“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.

Screen Shot 2016-01-22 at 11.13.38 AMArborloo Video Link

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.


Casey Soap

 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


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.


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.

#GT Facebook 1

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.


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

Shirati’s Got Talent

Maji Safi Group's first ever Shirati's Got Talent!

Maji Safi Group’s first ever Shirati’s Got Talent!

The Maji Safi Group (MSG) team came up with the idea of “Shirati Wanavipaji” (“Shirati’s Got Talent”) as a community empowerment tool to draw attention to public health and disease prevention issues, while simultaneously bringing out pride in the immense talents the Shirati community has! After discussing the feasibility of the idea for over a year, MSG started the competition with a bang on February 7. Auditions drew more than 35 individuals and groups, including some of the more prominent singers and dance groups in Shirati. Hundreds of children were at the office that day trying to get a sneak peak of who would be the lucky 10 chosen to advance. To try out, all you had to do was receive four different Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) lessons from the MSG Community Health Workers (CHWs). This method gave us participants as young as seven and as old as 35.

After the judges had selected the 10 semifinalists, it was time for MSG to start preparing for our Valentine’s Day semifinal event – buy decorations, organize the songs each competitor was going to use, borrow a generator from a hospital guard, send someone to cut wooden poles for the stage area, check the sound system, etc. Additionally, our CHWs were busy finishing preparations with participants from our Female Hygiene Program and our Singing and Dance Group for their performances. When Valentine’s Day came around, we were excited to invite the community to check out this new and one-of-a-kind event in the Rorya District.

All competitors were on time and charged for the semifinals, and they did not disappoint in front of a crowd of more than seven hundred people. The show had an electric vibe with more and more community members continually trickling in throughout the show. In addition to their artistic performances, all participants had to give answers to questions about WASH, which the judges also factored in. The highlight of the show was an original song written by 12-year-old MSG Female Hygiene Program participant Joyce Thomas about the importance of staying in school. The song brought support and cheers from numerous women in the community! The judges, Susan Waltisberg and Consolata Ladis from MSG, Paulo Masweta from the local radio station, and community favorite Fred Chacha, had some very difficult decisions to make, but they were able to select the five finalists who would be performing at the Shirati Market on Monday, February 16, 2015 – competing for 215,000 Tanzanian shillings ($135). After a Valentine’s Day community dance party with the competitors, the semifinals had everyone leaving the MSG office with smiles on their faces and collective community pride in their hearts.

With the quick turn-around of only one day, the MSG team quickly shifted its focus to organizing the finals, which we anticipated would be our biggest event ever. The CHWs used the morning of the finals to promote the event by driving around Shirati with a public announcement system and by visiting market goers and teaching them about WASH and disease prevention. Meanwhile, the stage was being set, and the judges were arriving from the local radio and partner organizations for the inaugural finals starting at 4 p.m.

Community Health Worker, Diana Nguka, performing a Maji Safi Group original song

Community Health Worker, Diana Nguka, performing a Maji Safi Group original song

Once the finals started, over 1,200 community members came together to watch each finalist perform an individual and a Maji Safi Group-themed piece and answer two questions about WASH in front of a very enthusiastic crowd. The message of preventing disease and improving Shirati’s public health situation went hand in hand with celebrating local talents. With his stand out Maji Safi Group-themed performance, Double A brought the crowd to the point where community members were running onto the stage to give him tips. After much deliberation, the judges chose Double A as the proud winner of the first ever “Shirati Wanavipaji”!

“Shirati Wanavipaji” was a huge success for MSG. We were thrilled to have such great support from the community and to see that the MSG team’s innovative idea worked. Maji Safi Group is proud to be the only organization in the Rorya District that puts on events that provide a stage for local talent to bring awareness to public health issues! We look forward to making “Shirati Wanavipaji” an annual celebration of community talent that helps build momentum around MSG’s mission of preventing disease and promoting a healthy lifestyle.

A Practical Health Screening Experience

Hello! Dorothy and Michelle here!


Dorothy recently updated you on the health screenings that MSG has been working to implement over these past couple of months. Since the last update, we have hit the ground running and have tested and treated over 2,800 participants so far from MSG’s Home Visit, Singing and Dance, Female Hygiene, and After School Programs and new community members! This week we will wrap up the health screenings with our last school where we hope to see approximately 350 more people.

On our first day of health screenings we decided to trial run the program with our own Community Health Workers and their families. On that day, we saw 96 people in just over seven hours. Last Thursday, we screened 330 people in the same amount of time…you could say we’ve gotten pretty good at this.


