The Ota Initiative currently runs programs twice a year during Tanzania's major school breaks in June and December. Each program is composed of two major elements: a training seminar for our youth employees and a two- or three-week camp for our elementary school students.
Our on-the-ground teaching staff is comprised of a head teacher who oversees all program activities and leads instruction in the classroom. Helping him are five local youths we hire as "group leaders". Each of these group leaders is assigned a cadre of five students that they oversee and perform activities with throughout the program. Hiring youth to work with us serves two important purposes.
First, it allows us to conduct many of our projects in small groups, increasing each student's opportunities to express him or herself and the amount of individualized attention he or she receives from an instructor. Instead of having one teacher tracking 25 students (or one teacher tracking 50 students as is often the case in rural Tanzania), each group leader has just five students they are in charge of monitoring and assisting. This allows them to gain an understanding of each student's strengths and weaknesses and more effectively guide him or her through the learning process. The small groups also offer a safer place for students to grow comfortable and begin expressing themselves before they develop the confidence they need to speak up in front of the class as a whole. During a typical day of class, the head teacher usually introduces a concept to the class as a whole, students explore that concept through small group activities like science experiments or skits, and then the class comes together as a whole to reflect and connect what they observed in their group work with the initial lesson.
Hiring group leaders also allows us to provide professional development opportunities and paid work to Kayanga's youth. In Tanzania, secondary school is not free, and many families often struggle to pay their children's school fees. This burden is exacerbated in Kayanga - and many other rural areas - because no local government school offers 11th and 12th grade classes, meaning families must also be able to pay for travel to and room and board at a school in another area of the country. Many secondary school students spend their school breaks working oddjobs such as hauling charcoal or farming to try and gather enough money to cover their school fees. At The Ota Initiative, not only do we pay our group leaders a decent wage that will help them pay for school, but we also help develop their leadership and other professional skills that will help them in their future job searches after they complete their educations.