Storytelling in Shirati

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Mambo! My name is Sarah Anderson. I am currently an undergraduate student, and last semester, I studied abroad on SIT’s Wildlife Conservation and Political Ecology program in Tanzania.When I first arrived in Tanzania in January, the short rains had not come yet. Ndarakwai, the ranch where my orientation took place, was in a serious drought. What I still very clearly remember from this time is the dust. I woke up with the taste of it in my mouth. It was always in my hair, and when I wiped my face, the cloth was red. We also saw the skeletons of animals who had likely died from thirst – a perfect zebra skeleton, a lion skull, a tiny bat, wings spread. I saw the drought in the ribs of the cattle being herded by the side of the road.

A few weeks later, our program went to Lake Manyara to study. In this park, there is a steady source of groundwater. There are streams and forests. It was lush and green, such a stark contrast to the water-deprived areas we had seen. I was struck by how radically water has the power to shape an ecosystem. I knew it was what I wanted to study. I had already witnessed the ecological effects of drought, but I wanted to know more about how this issue affects communities.

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At my home university, Colgate, I am a biology major and a creative writing minor. I have always been really passionate about writing and knew that I wanted to incorporate it into my project. How could I combine water and writing?

I decided on storytelling. In recent years, especially through podcasts like The Moth and Beautiful Anonymous and the Internet phenomenon Humans of New York, storytelling has been rising in popularity. Especially storytelling in activism. When people can connect a name and a personal story to an issue, they tend to care about it more. I am a huge fan of story-based organizations. I decided I wanted to do a project like that, a sort of StoryCorps Tanzania. I would conduct interviews with people about how access to water affects their life and then make a creative nonfiction piece out of them.

When I pitched this idea to my academic advisor, Maji Safi Group was immediately recommended. Over the years, Maji Safi Group has graciously hosted many an SIT student, and MSG’s work was a perfect fit for my idea.

Community Health Worker Lilian Kayuni handing out bananas to the children after they washed their hands.

Community Health Worker Lilian Kayuni handing out bananas to the children after they washed their hands.

On my first morning at the MSG office, I was a little bit nervous, not knowing what to expect. Upon arrival, I was immediately overwhelmed by the kindness and warm welcome I received from everyone I met. Over the next few weeks, I had the privilege of going along on all of MSG’s programs. One of my clearest memories is riding in the van and pulling up to a school for the Female Hygiene Program while hearing dozens of small voices excitedly screaming, “MAJI SAFI! MAJI SAFI!” I heard them again on the community outreach programs and pretty much everywhere we went after that. It was clear to me that Maji Safi Group holds a special place in the community.

During my project, I interviewed a variety of people throughout the community, each of whom MSG helped connect me with. I interviewed some of the Community Health Educators about their role as educators and also their experiences as community members; women in the surrounding rural communities; water carriers, whose job is to bike and deliver water from the hospital and from Lake Victoria to people’s homes; the former chair of the water committee; and fishermen.

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Click above to see MSG’s video about Shirati’s Watert Carriers

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Though my goal was to collect interesting and powerful stories, I was constantly taken aback by the intensity of the stories that I got. I knew that water was a critical issue in the region, but I do not think I had any idea of the depth and breadth of it until working with Maji Safi Group. Here are some of the stories that I heard. I think they are unforgettable, and I hope you will think so, too.

One educator told me about her experience gathering water as a teenager. For six years, she would wake up at 3 a.m. to collect water for her family before school started at 6 a.m. She did not complain about this at all, only admitting how difficult it was when I asked.

Another educator, when I asked her to tell me a story about water, told me a story she has witnessed through her work in the community: A woman has her period, and she needs water to wash, but her husband wants to take a shower and get his clothes washed. The Lake is far away, and she can only bring one bucket. By the time she uses water to wash herself and the clothes, there is not enough for his shower. “So he beats her,” she said, unflinching. The link between female hygiene and water is something I had not fully considered before my work with Maji Safi Group.

I interviewed a water carrier who was 21 years old, one year older than I am, and who worked 11 hours every day, from 6:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., biking with water. Each biker carriers five drums of water, 20 liters each, for a total of 100 liters. Such a load weighs 100 kg, or in total 220 pounds. Let that sink in. All day long, biking long distances with 220 pounds of water. The intense physical demands for this job are the reason why there are no female water carriers. I found this interesting, because in the home, it is traditionally exclusively a woman’s job to fetch water. However, the monetized equivalent of this work is only available to men.

