyone who helped make our first fundraiser event a great success!   As I mentioned in our last post, I hosted a party for Ota on Saturday, Dec. 12 in D.C. with the help of some friends. The event, titled Christmas in Karagwe, was a Tanzanian holiday party that doubled as a fundraiser for Ota. In total, we raised $587 from the 45 people who attended. This was almost twice our goal for the night and will allow us to run this winter’s program at full capacity!

The evening began with a potluck dinner centered around traditional Tanzanian dishes we had cooked up that afternoon: rice, chicken and vegetable stews, beans, cabbage salad, and ugali, a doughy starch made from corn flour. The Tanzanian fare was such a crowd pleaser that our wonderful chefs had to whip up a few extra batches of food during the party. As people ate and socialized, they were able to browse through and bid on a variety of Tanzanian goods during a silent auction. Bidding became quite competitive with the two highest selling items of the night being a Zanzibar soccer jersey and a beautiful carved wooden box. Even after the silent auction ended, people stayed late into the night enjoying good food and company in the name of a good cause. Thank you to everyone who helped organize the party, attended, donated, and made the night  – and our program – a success!

The Sunday after, I called our head teacher Pontian to let him know we now had enough money to purchase the supplies needed for all of our planned projects. And it was none too soon as the next day, last Monday,  the Ota classroom opened its doors for our students to return for our fifth program.  The first day was a great success, especially as Pontian reported that the new testing rubric we designed this past fall helped garner more detailed results during our pre-program test of students. While we have always tracked our students’ learning over the course of the program, we have now solidified our grading rubric to ensure greater consistency  in scoring. We hope this will help us to better track which areas of the program are most difficult for our students to grasp and could perhaps be improved.

After the first day of class was used for reintroducing students to Ota and reviewing the subjects studied in June, students began engaging with this program’s curriculum focused on water the rest of the week. Through nature walks, plays, and stories, students explored the sources and importance of water. During the English portion of the program, students reviewed introductions from last program and then learned about describing colors and expressing preferences.

In short, our program is off to a terrific start, and I would like to thank everyone who has helped make it happen! Many of you have donated time, resources, and money to make this happen, and I hope you know you are appreciated. Stay tuned for more updates on the program and to see how all of your support is benefiting the children of Karagwe.

Best wishes and many thanks,
Rebecca Gailey
The Ota Initiative

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Preparing for Our Fifth Program

Hello friends!

I am writing you all on the eve of our fifth program as today our head teacher and five veteran group leaders gathered together to begin a three-day training seminar. During this time they will review the upcoming program’s curriculum, write stories and prepare skits to use in the classroom, and participate in teambuilding activities. Then, on Monday, they will welcome our students back into the Ota classroom and engage them in two-weeks of hands-on learning activities.

So what will the focus of this break’s program be? If you remember from last program, many of our students were unable to return as they were preoccupied preparing for Grade 3 national tests. We thus recruited new students and reviewed our first program’s syllabus focusing on the qualities of living and non-living things. This winter we will once again be working mostly with these students who joined us last program, thus we will be using a modified version of our second program’s curriculum, which focuses on the importance of clean air and water.

During this upcoming program, students will learn about how humans use air and water, sources and effects of pollution, and methods to prevent and clean up pollution. Building off of the success of the English lessons Amizade’s university volunteers helped our Ota team build last program, we have also injected English materials into this curriculum. Before exploring scientific themes each morning, the students will first learn basic English phrases – such as expressing favorites and describing classroom objects – and practice them during games, skits, and discussion circles.

This program will be once again be filled with exciting games, experiments, and art projects, and I look forward to sharing news of our students’ learning with you all. First though, I do have some bad news. Unfortunately, our volunteer Allison has had a family emergency and will no longer be able to return to Kayanga to volunteer with us this program. We wish her the best of luck and stand confident that our local team will nonetheless deliver another dynamic program.

Before signing off, I would like to ask you all one last time to make a tax-deductible donation (link at bottom of page) to help us cover the costs of this December’s program. We have still not reached our fundraising goal, so every dollar counts. This weekend we are hosting a fundraiser event in Washington, D.C., where we expect to raise the remaining amount we need. If you are in the D.C. area and are interested in attending, please send an email to theotainitiative@gmail.com and I will send you the details.

Thank you again for your support and stay tuned for more updates.

 

Best wishes and many thanks,
Rebecca Gailey
The Ota Initiative

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Empowering Local Youth

Happy Sunday Everyone!

