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The Ota Initiative Blog

Welcoming Back Our Students

It is a lovely, sunny, non-humid 80 degrees here in Kayanga, and the day is made all the more beautiful by the fact that we just finished another wonderful day of class with our students. We are now entering our second week of the program, so let’s take a look back at all we accomplished during our first week of class.

When last Monday morning finally arrived, our 25 students came running and cheering back into our classroom. In their excitement, some students showed up more than an hour early for our first day, and let me tell you, under normal circumstances NO ONE shows up for anything early in Karagwe.

The first thing we did with our students was sit in a circle and have them introduce themselves. Last program, it wasn’t until the second week that all students would introduce themselves without having to be encouraged by a teacher. I thought this might happen again, but instead I was thrilled to see that all of our students jumped up and introduced themselves of their own accord on the first day. I was so happy to see that our lessons about self confidence and public speaking from last session stuck with our students.

However, these weren’t the only lessons that our students remembered. On our first day the teachers held guided conversations with our students to find out what they remembered from last program, and I was once again pleasantly surprised by the results. Shame on me for having such little faith. On average, students remembered 76 percent of the material we asked them about from last program. There were of course a few students who did not remember a lot, but there were also a handful of students who remembered more than 90 percent of what we taught them last program. Considering we only spent two weeks with these children six months ago, I was very happy with these results.

After the first day, we spent the rest of the week talking about water, a subject we will continue this second week as well. We discussed sources of water, uses of water, how to conserve water and ways to prevent water pollution. Children definitely learn about the importance of water in America, but water issues don’t really affect us. Tanzania, however, is a different story.

According to the Tanzanian government, only 47 percent of rural Tanzanians live within a 30 minute walk of a water source. Once Tanzanians reach their water source, they then have to haul it back home and boil it. It is not an exaggeration to say many Tanzanian women spend hours each day just procuring safe water for their families. If we want to talk about the liberation of women, I nominate modern water and cooking technologies as the number one contributing factor. It just really struck me this week that when we are talking about conserving and cleaning water, we are not just teaching our students information that they will store in some back corner of their brain as many Americans would; we are teaching them vital information that has the potential to impact their quality of life.

For me, one of the highlights of this week was the day we spent talking about ways to conserve water. One of the methods we discussed was planting trees, and afterward the students planted five trees outside our classroom. Maybe it’s because I see the negative effects of deforestation and water scarcity around me every day here, or maybe it’s because I was raised by two foresters and spent many a day planting trees with them as a child, but either way, watching our students plant trees and discuss their importance with our teachers made me so incredibly happy.

Along with discussing scientific subjects, we are also once again performing leadership activities provided by Global Visions Empowerment. One leadership activity that really touched me this week was when we read our students a short biography of Nelson Mandela and discussed why he was a good leader. I still cannot grasp how the man spent 27 years in prison and came out ready to forgive and work with the very people who had persecuted him for years. I mean, really, if that isn’t leadership, what is? Our students really loved Mandela’s story and we had a great discussion afterward about equality, forgiveness and nonviolent protest. The students then drew pictures of Mandela and wrote short sentences about what qualities made him a good leader. This activity was, simply put, beautiful to behold.

There were a treasure trove of other beautiful moments that occurred this past week, but I will just have to hold those stories back until another day. I hope you all enjoyed these little highlights, and I look forward to sending you more in the days to come. For now, on to the rest of the program!

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