Hello from Kayanga!
After months of planning and three weeks of class, we have finished The Ota Initiative’s second school break program for elementary school students, and I am happy to declare it was a resounding success!
We started off our last week with a class election. Students vied for the spots of president, vice president and secretary, each of which held specific duties during our end of program party. To my joy, one of our brightest students, a girl, was elected president by a landslide. Some people might roll their eyes at my excitement, but I strongly believe we need more women in politics. I spent my first trip to Kayanga researching gender violence, and I was absolutely floored to discover that in the two districts where I carried out my research, only ONE of the 42 town mayors was female. No wonder the women I interviewed for this research felt the government could not properly address the various forms of physical, mental and economic violence they reported experiencing. Yet here, in our little perfect microcosm of The Ota Initiative, our students elected a female president and secretary. Perhaps this is a sign of hope for the future.
After an exciting election, we finished up our science lessons on air by discussing the causes and effects air pollution. Our lessons were especially poignant one day as we had to shut all the windows to our classroom because people were burning large amounts of trash outside and the smoke drifting into our room was almost suffocating. Let no one say our curriculum does not address relevant environmental issues. In a future program I would really like to introduce composting as a positive alternative to dealing with waste as opposed to just indiscriminately burning everything.
After we finished up our lessons on air, we changed directions a bit to discuss two important subjects: road safety and first aid. In separate incidents, two children were recently hit by speeding cars on the road outside of the school where we work. Pontian, our head teacher, suggested adding lessons on road safety and first aid to this program with the hopes of addressing this problem, and I whole-heartedly agreed. Our teachers put on two hilarious, yet informative, plays to show our students the proper way to cross the street and what to do if someone is injured. We also played a modified version of “Red Light, Green Light” to underline the importance of stopping, looking left and looking right before crossing the street, and Pontian taught the students a song about the importance of walking on the right side of the road so they can see oncoming cars (Tanzanians drive on the left). Some of our students walk up to an hour to reach school, and I hope that these lessons will help make their walk a little safer.
Then, no matter how much I tried to turn back time and prevent it from happening, our program came to an end. We threw a party on Saturday to celebrate our program, and our students performed different demonstrations to illustrate to our guest what they had learned and how they had learned it. I was especially happy this year that two groups performed plays, something we suggested last year but the students were all afraid to do. In my mind, it is definitely a sign of our students’ growing abilities and confidence that they happily performed a feat in front of 70 people that they were unwilling to do just six months ago.
Other activities our students showcased for our guests included: Explaining the effects of dirty water on living organisms by displaying the different beans they grew with clean and dirty water; showing off the trees they planted and explaining how they will help the environment; and performing an experiment to demonstrate that fire uses air. After finishing with our demonstrations, I thanked the local elementary school for letting us use their room and presented them with a gift of 500 notebooks, 150 pencils and 400 pens that will in turn be given to students who otherwise could not afford school supplies. Some people told me this gift might be a bit extravagant, but really, how could I deny buying children the supplies they need for school when a notebook and pencil together costs only 12 cents?
After thanking the school, we presented our students with their certificates and gifts of school supplies, served everyone lunch and took about one million pictures before waving everyone goodbye. Now the weekend has passed and instead of walking into a classroom of smiling faces every morning, I just have the walls of my office to look at. It is, to say the least, very sad. For now, however, I am choosing to continue celebrating the success of this program and ignore the fact that I have less than 10 days in Kayanga and do no know when I will be back again.
This program brings such joy to the students and their parents, as well as to me and all the other people who work with it, so on behalf of everyone, I would just like to express the deepest gratitude for your support.Your seemingly small decision to support Ota is having large effects here in Kayanga. Thank you for enabling us to run another successful program, and I hope I will be writing these bitter-sweet end-of-program updates for many years to come.
The Ota Initiative