In our last newsletter you heard from one of Ota’s group leaders, Fahimu, about how The Ota Initiative has positively impacted his community. In this edition I am going to share the rest of Fahimu’s letter to me in which he writes about how he personally has benefited from working with Ota. First though, I want to provide some quick background on the youth we work with in Karagwe.

While the focus of Ota is to provide educational opportunities for elementary students, we also treat the program as a professional development opportunity for local youth. Every program we employ five local secondary and university students as group leaders to help our head teacher run the program and offer more one-on-one attention to students. This is an important opportunity for local youth because Karagwe’s economy relies mostly on subsistence agriculture, and youth seldom have access to quality job opportunities. Youth looking to make money often have to search for short-term manual labor jobs such as hauling charcoal. Unsurprisingly, these jobs do not pay well, which is especially troublesome as high school is not free in Tanzania. While school fees amount to only a few hundred dollars each year, they often exceed the amount rural families can afford and deter students from graduating. Ota provides its group leaders with a guaranteed paying job during their school breaks, without which some of them would struggle to pay for school.

We don’t just want to provide students with a salary though; we want to help them develop the skills they need to succeed in the world. Because quality employment opportunities are often unavailable to youth, the students who do manage to graduate high school and university often embark on the job search without any relevant work experience. Along with giving our group leaders job experience in education and community development, we run a week-long seminar for them before each program that focuses on developing their teamwork and leadership skills. Our leaders clearly value the training and salaries we give them because four of the five group leaders who worked with our first program in June 2013 are still working for us. At least three of our group leaders have also told me that their experience with Ota has helped them obtain other jobs.

I firmly believe that Ota is making a difference in the lives of our group leaders, and I was thrilled to read that Fahimu shares this feeling as well. Now, in his own words, are Fahimu’s thoughts on how he has benefited from working for Ota:

The following points are existing benefits of The Ota Initiative program in Karagwe:

The Ota Initiative provides creative teaching methods and leadership skills training to secondary school group leaders. During The Ota Initiative training seminars, group leaders learn how to teach pupils without using corporal punishment, how to live with and supervise children, time management, team work, and good working habits. These skills can be helpful in any teaching and leadership activity for the group leaders. Also group leader have gotten a chance to understand and discuss democracy in both Tanzania and USA with American volunteers.

The Ota Initiative also creates temporary job opportunities for Karagwe residents, especially for secondary school students and teachers hired as group leaders, head teachers, and cook. Normally the work is temporary but helpful. Because those people are employed by The Ota Initiative they do not waste their time resting at home during school breaks. The Ota Initiative helps them to stay working, gaining experiences, learning about different issues, and making friendship with different people, especially foreigners like Amizade volunteers from USA.

Personally, The Ota initiative has helped me a lot in my school fees and other contributions. But also I have gained much experience on teaching and leading and acquiring enough information about democracy. Therefore the education I acquired from The Ota Initiative can help me in any teaching activity and in being good and self-reliant. It has helped me develop qualities such as self-confidence, being future–oriented, and creativity, as well as being a good critical thinker.

Finally, I would like to thank The Ota Initiative and anyone who has a spirit to help my society. The Ota Initiative has been the best program in Karagwe.

Fahimu is an excellent group leader who has played a critical role in Ota’s success, so it was very rewarding and heartwarming to hear all the ways he has benefited from working with us. I hope that one day Ota can expand so it can offer educational opportunities to more students and empower more local youth through employment and leadership training. For now though, we are still working to fund our December program. We have not yet met our fundraising goal, and time is running short, so please, consider making a tax-deductible donation to Ota (form at bottom of linked page) so we can continue empowering Karagwe’s youth.

As always, I hope you enjoyed this update, and thank you for your support. Have a wonderful week!

Rebecca Gailey,
The Ota Initiative

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A Group Leader’s Perspective

Hello Everyone!

For almost two years now I have been writing you all about our amazing team in Tanzania and the great work they do, so I thought it was time you had the opportunity to hear their thoughts on Ota. I asked one of our most senior group leaders, Fahimu, to send me a blog post about his thoughts on Ota and how it has benefited Karagwe. He responded with a four-page paper written in English, a second language he’s learned in school. Have no fear, the full text of his response is not just cut and pasted below, but I will use the next two newsletters to share his thoughts. First though, let me share a few facts about Fahimu.

Fahimu has been with Ota since the very first program, but even before that he was a dedicated friend of Amizade who welcomed study abroad groups and volunteers to Karagwe. Born and raised in Karagwe, Fahimu hopes to one day work for the government because he loves his hometown and wants to help improve the quality of life there. As a farmer and chicken tender who enjoys experimenting to find new best methods, Fahimu thinks he might enjoy being an agricultural extension agent. He currently is in his final year of high school studying History, Geography, and Language.