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I interviewed a man who was a fisherman for many years. He only became a fisherman to earn money for his education and achieve his dream of finishing high school and then coming back to help his community. He and his older brother were divers on Lake Victoria. They would dive down and use nets to catch tilapia. When he was 19 and his brother was 22, his brother drowned. They both dove down together. He came back up to the surface, but his brother did not. He described it to me like this: “The loss destroyed everything.” After his brother died, he stopped fishing. Now, he is a community educator for Maji Safi Group.

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Some of my favorite interviews were with women who lived in the rural communities surrounding Shirati. Many of them walked into Kenya every day to get their water. The idea of having to cross a border into another country to get water was especially powerful to me. One woman walked about nine miles to get her water. Another, during times of drought when the nearby ponds were dried up, spent 12 hours per day getting water. Two hours to walk there, two hours to dig down until she hit groundwater to collect, and two hours to walk back. Twice a day. “When it’s dry, that’s all you do,” she said. “The whole day is just water.”

We also talked about what it is like to have your period during these times. You use just a little bit of water to wash yourself, so you do not smell, and you dump your clothes, she told me. “Do you still have to go and fetch the water?” I (somewhat stupidly) asked.

“There is no one else who will go,” she said.

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Sarah enjoying the sunset over Lake Victoria while in Shirati

Sometimes, these stories were hard to hear, but I think they are so important. In the United States, particularly on the East Coast where I have lived my entire life, water is a cheap and abundant resource. It is not something most people think about often. In Tanzania, it is something many people need to think about every single day and spend hours acquiring. It is difficult to imagine something so far outside of our own experiences, and this is why story sharing is critical.

During my time in Shirati, I was continuously amazed by the work that Maji Safi Group does – by the wide range of programs they run within the community to reach huge numbers of people, by the creativity of the programs, and by the commitment and passion of everyone working there. I had a lot of fun working with MSG, and it was an experience I will not soon forget.

I am so grateful to Maji Safi Group for supporting me throughout my project and connecting me to the community members. The work that they do every day is nothing short of inspiring. So, ASANTE SANA to Maji Safi Group! Ningependa kurudi tena.

 

Another Great CU WASH Symposium

Written by Bruce Pelz

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The Sustainability, Energy & Environment Complex at my alma matar was already filled with exciting displays and buzzing with participants when I arrived at the fifth annual Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) Symposium at the University of Colorado at Boulder last month. The passionate students at the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities are the organizers of this impressive and growing conference that is free to the public. In addition to great panel discussions, presentations, and breakout sessions, the WASH Symposium features delicious food, a wonderful reception, and the great tradition of a closing happy hour at a Boulder restaurant. It is exciting for Maji Safi Group (MSG) to have this two-day conference in our own backyard, enabling us to network and discuss changes in the WASH sector with highly qualified professionals from around the world! For me, it was two days of enjoyment and inspiration.

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Professor Beth Osnes and PhD student Chelsea Hackett after a training with the Community Health Educators in Shirati, Tanzania.

This year, Maji Safi Group was excited to facilitate one of the breakout sessions together with CU Associate Professor Beth Osnes. During the summer of 2016, Beth spent three weeks with Maji Safi Group in Shirati, Tanzania, where she shared her passion for using applied theatre as a tool for women’s empowerment with our Community Health Educators. At the WASH Symposium, we presented on Participatory Methods for Disseminating Vital WASH Health Messages and taught our audience how to create “cliff-hanger dramas” that catalyze community involvement in solving difficult dilemmas. It turned out that we had some fun and quite talented actors in the audience. Laughter and applause were plentiful when the four volunteers performed an impromptu skit that examined the dilemma of a married couple wanting to raise pigs on their property to gain income and status in the community, but doing so would pollute a valuable shared water source. It was a display of personal gain versus consciousness of community health at its finest.

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Community Health Educators Lilian Kayuni and Freddy Wawa along with Female Hygiene Expert Linda Arot performing a “cliff-hanger drama” about menstrual hygiene management on the radio in  Shirati, Tanzania.

