I hope you all have survived the cold weather and are enjoying this beautiful spring. While it would have been nice to hibernate through the winter, the Ota team has been putting together a dynamic Summer 2015 program. I have been waiting to tell you all about some exciting developments, but now everything is official and I can share the good news – The Ota Initiative will be hosting its first two groups of volunteers from America this summer!
Students from Loyola Marymount University and West Virginia University are coming to Kayanga on two service-learning trips run by Ota’s sponsor, Amizade Global Service-Learning. I am thrilled that these students will have the opportunity to come and fall in love with Kayanga just as I did more than two years ago when I first arrived in town as an Amizade volunteer. I will write about how the Loyola Marymount students will contribute to Ota’s work next week, but in this email I want to share how the West Virginia University students are going to help us to expand our English curriculum and improve the training seminar for the local high school and college students we employ as group leaders.
While preparing for last December’s program (the first one I was not present for), I spent many hours having convoluted phone conversations with Ota’s head teacher as I attempted to explain completely foreign games and experiments to him. While Ota’s strength is that we use hands-on , creative learning techniques, we saw last program that it was much harder for Ota’s teaching staff to grasp new, foreign activities without me there to demonstrate them. The volunteers from WVU are going to help fill this gap by acting as trainers of trainers and assisting with the week-long training seminar we hold for our group leaders before each program. Our head teacher will run the training seminar, but the American students will explain and demonstrate various games and experiments.
With several English-speaking volunteers assisting with the training, we are also going to be able to focus more on the personal and professional development of the high school and college students who are our group leaders. When one person was running the training sessions (myself and then later our head teacher), it was easier and quicker to just use Swahili. Our group leaders do speak English though and are always looking for ways to improve it, so each American student helping with the training seminar will be matched with one of our Tanzanian students. While all of the American students will be responsible for making sure all of the Tanzanian group leaders understand the syllabus, they will especially focus on their buddy. Not only will this build strong relationships leading to cross-cultural learning, but the Tanzanian group leaders will have daily English conversations with native English speakers, something many of them will have never experienced.
We are also going to use the presence of native English speakers to expand our English curriculum, something our students’ parents have asked for in all of our post-program surveys. Along with intermixing English lessons into our daily syllabus as we have been doing, we are going to dedicate the first week of our three-week program entirely to English. The American students will work with the Tanzanian group leaders to create plays, stories, and games designed to increase our students’ understanding of English. The Tanzanian staff will then have the necessary tools and confidence to teach English lessons after their week of preparation and cooperation with the American students.
Finally, the American and Tanzanian students are going to work together to write stories for our program. As I have written about before, literacy is a major issue in Kayanga. There are simply no children’s’ books available, and children are not read to. During every training seminar, our group leaders write stories that we then read to our students during the program. However, writing children’s stories is s strange things for our group leaders (as it probably would be for many Americans, too), and they require a lot of coaching to produce these stories. Now, with the help of the American students, we are going to expand the story-writing portion of our training seminar to really help our group leaders develop effective writing skills. Each Tanzanian leader will partner with an American student to write a story together, and they will write this story in both English and Swahili. We will then be able to read our students each story in both languages and further develop their literacy and comprehension skills in English and Swahili.
While this story writing project particularly excites me, a self-professed bookworm, all of us at Ota are truly excited for the new doors that will open up to our organization, our employees, and our students now that American college students will be volunteering with us. Look for my next update to find out more about how these volunteers are going to positively impact our program . For now, thank you for your support, and if you would like to continue seeing the positive impact The Ota Initiative will have on the lives of Tanzanian (and now American!) students, please consider making a financial contribution by following this link and scrolling to the bottom of the page.