And now, let me share some of Fahimu’s words with you all:

The Ota Initiative is an education program that uses arts and sciences to teach primary pupils creativity, critical thinking, and leadership skills. The Ota Initiative envisions a Karagwe of academically successful citizens who think critically and craft creative solution to their needs and those of their community. The Ota Initiative has worked toward its vision by conducting four programs. The Ota initiative has tried its level best to achieve its goals, which benefits the community of Karagwe, especially in academic matters.

The following points are existing benefits of The Ota Initiative program in Karagwe:

  • Starting with academic benefits, The Ota Initiative has educated children and group leaders on leadership and democracy by teaching about qualities of good leaders and insisting on the use of democracy in all aspects of life. Topics include election processes as well as the negative impacts of dictatorship. For example, Ota has given out the history of good leaders like Nelson Mandela and history of dictators such as Adolf Hitler in some of programs.
  • The Ota Initiative has been working on building self-confidence among children of Karagwe. During all programs, The Ota Initiative has tried to create self-confidence and self-determination as well as awareness. These will help the kids in their future life. All of these can help the kids to do and perform any thing in a very good way.
  • The Ota Initiative has nurtured creativity and shown children the power of their own ideas. This has been built by The Ota Initiative because in every program the teacher asks  the students: What do they like to draw? What do they like to talk about? Who do they want to be like? Who are their role models? Also this has helped the children to be aware of their talents and make plans for their futures.
  • The Ota Initiative has kept pupils to stay in academic situation during their school breaks. This has helped the children to not waste time resting at home. Kids join The Ota Initiative and learn different matters while  enjoying games, songs, and drama. They are also  instructed on proper behavior such as personal hygiene, washing hands and fruits before eating without forgetting, and the importance of boiling and filtering drinking water through rhymes. Some rhymes are “Maji ya kunywa? Tunachemsha, tunachuja, tunakunywa!” (“Drinking water? We boil it, we strain it, we drink it!”) and “Tunda? Tunanawa mikono, tunaosha tunda, tunakula!” (“Fruit? We wash our hands, we wash our fruit, we eat!”)
  • The Ota Initiative has facilitated learning English language. For example, during the second program The Ota Initiative began  teaching kids some meaningful English words according to what the students had learnt at the end of day. In the fourth program, The Ota Initiative conducted English training during the first week of the program. Students learned introductions in English, greetings, and human body parts. Also The Ota Initiative taught some English songs and provided stories in both Swahili and English.
Group leader Fahimu pictured with his group of students and the tree they planted together while studying the importance of protecting the environment.

Group leader Fahimu pictured with his group of students and the tree they planted together while studying the importance of protecting the environment.

I have written you all about many of these benefits myself, but I think it is always best to hear about impact from a local perspective. Fahimu has been an integral part of our team for all four programs now, and he will be returning for our fifth program this December. Next week’s blog will include his perspective on how he and our other group leaders have benefited from their work with Ota. Until then, we are still fundraising to meet our goal for running this December’s program. If you could,  consider making a a $60 tax-deductible donation to Ota (form at bottom of linked page) to sponsor a student in our upcoming program. For this small amount, you can help provide a student with two weeks of quality arts, science, and English instruction, as well as school supplies for the year to come.

Best wishes and many thanks,
Rebecca Gailey
The Ota Initiative

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Introducing Our Newest Volunteer

Hello Everyone!

The Ota staff took a nice break after our successful summer program, but now we are in the midst of preparing for our FIFTH program this winter. As always, we have some exciting updates to share!

I would like to introduce you all to Allison Warren, a student from West Virginia University who volunteered with Ota in June as part of a university service-learning trip run by Ota’s sponsor, Amizade. Shortly after Allison’s return to America this summer, I began talking with her about her experience in Kayanga, and it became clear that she has a passion for education that fits with the needs and goals of Ota. Allison has now joined our team as a year-round volunteer, and with the help of a generous volunteer fellowship from the All People Be Happy foundation, she will be returning to Kayanga to help with our winter program. After adding English instruction to our curriculum in June with the help of Amizade volunteers, it is critically important to have a native speaker returning to Kayanga in December to monitor the success of our program’s newest component.

I will write more in another update about how Allison is helping Ota to expand its English programming, but for now I want to give her a chance to introduce herself in her own words:

My name is Allison Warren and I am a student at West Virginia University.  I will graduate with a B.A. in political science and women’s and gender studies in May 2016.  My interests in global equity and development brought me to Kayanga, Tanzania during the summer of 2015, where I first encountered and contributed to The Ota Initiative.