Entertaining skits aside, the WASH Symposium once again provided a high level of discussion, making it impossible to include all the good takeaways in a single blog post. Here are my “10 biggest takeaways” – summarized and in no specific order:

  1. The panel on The Past Successes and Future Direction of WASH discussed indicators of successful programs and came up with these three common indicators of effectiveness:
    • Programs identify and mobilize the local stakeholders that can empower communities to change themselves.
    • Programs work together with the government and local partners towards a long-term vision and sustainable solution.
    • Programs build the capacity of local leaders and community members to facilitate getting people to pay for WASH products and services.
  2. Improved health is not always the main motivator for an individual to make behavioral changes; it is also very important to talk about gaining prestige in the community (as seen in the skit above).
  3. In behavioral change campaigns, it is vital to identify people’s determinants relative to their social position and income level and use these to identify their main motivations.
  4. Behavioral change is not only a question of knowledge, but also a supply chain issue. It is important for the private sector to get more involved in changing the global WASH crisis through making WASH products available and affordable.
  5. It is important for beneficiaries and supporters to visit successful projects and feel the impact personally, so they can properly advocate for models that achieve sustainable change in line with their mission.
  6. iDE’s model for marketing sanitation and combining Salesforce with streamlining supply chains for latrine construction in Southeast Asia was noteworthy. This market-driven approach is innovative and effective in making sanitation more available in developing countries.
  7. PLAN International’s presentation by Darren Saywell on the implementation of Community Lead Total Sanitation (CLTS) highlighted the importance of ‘natural leaders’ in creating effective changes in communities and making those changes sustainable.
  8. When teaching about sanitation, it is important to talk about defecation in a broader sense than individual behaviors. Without understanding the effect community-wide habits have on public health, one cannot properly advocate for sanitation and get people to make personal changes.
  9. Paul Nampy from Haiti’s Water and Sanitation Authority (DINEPA) had a great quote: “During disease outbreaks, you should think like a firefighter and target the most vulnerable areas with the most effective interventions.”
  10. It is very important that the WASH sector moves towards models of self-supply, because studies have shown that giving people free products and services is not sustainable. There is an ongoing debate on the effectiveness of subsidies for products and services in WASH.

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I would like to thank the organizing committee for their dedicated effort to bring WASH professionals and awareness to Colorado as well as the CU at Boulder Engineering School for supporting this annual gathering. Since I first attended this WASH Symposium in 2013, it has been amazing to see the improvements from year to year and the increased attendance. Maji Safi Group is very excited about attending again in March 2018, and we will continue to do our part in the collaborative effort of solving the global WASH crisis and preventing disease!

A Tribute to the Community Health Educator

 

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In January, I had the great pleasure of traveling with six pastors from the Mwanza region, who together comprise our water development committee, to Shirati to tour the Maji Safi Group.

Naturally, we were drawn to the impressive results of the Maji Safi Group, and upon arriving at the MSG office, we learned that the activities and programs are even broader than I imagined, and the impacts are seen beyond the Rorya District into the broader Mara Region. Simply put, I am not aware of any other WASH project in the entire Lake Zone of Tanzania making a comprehensive impact comparable to MSG’s.

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Impressive as the scale of Maji Safi Group is, our water committee was even more inspired by Community Health Educators Consolata and Jacob, who spent the morning with us. They gave an incredibly thorough summary of ways to improve health through hygiene and sanitation; they answered our questions with confidence and professionalism; and they gave countless practical suggestions about how to best communicate these lessons to others. When our committee learned that Consolata and Jacob were not health professionals, but rather were first volunteers who had later been trained by MSG, they were first surprised and then inspired that they could likewise rise to the challenge of promoting better sanitation and hygiene.

Though my primary objective was better sensitizing our water committee to WASH issues, they took away another valuable lesson that will impact their broader ministries. Consolata shattered gender stereotypes that are common amongst the Sukuma people, and our pastors left further convinced of the necessity of providing a voice to all people in their communities, lest we lose the contributions that can be made by someone like Consolata.

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Consolata teaching interactive health education during MSG’s After School Program

Upon leaving, we had time together to process the successes and setbacks of our past year, to reflect upon what we had learned from MSG, and to make plans for the upcoming year.  Surprisingly, each member of the committee felt challenged to first implement in their own households the sanitation and hygiene practices encouraged by Consolata and Jacob, then to develop lessons that can be taught in their communities around Mwanza. In fact, they prioritized sharing the lessons learned from MSG over adding new water well sites for the next year.

In my ten years of working in Tanzania, I have encountered numerous projects, but very few make a deep grassroots impact. The impact of most projects disappears once funding and experts leave the project behind. But the grassroots impact of MSG is remarkable; they are transforming people’s understanding, their practices, and their perspectives on the future. The welcoming spirit of MSG, as well as its wonderful people and methodologies, are now even impacting our communities here in Mwanza. We look forward to more opportunities to collaborate with and be challenged by the great work of Maji Safi Group!DSC_0406

Meet MSG’s new Public Health Advisor Linda Stamm

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Maji Safi Group (MSG) has been institutional partners with the Swiss organization INTERTEAM since 2014 and has benefited greatly from their Development Worker model. Their financial support has allowed us to expand our Female Hygiene Program and furthered MSG’s work administratively and artistically through the hard work of Development Workers Susan Waltisberg and Christoph Stultz. MSG would not be where we are today without INTERTEAM, and we are excited to continue our partnership with our newest Development Worker Linda Stamm!  