A typical day for our health screenings starts before the break of dawn when we start moving equipment and medicine needed for the screenings, as well as transporting over 30 staff members who conduct the screenings. After all 9 stations are set up and ready, participants start the process at the registration table where one of our Community Health Workers registers the participant and any of their dependents. It is at this station ID numbers are assigned and urine and stool specimen containers are distributed. These containers are a centrifuge tube and matchbox, respectively. After registration, each participant is weighed and measured and may receive a Malaria Rapid Diagnostic Test. At this time, Maji Safi Group is not screening everyone for malaria due to a lack of funding, but instead is gathering baseline data on infection rates in the surrounding communities using a random sample from our participants. In the coming years, MSG hopes to work with the government and find partners to support the screening and treatment of all our participants for malaria.

Some children just don't like being weighed.

Some children just don’t like being weighed!


Participant gets blood drawn for a Malaria Rapid Test.


CHW Mereciana explains how to give urine and stool samples for the lab.

Next, the participants go to the bathroom to produce their urine and stool samples, which are examined by the lab technicians. All lab technicians, nurses, and clinicians that work with MSG are government employed and have come from the surrounding hospitals and clinics.

While the program participants wait outside, the lab technicians are hard at work analyzing every sample that comes in using a centrifuge and microscope. Lab attendants ensure that samples are not mixed up and that results are recorded properly. The participants are then called up to the clinician station, told their test results, and if sick, receive a prescription to be filled at the nursing station nearby. The nurses meet with each participant, pack the medication, and hand out medicine and a disease information sheet for the participant to take home. These sheets are full of helpful information that teach the participant about their treatment, as well as how to prevent getting each disease again.

Any participant diagnosed with Schistosomiasis (or Bilharzia) receives treatment on site after drinking a cup of uji (porridge), which is given to help reduce the side effects of the medication. Similarly, all children under five receive intestinal worm medication on site in syrup form.

CHW Jacob gives a participant worm medication.

CHW Jacob gives a participant worm medication.

When planning for this program, we talked with several doctors on MSG’s Board of Directors that recommended we treat everyone for intestinal worms regardless of whether they test negative or positive, since it is a widely accepted as being an effective intervention. Therefore, anyone under five takes the aforementioned syrup, while those who are six years and older get tablets to take at home. Finally, after receiving their medication and drinking uji (porridge), the participants are free to return home and begin their treatment.

Michelle and Dorothy taking GPS points at one of the schools.

Michelle and Dorothy taking GPS points at one of the schools.

Each health screening day is very full and exhausting, but is also so fun and a very rewarding educational experience for both of us. From planning all the way to implementation, we have been able to get firsthand experience of what it takes to create a successful participatory program that intersects both the public health and social work fields. While neither of us will be in Shirati for the completion of the program, we hope to be able to continue our work with MSG back in America by helping with the evaluation process. We have already collected GPS coordinates of the surrounding villages where MSG’s program participants live. These coordinates will be used in conjunction with the health screening data to help MSG understand disease prevalence rates by location and will impact how MSG tailors their WASH education in the future.


Community Art Coordinator Jacky shares a laugh with a participant.

With only a few days left in Shirati, we have been able to reflect on our time here these past 10 weeks. We are so thankful for all of the experiences we have had and memories that we have made while here. Leaving will be very bittersweet for us. We are sad to leave our new friends here, but are looking forward to the next chapter in our school careers. Shirati, you will see us again very soon (hopefully)!

Public Health Practicum Experience

Master of Public Health Practicum student, Dorothy

Master of Public Health Practicum student, Dorothy

Hujambo! My name is Dorothy Ochieng and I am a Global Health Master’s in Public Health student from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis. I have been in Shirati, Tanzania since May 22, 2015. I was first introduced to the Maji Safi Group (MSG) leadership team, Max Perel-Slater, Bruce Pelz, and Emily Bull, by Maria Kenney, an alumni of the Brown School and former practicum student with MSG. MSG is a disease prevention and health promotion organization located in the rural fishing and agricultural town of Shirati, close to the border of Tanzania and Kenya. They employ local Community Health Workers to educate the community about proper water treatment and prevention of common water-related diseases through different interactive programs.