I am originallyunnamed from California, but have moved numerous times throughout my life. In addition to WVU and Kayanga, I also studied in Germany for two years, in The Netherlands for two years, and briefly in Greece and the Czech Republic. While attending middle-school in The Netherlands, I served as a teaching assistant in a special needs pre-school class. I worked with students on speech development, sign language, and creative thinking. From this experience, I learned tremendous patience as well as the profound impact of a strong student-teacher relationship.

I returned to the United States for high school, where I first started to become interested in politics. I joined Model U.N. and Youth and Government, for which I gave numerous speeches at national and international conferences. Upon going to college, I was drawn to studying political science and becoming involved in government. During the summer of 2013, I moved to Philadelphia to work for PA State Representative Brian Sims. While working for Rep. Sims, I conducted constituent services, organized and hosted weekly community outreach events, and served as a liaison with PA State Department agencies.

Upon graduation, I hope to work in education or international development in some capacity. My goal is to either become a Fulbright Scholar and work as an English Teaching Assistant or become a Peace Corps volunteer. Whatever the future holds beyond that, all I want is a career in which I help others.

Please join me in welcoming Allison to the Ota team! I look forward to writing you all more updates in the future about the wonderful contributions she is making to our program. I would also like to thank the All People Be Happy foundation for its continued support of Ota and its help in defraying Allison’s volunteer costs. Partners like All People Be Happy help us keep our administrative expenses low, but we will still require funds to cover the costs of our winter program. If you can, please consider making a tax-deductible donation (form at bottom of page) to continue providing Kayanga’s children with quality arts, science, and English programming.

Many thanks and best wishes,
Rebecca Gailey
The Ota Initiative

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Combining the Old with the New

Hello Everyone!

Can you think of a better way to start off your week than with a happy update from The Ota Initiative? I certainly cannot, so let’s dive right in. Last time we took a look at Ota’s first ever English week and why it is so important for our students to learn English. This week I am going to write a bit about the final two weeks of our program, which focused on arts and science, and what the future of Ota may hold.

Ota’s staff faced a small conundrum while preparing for this summer’s school break program. About half our students are now entering the third grade and need to prepare for a large national test they must take later in the year. Many of our parents contacted head teacher Pontian before our fourth program to let him know that their children would not be able to return to Ota this summer because they would be enrolling in school-run preparatory courses over break. We at Ota know how important this national test is and we strive to work with the school system, not compete against it, so Pontian assured these parents that it would be no problem for their students to skip Ota’s summer session and then return to our program in the winter.

Our staff then set out to recruit 15 new students to fill empty spaces. With our new students and two students from previous programs who joined last minute, we reached a class size of 27 students for this fourth program. We did not want to cover completely new material and leave out the third grade students who missed this program, but we also wanted this program to be engaging for our returning students. Pontian solved this dilemma by crafting a two-week schedule that reviewed the toughest science themes from our previous three programs that students struggled with the first time around. This program explored more complex topics such as types of animals (mammals verses reptiles) and the impact that humans have on nature. With the help of our Amizade volunteers from West Virginia University, we then injected new games, art projects, and experiments to create a new and exciting syllabus.

Pontian reported that the news students integrated well into Ota’s model and that the few returning students were engaged and learning information that they missed in previous sessions. A major success of the arts and science curriculum were the stories. If you remember, each group leader partnered with an Amizade volunteer to write a story exploring a scientific theme – for example, one story was about the water cycle – in both English and Swahili during the group leaders training seminar. During the program, our group leaders then read these stories to our students in both Swahili and English. While our students without a doubt could not understand every word of these English stories, Pontian said it was a great way to reinforce vocabulary learned during English week, teach new vocabulary, and expose students to a language that they must learn but often do not have access to.

Pontian reported that the parents of our new students were very impressed by Ota’s program and that they look forward to enrolling their students with us again next session. Because of this, we could potentially have 40+ students who wish to enroll in Ota’s winter program if this program’s students and the third grade students who missed this program all want to return! I would not have in me to turn away a returning student, and yet a strength of Ota’s programming is our manageable class size and emphasis on small group work. Pontian and I have several ideas about how to handle a large influx of returning students next program, and while I am not yet sure what our December program will look like, it seems that once again Ota will experience some exciting changes. I will be sure to keep you all updated as plans solidify and new prospects for expansion emerge, but for now I would like to thank you all for your support and wish you the happiest of weekends.

Many thanks and best wishes,
Rebecca Gailey
The Ota Initiative

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