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Hello,

Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Linda Stamm. Since 2014, I have been living in Tanzania with my family while working as a development worker for the Swiss organization INTERTEAM. Since January 2017, I have been supporting Maji Safi Group (MSG) as a Public Health Advisor. I am married and the proud mother of a beautiful daughter. I am a professional Environmental Scientist with a research background in Public Health and tropical diseases. I finished my degrees by conducting a study on dust-related lung diseases in miners in Zambia and researching the impact of waterborne and water-related diseases on people living in Indian slums.

For two and a half years, I worked for a Malaria, Sanitation and Hygiene Project in Musoma, focusing on public health in general and WASH issues in particular. By the end of 2016, my family and I moved from Musoma to Shirati to officially work full time with Maji Safi Group. I had been working informally with MSG since 2015 by supporting them during health screenings, cholera outreach, and community events and by sharing work experiences. I am very excited to work for Maji Safi Group, and I hope to be able to support the entire organization in their fight to reduce waterborne and water-related diseases in the Mara Region of Tanzania.

Sincerely yours,

Linda

MSG sat down with Linda and asked her a few questions to give you further insight into her passion for improving health in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

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What motivates you to help prevent disease in rural areas of Tanzania?

During my first two years living and working in the field in and around Musoma, I could tell how low the educational and technical standards in Tanzania can be in terms of health and personal hygiene. New technologies for treating the most communicable diseases properly have yet to reach many rural areas here. Therefore, many people have no access to treatment and proper health care. Personally, I see it as even more important to focus on prevention methods. Community-based education on how to prevent the most dangerous diseases is much needed, so local people do not get sick, or if they do, they would know how to support each other and react properly and quickly. My strong educational background in Environmental Science, with a main research background in health and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), also makes me feel obligated to let my knowledge help for example the Tanzanian people improve the current local personal health and hygiene situation.

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What lessons did you learn at the Musoma Malaria, Sanitation and Hygiene Project that you will bring to MSG?

Before you head into the field, you usually examine the topic you will teach and plan in detail what supplies you are going to need and what activities you will do in the communities. But even the best planning and the best preparation won’t be enough if you don’t calculate the worst-case scenario you may encounter out there. You had better make sure you are fully equipped when you get there.

If you think something is unclear or not planned well, make sure to talk to each other openly as a team, so that no misunderstanding or mismanagement can occur.

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Linda helping to weigh a baby during a school health screening

With your husband working at the Shirati KMT Hospital and you working with MSG, how do you think your family can influence health in the Rorya District?

Rorya is a very rural area, and I have already mentioned that so far, not much technology or knowhow has reached this part of Tanzania. With his work at the Shirati KMT Hospital, my husband tries to improve the quality of health care for patients who needs medical support at the hospital. My work with Maji Safi Group will have a stronger focus on disease prevention and knowledge transfer in the communities – empowering people to improve their health and livelihood. After two years of living in Shirati as a family, we can hopefully say: Yes, our work has improved the health situation in the Rorya District.

What excites you about working in the MSG team?

I first heard about Maji Safi Group’s activities in Shirati two years ago. While living and working in Musoma, I became more and more familiar with MSG’s programs and activities due to its connection with my past Malaria, Hygiene and Sanitation Project at the Anglican Church of Tanzania. I got the chance to get involved with Maji Safi Group’s activities several times, e.g. during their Miss Maji Safi contest, their health screening campaign, and their cholera outreach in Musoma rural as well as on private occasions. So, I got a good picture of the great work Maji Safi Group is doing in Shirati and the Mara Region. That is why I feel very excited and honored to get to work with the famous Maji Safi Group ‘mabalozi’ (Community Health Educators) for the next two years fighting waterborne and water-related diseases. I also believe that my educational background supports Maji Safi Group’s work in Tanzania, so we together can improve the current hygiene and health situation in this rural area.Mabalozi (1)

Hapana Means No

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“HAPANA!” she shouts loudly and clearly, makes a lunge, raises her hands, stays in fighting position and stares straight into her counterpart’s eyes. This scene takes place in the community room of the Maji Safi Group (MSG) office in Shirati, and Modesta’s counterpart is a friend of hers and fellow participant in the self-defense class MSG now offers. They are part of a team of 10-15 young women that train twice a week.

