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The Ota Initiative Blog

In Which We Ate, Played, and Celebrated

Students, parents, and teachers after celebrating the successes of Ota's first program.

With the holidays, finishing up in Kayanga and travelling back to America, I have not posted an update in a month now! My apologies, and I hope to catch everyone up on our progress in the next week or so. For now I’d just like to tell you all a little bit more about the great party we threw to celebrate the end of our first elementary school-break program.

The last I wrote we had just finished our first program in Kayanga. On Friday, Jan. 20, we held our last day of classes, and it was a sad day indeed. The children kept asking if we could continue with the program the following Monday, and it was with heavy hearts that we had to tell them no. The students were also very concerned about their art projects and notebooks, but calmed down once we told them they would be able to take everything home.

The next day, Saturday, we hosted a party where we invited parents and other education stakeholders to come celebrate the end of the program with us. Of course we celebrated and handed out completion certificates, but the goal of this program was really to show people what we had been doing for those two weeks and that our methods, though new and strange, were effective. We started off the program with our class president welcoming everyone. The children then sang a short song, which a group of girls wrote themselves and then presented to us. Translated, it goes, “Ota, we love it. We have learned many things: to draw, to believe in ourselves and to be clever.” This song, obviously, melted my heart.

After the song, everyone stood up and introduced themselves, including our students. Although some did not speak very loudly, all of them talked in front of a room of 70 people! Once again, I was so proud. The first day some children refused to talk in front of 30 people; now they have spoken in front of a crowd of strangers that was more than twice that number.

Another highlight of the program that displayed our success was a series of three games we played to show the parents how we had taught their children and how much they had learned. We had reviewed all of our material the day before, but I was still afraid that our students would freeze during the party and not be able to answer as their parents just shook their heads at what a waste of time this all had been. Silly me; I should have known our students would do amazingly well.

We first played a game where students danced around in a square, and when the music stopped they had to run to a corner. Each corner was dedicated to a part of a plant, and we would randomly pick one corner. The students then had to answer a question about their plant part in order to continue playing. We then played charades were each student had to act out an animal. After others guessed the animal, they then had to answer questions about it, such as what it ate, where it lived, how humans benefited from it and what class of animal it was and why. The final game was musical chairs, and once again, the students who would otherwise be “out” could continue playing if they answered a question correctly.

These games were a huge successes. The parents laughed the whole time, and afterward they all talked about how amazed they were about what their children had learned. Many people pointed out that we were teaching subjects that would not be covered in school for several more years. Without a doubt we only touched the surface of our subjects and our students could not write an essay on the different plant parts; however, I guarantee you that almost all of them could tell you that roots absorb water and nutrients from the ground. Before the program, even I bulked about teaching such subjects, saying there is no way 6 year olds could grasp this. I agreed to give it a try though after being told that if we just touch on the basics and make learning fun, children really can understand anything. How right this proved to be!

After these games, the students gathered their notebooks and went to their personal spaces where they had hung all of their art projects and science experiment recordings. Guests were then invited to circle the room and look at students’ works. Once again, parents were thrilled to see everything their children had created, the beans they had grown and the sentences they had written.

We then proceeded with a series of speeches. I won’t bore you with these details except to say one of the people who spoke was the district’s head elementary school education officer. He is in charge of overseeing elementary education in Karagwe, so we were very excited he attended. We were even happier when he praised the program in his speech and then talked with us further afterward about the benefits of using creative teaching methods. We talked about how our methods are not difficult, and even regular school teachers could use them if they were given the proper training. It was just a brief conversation, but it is so important to have the support of local leaders, and perhaps this has opened the door to future conversation about how Ota can play a larger role in Karagwe’s education system.

After speeches, I presented the primary school where we ran the program with a thank you gift. We gave them 335 notebooks, 255 pens and 80 pencils, which they will then give students they have identified as being in need and unable to buy their own school supplies. Our program couldn’t help all the local students, but I hope that in a small way this gift will help further the education of many students.

We then concluded the program by presenting our students with their certificates. We also gave each student a notebook, a pencil, a few colored pencils and a pencil sharpener. I hope that with these supplies the students can continue being creative and exploring the world around them, even though our first program has finished.

Afterward, the teachers and I were swamped with parents thanking us and expressing amazement at the success of our program. I don’t think I left until 2 hours after we officially ended because I was so busy talking and taking pictures. It was nice though because I was able to watch as each student happily walked out with a collection of their artwork and asked one last time if we could return again on Monday. I was also thrilled that several students requested to take home the beans that their group planted so they could continue watching them grow. I obviously said yes as I fought back tears. This program is turning me into a complete softie.

I honestly did not intend to write so much about the final party, but it really was a grand success.

After this party, I know that our parents will be spreading good news of the program to others, and they will be ready to reenroll their children come June. It is just even more motivation for us to plan the next syllabus, write those grants applications and do all the hard work required of us between now and June. Let’s be honest though, the work won’t really be that hard; not now that we know we’ll have 25 laughing, eager faces welcoming us back when we return for the next program.

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