Maji Safi Group Afterschool Program

Maji Safi Group Afterschool Program

Upon meeting with Max and Emily late last year, I was informed that MSG has been interested in performing health screenings to detect and treat common water-related diseases that affect current program participants, such as bilharzia, intestinal worms, amoeba, malaria, typhoid, and urinary tract infections. The screenings will allow MSG to track whether their health education leads to a reduction in disease rates within their target populations.  Since certain program participants have received health education pertaining to water sanitation and prevention of water-related diseases and others have not, the comparison of the disease rates between the two groups will be very useful in guiding future MSG educational programs. The goal of the MSG health screenings will be to screen and treat current and future Maji Safi Group program participants for the above mentioned water-related diseases. With my nursing background, I thought this project would be a very interesting experience and I jumped on board!

Lake Victoria

Lake Victoria

Since my arrival here, we have hit the ground running with implementing the health screenings.  In fact, on my second day of my practicum experience in Shirati, Max and I met with the Malaria Hygiene and Sanitation Project in the nearby town of Musoma (nearby as in a two hour drive away) to learn the steps we would need to take to create and run successful health screenings.  We were able to meet with the leaders of the organization and received helpful information about how to conduct well-planned and effective screenings.  This advice included which authorities to contact, how to involve the government, and how to deal with budgeting issues. We were also able to shadow their team the following day to see them in action performing health screenings at a school located in rural Musoma.

Currently, we are still in the planning phase for the health screenings. Letters to the District Medical and Education Officers have been sent informing and requesting assistance with the health screenings. We have heard back from both authorities which are overwhelmingly on board with the screenings. We have also moved forward with speaking with village leaders and headmasters of schools, purchasing medications, training the Community Health Workers, figuring out logistical issues, and so much more!

Oh, and did I mention we intend to screen about 4,600 individuals? All but about 384 will be children and adults that already participate in various MSG programs such as the Afterschool, Female Hygiene, and Singing and Dance Programs. It will be interesting to compare results from the existing program participants with the new individuals; this will allow us to learn the effectiveness of our education programs.

Afterschool Program

Afterschool Program

In addition to working on the health screenings, I get to interact daily with various MSG programs that the Community Health Workers are involved with, such as attending the Disease Prevention Center at the hospital, the Afterschool Program, Home Visit Program, store visits, and the Female Hygiene Program. I have seen how each of these programs educate the Shirati community about the importance of practicing good water, sanitation, and hygiene behaviors to prevent water-related diseases using creative and culturally relevant materials.

Maji Safi Group Outreach Program

Maji Safi Group Outreach Program

Outside of MSG, my practicum supervisor, Dr. Chirangi, is the Chief Medical Officer at the Rorya District Hospital and has been very generous in allowing me to watch interesting surgeries at the hospital! So far, I have watched simple operations such as removing a benign arm abscess, to more complicated procedures such as an emergency C-Section.

Washington University Brown School of Social Work practicum students Dorothy (left) and Michelle (right)

Washington University Brown School of Social Work practicum students Dorothy (left) and Michelle (right)

I look forward to the next several weeks as the health screenings unfold and the MSG programs progress. There is a lot of work still to be done, but the opportunity to participate in the planning, implementation, and evaluation of such a huge project is very rewarding and exciting!

The 2015 Maji Safi Read-a-thon

A Win-Win Situation

Second grader Lauren Ridgway

Second grader Lauren Ridgway

For the third year in a row, Maji Safi Group teamed up with the Wildcat Student Council and students at Whittier International School in Boulder to run our annual Maji Safi Read-a-thon – and what a success! The Read-a-thon is truly a win-win situation. The students find sponsors who pay them for reading books at their current literacy level, so the children greatly improve their reading skills, and the money helps Maji Safi Group run its on-the-ground programs in the remote and impoverished area of Shirati, Tanzania. In addition, the project helps children grow up with a sense of social responsibility and the desire to help those in need through personal effort. We call them Maji Safi Group’s ‘Young Global Citizens’. With support from Whittier’s principal, Sarah Oswick, and the teachers, the annual Maji Safi Read-a-thon is becoming an increasingly popular Whittier tradition with both students and parents.

Once I watched the video about how kids in rural Tanzania have to miss school sometimes to gather water, which often isn’t even clean, I knew I wanted to do something to help out. I love to read and was really happy to raise money for the Maji Safi Group to support the work they do.
— Logan S., 2nd grade

Whittier International School

Since 1882, Whittier has provided quality education to the children in the heart of Boulder. With its International Baccalaureate Primary Years Program, it has an international focus and serves students from more than 20 countries. Led by former Whittier teacher John LeClair and kindergarten teacher Megan Proctor, the Wildcat Student Council is a force to be reckoned with.