 

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Modesta outside the training

You have to know that saying NO (hapana in Swahili) is really important. Not long ago, a woman who sold airtime for cell phones was kidnapped in broad daylight and found abandoned, dressed in only her underwear. “Our trainers have told us from the beginning of the program that the first and most important thing for us to do is to get attention from people, as they may help us if we are in danger. If I get kidnapped at any time, there will not be people who do not know about it!” Modesta explains. She is 24 years old and lives in Shirati with her husband and two children – six and one-year-old girls.

I like this training with the other women very much. Thanks to all the push-ups and sit-ups, my personal level of fitness has already increased a lot. My husband agrees that I should take part in this program. That should not be taken for granted, and I am really thankful for his support. I also have become more self-confident – and I would like to start working somewhere soon. For sure, there are negative reactions; some people think that self-defense and things like that are not for women. But I do not care what others say.” The trainings are exclusively for women, and both trainers are women from Shirati. Besides running the self-defense classes, the trainers are full-time Community Health Educators who teach the community members about disease prevention.

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“For many generations, Tanzanian women have been taught that we are subordinate to men and that we do not have the right to raise our voices. That’s why so many women talk in a low voice – except there are some women who raise their voices at their children.” Modesta laughs with her eyes sparkling. “But I think society is about to change, young women study at universities, work and want to be equal to men. In the cities, this process of change will take place faster than in remote villages. That’s for sure. But if we learn how to generate attention, and if we know our values and defend these values, we will be able to achieve a better future for our daughters. They won’t feel uncomfortable any more walking home alone after sunset. They will say NO if male teachers want to touch them. They will defend themselves if men try to force them against their will.”

Modesta is one woman amongst many – women who will influence and change the future of their country.

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Wandering Back to Shirati

Hello everyone! Guess who is back? Yup, you got it! Dorothy is back with Maji Safi Group! After a year back in the States finishing my Master’s in Public Health, I’ve wandered my way back to Shirati!Obw8smll

Let’s jump right into what I’ve been working on! I was fortunate enough to be able to help with the second annual health screenings that took place in July-August of this year. In case you don’t remember, last year, MSG screened over 3,000 primary school students and community members for common water-related diseases, including amoeba, intestinal worms, schistosomiasis, malaria, and urinary tract infections. Data analysis revealed that water-related diseases were common afflictions among Shirati residents with 81% testing positive for at least one. Of those who tested positive, 100% of consenting participants received all treatments free of charge!

Students at Obwere Primary School lining up to be registered for screenings.

This year, MSG expanded the reach of its health-screening program and screened over 5,000 students and community members for the same common water-related diseases. With support from the Tanzanian government, MSG was able to offer more malaria testing and treatment. Preliminary results indicate that 21% of those tested for malaria tested positive; however, a detailed report of all prevalence rates will be available following completion of the data entry and analysis. Just like last year, MSG gave all consenting participants treatment free of charge!

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Dorothy working with Community Health Educator Mwamvua Saba during the Female Hygiene Vocal Empowerment performance.

Additional news – I am currently involved in planning the expansion of the Female Hygiene Program! MSG’s Female Hygiene Program focuses on educating young women, ages 11-18, about female hygiene, health, and puberty. These young women receive instruction in schools and at the MSG office. Their meetings are not only educational, they also provide the young girls with an opportunity to share stories and seek advice from their mentors. The young women also get to showcase their new knowledge through interactive public community events such as the Vocal Empowerment Event, Miss Maji Safi, and Dining for Female Hygiene (keep your eyes open for upcoming details about these last two events in the next three months)!

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Young women doing a skit on menstrual hygiene management at a performance for their peers.

In order for MSG’s interactive lifesaving health education to reach more young women, we plan to increase the number of schools where we teach the female hygiene curriculum, increase the number of radio shows airing per month about female hygiene issues, and paint female hygiene murals at additional schools. To further ensure that as many young women as possible get the opportunity to learn about female hygiene issues, we also plan to begin a vocational training program for young women to learn how to make reusable menstrual pads to be sold in Shirati! As you can see, there’s A LOT of work to be done, and I look forward to continuing this journey with Maji Safi Group!

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An example of a Maji Safi Group educational mural at Tina’s Education Center.

