Mambo, mambo! Melissa and Eli here! We are both social work students at Washington University in St. Louis, but we will be spending our summer in Shirati working with Maji Safi Group (MSG). We arrived in Shirati two weeks ago, and within our short time here, we have already experienced so much! Initially, we arrived with a cohort of 10 other students from our university and partnered with MSG staff to study participatory methods of community development. Right from the start, we felt so welcomed by the community health educators! On the very first day, they sang us a welcome song and played some fun icebreakers with us. MSG staff took the initiative to greet us individually and tell us how happy they were to have us here in Shirati.
During the first week, we primarily focused on using participatory tools. We were highly impressed with the way the MSG staff picked up on these complex facilitation techniques and everything else throughout the whole process. We also had the opportunity to learn so much about both Shirati and St. Louis. At the wrap-up of the week, each student was paired with an MSG community health educator to spend the entire weekend at their homes and with their families. From what we heard from our classmates, everyone had an incredible time during their homestays and engaged in very unique experiences. Some classmates went out fishing on Lake Victoria, others fetched water, cooked, and even medically treated a cow – don’t worry, she is a vet! The best part of this experience, however, was coming back to class the following Monday and witnessing the relationships we had built and how close and comfortable we had become with one another.
The second week, our real work got started! We broke into facilitation teams, made up of both Maji Staff Group staff and students, and ventured out to five different fishing communities around Lake Victoria. The communities where we conducted these practices were Minigo (also known as Mombasa), Kanga, Sota, Busurwa, and Masonga. Although each place was very different and had its own set of issues, we were able to identify common problems in all five villages. Through the participatory exercises, we were able to discover that concerns surrounding access to clean water, treatment of various diseases, and sanitation practices were major challenges in all communities. This was an excellent opportunity for Maji Safi Group to begin to map out ideas on how to bring their programs, which focus heavily on health education, to these communities as a means to meeting their needs. Our week ended with a celebratory party during which all MSG staff members were presented with certificates acknowledging their progress in learning about participatory development, gifts were exchanged, and lots of dancing took place! Even though we are sad to say goodbye to our instructors and classmates, we are looking forward to continuing our work with each of these communities because the truth is, that there is still so much more to do and uncover, and we are just getting started! Stay tuned for more stories throughout the summer….
Eli & Melissa