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The Ota Initiative Blog

Our First Successful Locally Run Program

Five of Ota’s students with the dolls they made while exploring body parts and their functions during this past program.

I hope you all enjoyed the holiday season and that 2015 has been an excellent year for everyone thus far. I write you now after a short break to bring you good tidings of The Ota Initiative.

This program was an exciting one for Ota as it was the first one run entirely by Ota‘s local staff without me there on the ground. While there were a few small bumps in the road (as can only be expected), the program was a resounding success! I knew our teachers would be able to handle running the program without me, but I am amazed by how smoothly everything went. The fact that our local staff was able to run an entire program without me is Ota‘s biggest accomplishment to date.

While living in Tanzania before, I witnessed many programs that were completely reliant on foreign volunteers or workers. While I think foreign volunteers often bring unique contributions to many programs (I myself am a foreign volunteer!), there were several cases in which I felt local workers with more work experience, cultural awareness, and language skills could contribute much more to organizations’ work while also keeping more program dollars circling in the local economy. For the sake of Ota‘s sustainability, it was therefore a goal of ours to make the program more reliant on local workers and less reliant on me and other foreign actors as soon as possible. With this last program we are one giant step farther down this road!

So what did our students learn and experience this program? As I wrote in the last newsletter, our theme for this program was the human body and how to keep it healthy. This involved exploring body parts and their functions, the causes of sickness, healthy habits to prevent illness, and the importance of a balanced diet and exercise. The program started with a basic introduction to the functions of various external and internal body parts. To really drive in the function of key body parts, our students built dolls in their small groups. Every day the students would add a new body part to their dolls and discuss that part’s importance with their group leaders. According to our head teacher, this activity was a favorite of all the students.

Another favorite activity was a version of The Blob game that students played after learning about good habits to help prevent the spread of germs. For those of you poor souls who never played The Blob during your childhoods, The Blob is like Tag, except for when the person who is “It” tags another person, the two join hands and run around together tagging others until there is one giant blob of connected people who are “It”. The children played this, but we told them that the group leader who was initially “It” was very sick and refused to wash his hands or cover his mouth when he sneezed; therefore, whoever he touched would also become infected. At the end of the game, when all the children had been infected by one person, they were able to see how important good habits are because one sick person can infect many.

Students also played The Blob again another day but with a different goal. On this day the students learned about internal body functions and the basics of how the heart pumps blood and the lungs breathe air in order to keep our muscles and bodies as a whole working. Before going outside to play The Blob, we taught students how to read their pulses, and we also told them to put their hands on their chests and measure how they were breathing. Then, after running around during the game, we had students feel their pulses and chests again. The group leaders then talked with students about how their hearts were pumping more blood and their lungs breathing in more air because their muscles needed more air, and thus more blood, while they were running.

There are many more fun stories and learning moments to share from this past program, but I don’t want to overwhelm you all as you return from the long weekend. Now that the craziness of the holidays are over, I’ll be sure to write you all a few other newsletters with stories from our program, highlights from our evaluation, and exciting news about the future of Ota.

For now, a Happy Super Bowl Sunday to you all and thank you again for your support!

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