CASEY MIDDLE SCHOOL STUDENTS RAISE MONEY FOR ARBORLOO TOILETS

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“I thought that the Maji Safi project was hard in some places, but it was extremely fun and rewarding to know that we are helping kids in Africa.” – Finn Leland – Casey Student

In Boulder, Colorado, we love our bluebird days, but they are not all we care about. In Lester Lurie’s leadership class at Casey Middle School, the students’ attention is on improvement projects – PIPs (Personal Improvement Projects), CIPS (Casey Improvement Projects, BIPS (Boulder Improvement Projects) and GIPS (Global Improvement Projects). In this semester-long class, that meets five days a week, the students learn about leadership and making the world a better place. If they choose to do a GIP, they have the opportunity to work with Maji Safi Group as part of our ‘Young Global Citizen’ program. Under our tutelage, the students learn about social responsibility, spreading awareness of global issues, and Maji Safi Group’s work in rural Tanzania.

During the fall semester, we had the pleasure of working with six enthusiastic sixth graders. Following a presentation about Maji Safi Group’s work model and the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) issues we address in the remote and impoverished area of Shirati, the students chose to focus on sanitation. In Shirati, many people still practice open defecation, as they do not have adequate latrines. Having to resort to this practice takes away people’s dignity and severely jeopardizes public health.

“Maji Safi was so much fun! It gave us a chance to work with new people and our community. It felt very good raising money and helping out people in Tanzania. It was so much fun!” – Zoey Zimmerman – Casey Student

As our enthusiastic sixth graders researched sanitation issues, they learned about arborloo toilets and decided to raise money for Maji Safi Group to carry out an arborloo pilot project in Shirati.

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An Arborloo Toilet is a simple and ecological type of composting toilet, consisting of a ring beam to protect the pit, a pit, a small concrete slab (i.e. 4’x4’) and a structure for providing privacy. The owner digs a pit 3-5 feet deep and covers it with the concrete slab and the privacy structure. When the pit is full, the privacy structure and slab are moved to a new pit, and a fruit tree is planted in the now very fertile soil of the old one. By using the nutrient-rich soil of a retired pit, the arborloo toilet in effect treats feces as a resource rather than a waste product, addresses sanitation needs, and provides increased crop output. It is a win-win situation!

Our sixth graders approached their fundraising efforts in two ways:

  1. They made beautifully colored and scented soap and sold it to friends, families, and neighbors.
  2. They ran a crowdfunding campaign on the popular site GoFundMe.

 

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 Casey leadership students wrapping soap to sell to friends and family in the Boulder area.

At the end of the semester, our Casey GIP students had raised an impressive $800 – enough to help two schools in Shirati gain dignity and safe sanitation! With participatory input from our Community Health Workers, Maji Safi Group’s in-country staff is excited to develop and pilot an arborloo project in 2016.

Thumbs up for our young global citizens in Boulder!

“I loved how we were able to help a place and a cause so far away, but we got to do it in our own community.” – Grace Vega –  Casey Student

#GivingTuesday 2015- the #UNSelfie Movement

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Happy #GivingTuesday! Today is the fourth annual global giving event to counteract Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #GivingTuesday challenges individuals and communities to make the world a better place through generosity. Last year, over 45 million dollars were donated on #GivingTuesday! The simple act of giving not only helps others, but also nourishes a generous community spirit.

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Community Health Worker Judith Mbache taking a female student to collect urine and stool samples for the laboratory.

This year, Maji Safi Group is raising money for our 2016 Health Screening Program that will test participants for four common waterborne and water-related diseases. For only $3.30 per person, you can give Maji Safi Group’s participants the #GiftofHealth this holiday season! Health is our greatest wealth, and by preventing disease, people are better able to reach their full potential and improve their communities.

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Join the #UNselfie global community and donate to Maji Safi Group today for #GivingTuesday! Click the donate button to contribute via PayPal from our website!

 

Celebrating Global Handwashing Day Maji Safi Group Style

Global Handwashing Day comes around every year on October 15 to raise awareness of hand washing as a key approach to disease prevention; I have had the pleasure of celebrating it with Maji Safi Group (MSG) since 2013.

I joined Maji Safi Group as a practicum student in January of 2013 during my final semester of graduate school at Washington University. At that time, MSG had only been an organization for six months, but it was already filled with a sense of excitement, potential for growth, and the desire to facilitate community change. While I was a newcomer to Shirati and Tanzania, I had experience studying and working in Madagascar and Kenya. These experiences got me interested in sustainable and participatory community development in East Africa. During my semester with MSG, I worked alongside an amazing team of intelligent and creative go-getters who have an incredible passion for public health, WASH, sustainable community development, and women’s empowerment. Creating a healthy community is always at the center of everything MSG does – from program planning to program development, from implementation to evaluation.