Every other Wednesday at 7:15 a.m., the students meet to tirelessly pursue their four goals:

  1. Take action in the world to help people in other countries.
  2. Take action in our community to help others who live in the Whittier community and the City of Boulder.
  3. Take action to help save endangered animals and their habitats.
  4. Take action in our school and inspire a feeling of community and happiness.

For the 2015 Maji Safi Read-a-thon, Student Council members debated, voted, made posters, made announcement on the school speakers, and read books to pursue their first goal with gusto.

This Read-a-thon really got Alakai encouraged to read to and for us. 

– Parent-Amber Garst

John LeClair

John LeClair and Bruce Pelz at Halloween in 1994.

John LeClair and Bruce Pelz at Halloween in 1994.

John LeClair is an amazing educator who taught elementary school students academic skills, personal and social responsibility, and a love of life, literature, music and art at a level I wish all children would have the chance to experience at an early age. Bruce Pelz, co-founder of Maji Safi Group, had John LeClair in first and second grade. For years, John enthralled his students on a daily basis, not least at Halloween when he came up with amazing costumes to entertain his students. Now retired, John LeClair continues to run Homework Club and Student Council at Whittier on a volunteer basis. A true giver with a huge heart – always has been, always will be.



The Results

This year was the most successful Read-a-thon ever at Whittier in terms of participation, books read, and money raised. The reading logs were abundant, and the sponsors were generous!

Participants: 58
Books read: 750
Money raised: $5,191.60
Most books read by one student: 98 (kindergarten)
Most pages read by one student: 4,790 (fourth grade)

Reading log

Reading log

It is worth noticing that we have two kinds of sponsors. Most students find personal sponsors – typically, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles, family friends, neighbors – but we also have our ‘outside sponsors’ who sponsor the readers as a group, paying them a certain amount of money per book. This component especially benefits children who want to help, but are not in a position to find personal sponsors. This year, ‘outside sponsors’ opened their wallets with $2 per book and thus contributed $1,500 of the $5,191.60 raised.

Thanks for such a wonderful opportunity to help!
-Parent-Kirstin Jahn

Honoring the Students

The week of May 15, all Maji Safi Read-a-thon participants were honored at an all-school assembly, and each students received a certificate along with a coupon for a free ice cream cone donated by Ben & Jerry’s Scoop Shop on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder.

Our After School Program in Shirati

In Shirati, Maji Safi Group’s Community Health Workers provide Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) education to schoolchildren in our After School Program. Since July 2012, MSG has partnered with nine schools and has directly taught 1,000 children about disease prevention, while also allowing them to have a creative, fun experience. By learning how to properly care for their own health, students stay healthy, remain in school, and can therefore achieve their full potential. Using the students’ creative, artistic, and critical thinking skills, Community Health Workers teach disease prevention education about waterborne and water-related diseases, proper water treatment, sanitation, hygiene practices, and the fecal-oral disease cycle. MSG also donates hand-washing stations and ceramic drinking water filters to enable proper WASH techniques at the schools. Finally, as a reminder of the lessons learned, a local artist paints a WASH-related mural to teach future students about proper disease prevention. Recently, we received approval from the District Education Office to operate the After School Program in all 125 primary schools in the Rorya District.

Thank you Read-a-thon participants for your support!

Thank you Read-a-thon participants for your support!

I had such a great time doing the Maji Safi Read-a-thon at my school! It was such a cool experience! I read so many fascinating, captivating books while I knew all the money would go to the charity! I think the charity is an amazing cause that is more urgent than we think! It felt so good to know I was part of helping an organization that really made a difference in so many people’s lives! Because water is SO important, and it is really vital that it is clean and people are educated about hygiene and being sanitary! The Whittier Maji Safi Read-a-thon is such an amazing, caring thing, and I would like to thank the people that made it happen.

— Sydney F., 4th grade 

It costs approximately $15,000 per year to run Maji Safi Group’s After School Program, so the Whittier students just enabled hundreds of children on the other side of the globe to learn how to stay healthy and have a better chance of succeeding in school!

Young Global Citizens

Third graders Amanda Kohla and Calder Leland

Third graders Amanda Kohla and Calder Leland

It is our goal to expand our ‘Young Global Citizen’ program in Colorado. So far, we have worked with students at Whittier International School, Casey Middle School, Alexander Dawson School, Fairview High School, and CSU. We are currently working on connecting with other schools, including offering practicum opportunities for CU and DU students. In addition, we intend to add extracurricular activities, especially art classes and the opportunity for Boulder youth to help create learning materials for the children in Shirati.

