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The Ota Initiative Blog

Our First Day of Class

The Ota Initiative staff plays a teambuilding game during the leadership training seminar.

After months of planning, we launched our inaugural program today and held our first day of class. How exciting! However, before I mention our amazingly adorable students that we met today, let’s backpedal to last week and our group leader training seminar. We hired 5 young people between the ages of 17 and 25 to help us run the program, and we provided training to them and 2 other people just in case one of our leaders has to leave suddenly during the program. Last week we gathered for a three day seminar during which we discussed the program’s goals and syllabus, the teaching methods we will use and leadership.

A lot of what we are doing is a bit strange for Tanzania, so I was nervous that our group leaders would struggle through the training seminar. Once again my fears were proven to be oh so unnecessary. All of our leaders put a huge amount of effort into the training program, and I truly believe they are ready to help us run this program. There were two particularly heart-melting moments that I want to share with you all.

The first was when we had the leaders write personal mission statements, which I hope to share with you as soon as I get a chance to translate them. These mission statements are basically a manifesto in which the leaders say who they are, what they want to accomplish in life and how they are going to accomplish it. I thought they might struggle with writing these, but after one simple explanation for me the leaders were off writing powerful statements full of dreams for the future. I can only hope our leaders were as inspired by their personal mission statements as I was. Many thanks to the wonderful Nicole Bauer who helped plan the leadership training seminar and insisted that the leaders write these statements.

The second part that may or may not have brought a few tears to my eyes was at the end of the day when we asked the leaders for comments on the program. The overwhelming chorus was that although they had come in prepared to learn how to teach children, they had really learned so much more about themselves and how they want to live their lives. Several times I had to hold myself back from jumping into the air and yelling a resounding “Yes!” while fist pumping.

One person talked about how he has never been asked to think so much about what he has to offer and what he wants to do with his life. He said now that he has outlined his life goals in his personal mission statement he is going to do his best to achieve them and encourage other people to think about their lives in the same manner. Another leader talked about how before the seminar he didn’t really understand Ota’s ideas, but now the seminar has showed him how education could be. He said during the program he was just having fun participating in our exercises. Then when we talked afterward he was surprised to hear there was actually a lesson hidden within the exercise, a lesson that he would remember better know than if he had just been told it. I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect summary of what we are trying to accomplish here.

Needless to say, I was consumed by warm fuzzy feelings after out teacher training seminar. The warm fuzzies only increased today when 25 children trooped into our classroom ready to learn. Of course there were problems. We started an hour late due to late arrivals, our breakfast got ruined and I had a bit of an unpleasant interaction with a store owner when we tried to return faulty merchandise he had sold us (we lost in the end, but believe me, it was a valiant battle). But still, amid the chaos, there was drawing, writing, reading, games, conversation, and most importantly of all, laughter. Although we had some rough spots, there was no problem we couldn’t overcome, and I think tomorrow will be even more of a success than today was.

I will leave you with one final comment. Before the program I had a conversation with the grandmother of one of our students. She talked about how her grandson doesn’t like school and gets horrible grades, despite his parents’ attempts to talk with his teacher and hire him tutors. She said when they heard about a nontraditional learning program they immediately wanted him to attend because they are running out of options for how to help him do better in school. I watched this student the first day of class, and he did amazing. He was energetic, laughing, participating in every activity. He is the perfect stereotype of the child who cannot sit in a desk and learn because it is just not engaging enough for him. We can’t say for sure now whether this program will help him do better in school, but I hope he has at least finally found a learning environment in which he can flourish.

In the off chance that this hasn’t come across yet, I will close this blog post by saying everything has progressed well, and hope that I will be writing more updates just like this one as we continue working with our students..

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