When I returned to St. Louis, I worked on developing MSG’s US operations, and one of my first tasks was to celebrate Global Handwashing Day (GHD) 2013. We successfully collaborated with 10 international partners in spreading awareness of the importance of hand washing to prevent waterborne and water-related diseases. We partnered with amazing organizations like the Nepal Children’s Art Museum in Kathmandu who painted large hand washing murals.

This year, Global Handwashing Day was even more exciting for me as I, for the first time in my new role as the Tanzania Director of Operations, was able to help plan, carry out, and see the Shirati celebration in person. The celebration made it evident that over the past three years, MSG has grown into an organization that the Shirati community trusts and respects. Every day, the MSG Community Health Workers work tirelessly to teach their community about disease prevention through proper WASH methods, and it has been absolutely amazing to see the impact MSG has had in the Shirati community since my time as a practicum student. Children are singing songs about washing hands and stopping open defecation; adults are buying and using ceramic water filters and building toilets; the local government requested MSG’s assistance during a cholera outbreak; community members have received health screenings with treatment and prevention lessons; and the children eagerly await Maji Safi Group’s annual Global Handwashing Day event.

The day started off with our Community Health Workers splitting up and going to three different primary schools. By using songs, demonstrations, and coloring sheets, they taught approximately 1,400 students ages 6-16 how to properly wash their hands. Each student was then able to practice hand washing, ask questions, and sing MSG songs. I joined the Community Health Workers at Tina’s Educational Center. The children were enthusiastically awaiting the Maji Safi Group car. Once we arrived, they gathered around the CHWs and listened to the hand washing lesson. Several of the students have participated in MSG’s After School Program for a couple of years and proudly answered the questions about hand washing. The most memorable part of the school visit was the children singing our Maji Safi Group songs. When the CHWs started singing about the importance of hand washing, the children instantly recognized the songs and dances and joined in while laughing and smiling.

Meanwhile, our Community Art Coordinator (CAC) had decorated the MSG office for the afternoon celebration. Children from all over the Shirati community came to the office to learn about and practice hand washing, get their faces painted, play cards, and color disease prevention handouts. Students from our Female Hygiene Program and Singing and Dance Group performed original songs and dances about the eight steps of hand washing and how using soap and hot water prevents diseases. The Community Health Workers suggested that I work at the face painting station with the CAC. The line was long, but the interest level for learning and playing never dwindled. I enjoyed painting kids’ faces and seeing how happy they were when they were finished. They would proudly show their friends and then run out to the next fun and educational activity.

The day was a huge success and ended with a dance party as well as all the children washing their hands and enjoying a banana. I decided to join the mob of children and dance alongside them. They taught me how to do the kiduku (a local dance). Although, I must say that they danced much better than I, fun was had by all. By the end of the day, Maji Safi Group had reached over 1,850 Shirati community members.

For me, this year’s Global Handwashing Day in Shirati, Tanzania, was a great illustration of the important work Maji Safi Group does every day: fighting waterborne and water-related diseases with proper WASH methods and encouraging community members to be public health change makers. It is inspiring to watch Maji Safi Group gain momentum and Shirati get one step closer to being a healthy community every day.

One Year with Maji Safi Group

Tanzanian Experiences

Susan carrying water on her head

Susan carrying water on her head

It is hard to believe that I have already lived in Shirati and worked for Maji Safi Group as their Administrative Advisor for one year. It feels like I have been here for a long, long time, but also as if I just arrived – a strange feeling. The other day, I was watching a video that development worker Christoph Stulz from INTERTEAM recorded when I first arrived at the office. Someone had written on the whiteboard “Welcome home”.  Now, Maji Safi Group in Shirati, Tanzania, really is home.

Busy days working in rural Tanzania

Sometimes, I still struggle with the language; however, I am able to handle daily business and support my co-workers in Swahili. After a few special projects, like our cholera intervention campaign and Maji Safi Group’s first health screenings, we are currently running our programs as planned.

During these special projects, I had the chance to support our Community Health Workers in their daily business, and I learned a lot about disease prevention and WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene) from them. I am deeply impressed with Maji Safi Group’s Community Health Workers, who are not only experts in WASH knowledge, but also know a variety of teaching methods and continue to improve. All of them are able to teach the lessons to many different audiences – families, large groups of students, or government officials. They are patient and able to motivate their audiences to take part in the lessons. At the office in Shirati, we work together in a friendly, cooperative atmosphere with great motivation.

Susan registering Health Screening participants

Susan registering Health Screening participants

Since Hellen Mitwa started as our Program Manager in July, I have been able to focus more on organizational tasks, which has all along been the intended purpose of my stay with MSG. However, even though there were many different, unplanned tasks on my list during this first year, we have made improvements to the organization: Program Coordinators are now able to make budgets for their programs and write proper requests for money, and the Community Health Workers have a basic knowledge of planning and budgeting events and know our accounting system.

