Ota means “to dream” in Swahili, and that is exactly what we help the students of Kayanga to do: To dream of a better future for their community and how they can help reach it.
We believe that education is the key to empowering people to think critically and creatively about how to address the needs of their communities. With this in mind, the idea for The Ota Initiative is based upon two key concepts.
Numerous studies have shown that children who are actively learning year round perform better in school. One notable 20-year study by Johns Hopkins University showed that children from lower-income families fell nearly three grade levels behind their middle-income counterparts because their parents were less likely to be able to afford to send them to camp, stay at home with them or involve them in other activities that kept their brains busy during breaks from school. As a result, children from lower-income families retained less information over summer break than children from middle-class families. Simply put, keeping children actively engaged over school breaks directly impacts their performance in school and the likelihood they will graduate and continue on to college.
Studying arts and sciences is key to an education. Although some may argue that these two subject areas are vastly different, they both teach children the same key skill: to think about the world around them and how they interact with it. Engaging children in artistic and scientific projects will encourage them to think big and will give them the confidence necessary to pursue their ideas.
In Karagwe, however, there are no school break programs for children, and educational opportunities in the arts and sciences are limited due to lack of funding. This is where The Ota Initiative comes in. Every school break (twice a year) we run two- or three-week programs for elementary school students based on a specific science subject - for example, the human body. During the program, students use experiments, art projects, and games to explore the scientific theme while also developing their creativity, critical thinking, and leadership skills. Each day of the program also includes a brief English lesson as English is the language of secondary school and university education, and students must become comfortable in this foreign language if they wish to succeed academically.
Our work has been embraced by the local community, and we are now in the process of planning for our sixth program in June 216. Please explore our site, learn about our work, and connect with us if you too would like to help bring quality educational opportunities to Kayanga's children.