Susan working with the Community Health Workers on planning events

Susan working with the Community Health Workers on planning events

We, the management team, established and implemented a new accounting system with new accounting software that is set up, so it will pass Tanzanian auditing. I have had to learn a lot about accounting myself, as the “Tanzanian way” of bookkeeping is completely different from everything I knew back in Switzerland. The system is completely paper-based, and every single transaction needs several forms with two to three signatures on it.

Currently, I am supporting Helen Mitwa in her new role as Program Manager while she learns her daily business. Additionally, I am helping the MSG management with its recent transition to having Emily Bull instead of Bruce Pelz as the Director of Operations. In a very short time, Emily has found her place in the team and taken over the tasks of the Director of Operations, and it is astounding how quickly she is learning Swahili. For sure, we really miss Bruce here in Shirati, but we are very happy to have Emily in Tanzania while Bruce is able to do great work for the organization in the US.

During this transition period, I have started to focus on two important work tasks, which I started last year: an HR (Human Resources) handbook for all employees of MSG and an organizational manual for the company. These documents will make it easier to organize our daily work. Additionally, we will continue to teach our staff about various items like how to write grant proposals, how to use the monitoring, evaluation and reporting systems, and how to make budget requests.

Susan working with Health Screening participants

Susan working with Health Screening participants

One of my favorite tasks is taking pictures of MSG’s activities: events, daily business, team events, etc. Because Christoph Stulz, INTERTEAM photographer and videographer, is not always available, we use these photos for social media and documentation purposes. That is also the reason why you usually do not see me in MSG photos.

Challenges

Working, as well as living, in rural Tanzania requires a special talent I quickly had to bring to my professional work: improvisation. Unforeseen circumstances are simply part of life here. There were times when stakeholders did not show up to meetings or events, because the car or bus they had planned to travel with was not available. Sometimes, there was no electricity for a long time, so we could not charge the phones we needed for the hotline at the office. There were other times where there was no water delivered to the office because of illness, or I needed to fix something, but the parts were not available. Being patient can be a big challenge for me. However, now I am much more creative in finding solutions than I was in Switzerland, and I usually have a plan B in mind before I even start with plan A.

Susan working during World Water Week

Susan working during World Water Week

Another challenge is creating weekly work schedules despite absences. Not only the citizens of Shirati, but also our Community Health Workers suffer from several diseases due to the environment, and there are absences because of sick children at home or funerals of close relatives. In other words, as we are working for and with vulnerable groups, we have to deal with a lot of their personal challenges in our daily work. It is most impressive how the Maji Safi Group team transcends these challenges and creates such a welcoming, friendly, and motivated atmosphere at work.

Being a member of the community

Susan cooking for a funeral

Susan cooking for a funeral

Besides the good spirit we have within Maji Safi Group while we do our work, I have already had many chances to spend time with my co-workers at parties or team events. We always have a great time, and I am glad that the women taught me how to dance, because sometimes I am invited to weddings or family parties with friends in my spare time. During the first year of my stay, I attended three funerals in my landlady’s family. I worked with the other women to prepare and serve food for 400-500 guests. The funerals took place on farms, so we were preparing and cooking food outside on open fires. Did you know that the meat of a cow is extremely tender if you eat it about one hour after slaughtering the animal?

My social life is also filled with work, as I also sit together with the women from the neighborhood if there are huge piles of manioc to peel. These are the times for chitchatting, laughing, and learning. I get deeply into the village life. As you can see, even if I spend a lot of time working for Maji Safi Group, there is still time to make friends and meet people from Shirati. In general, the people I meet are very friendly and interested in getting to know me and have a lot of questions about living in Europe. In return, they seem never to get tired of all my questions about the Luo culture of the region. We laugh together when our points of view are extremely different, and many are open to learning from each other.

Susan with her Shirati family

Susan with her Shirati family

I guess Shirati has already changed me. You learn so quickly how to deal with all the problems and sad things that happen from time to time. Many people die young and from diseases that no longer exist in Europe or America. Friends and co-workers get really sick and suffer while recovering. People are really struggling to have a good life, but we sit together, share what we have, tell stories, and enjoy each other’s company. I am happy and thankful to have the chance to be here, and I am looking forward to having all the experiences awaiting me become memories for a lifetime. What do I miss? Sometimes my friends I have left behind, for sure. And some food I cannot get here. That’s it – kweli!

Susan Waltisberg