To participate in our ‘Young Global Citizen’ program as a school or on an individual basis, please contact You may also do a Read-a-thon on an individual basis; we will gladly provide a reading log, a sponsor sheet and a presentation (PDF format) about the children and Maji Safi Group’s work in Shirati. It would be the perfect way to keep your children reading over the summer!

Thank You for Making a Difference
A huge thank you to everybody who participated in and supported the 2015 Maji Safi Read-a-thon: students, parents, sponsors, teachers, volunteers, etc. Thanks to your support, the people in the rural community of Shirati can continue to improve their public health situation and learn how to be healthy to reach their full academic potential!

Martina loved reading the books and participating in the Read-a-thon. Thanks for having it.
-Parent-Arsen Kashkashian



SIT Independent Study Project with Maji Safi Group

Mambo! I am Sarah Muskin, and I have been in Tanzania since January 2015 as a study abroad student at the School for International Training (SIT) in Arusha. As I am an Environmental Studies major at Vassar College and interested in water issues, my program’s academic director introduced me to Max Perel-Slater and Bruce Pelz. Both Max and Bruce were SIT students in the Arusha Program in 2009; since then, they have co-founded Maji Safi Group (MSG), where I completed my SIT independent study project. MSG is a disease prevention and health promotion organization located in the rural Rorya District of Tanzania.

Sarah (center) at the Maji Safi Group office in Shirati, Tanzania

Sarah (center) at the Maji Safi Group office in Shirati, Tanzania

After working with Max over the phone for a few weeks, I decided to collect data on the perspectives of community residents, hospital employees, and the MSG Community Health Workers on the effectiveness of the Maji Safi Group Disease Prevention Center at the Shirati KMT District Designated Hospital. I arrived in Shirati on April 8, looking forward to nearly three weeks of learning about Maji Safi Group, the hospital, and health care in Tanzania, meeting people in Shirati, and running under the sky of this northwestern Tanzanian landscape. However, beginning my own research proved trickier than expected, because the day after I arrived in Shirati from Arusha, the first case of a cholera outbreak was confirmed in the Rorya District.

MSG Community Health Worker teaching resident about cholera prevention

MSG Community Health Worker teaching resident about cholera prevention

The first thing I needed to do when I heard this news, embarrassingly enough, was google “cholera”. While staying with Maji Safi Group, I had the luxury of having access to satellite Internet. Although I often had to wait up to a few hours for the Internet to work and be patient as pages loaded, the information about this disease was easily accessible to me. I was able to learn quickly about the symptoms of cholera, how it is transmitted, and how to treat it. I learned that I was not at a high risk of getting the illness since I drank filtered water and used a toilet. In contrast, people in the Rorya District are at risk of getting this disease because they do not know what it is, nor do they have information about the disease or basic hygiene and sanitation available to them. In fact, during this outbreak, the only people or organization doing any sort of education about this preventable disease was Maji Safi Group.

MSG Community Health Worker teaching resident about cholera

MSG Community Health Worker teaching resident about cholera

Just days after the first cholera case was confirmed, every Maji Safi Group Community Health Worker had been trained to educate the community about cholera (kipindupindu), and thousands of illustrated pamphlets were ready to be distributed. In the following weeks, most of the Community Health Workers, along with Maji Safi Group’s directors, traveled to the areas where kipindupindu cases were most prevalent and had claimed the most lives in order to educate in public areas, conduct home visits, and give out information about kipindupindu.

MSG Community Health Workers handing out informational brochures about cholera to community residents

MSG Community Health Workers handing out informational brochures about cholera to community residents

Personally, I spent most of my time gathering data for my own project at the Shirati Hospital, which currently does not have any cholera patients. However, the hospital center, which I was told would have about 6-10 drop-in visitors a day, had 55 visitors stop by the first day the Maji Safi Group Community Health Workers began educating about kipindupindu. What I found is that Maji Safi Group plays a crucial role in doing exactly what they are trying to do: promote health and empower communities to fight waterborne diseases like cholera.

Community Health Workers teaching hospital visitors about cholera at the Disease Prevention Center

Community Health Workers teaching hospital visitors about cholera at the Disease Prevention Center

As for my research at the center and in the hospital, I had fun and learned a lot. I roamed around the hospital with Bena, who was my interpreter, my friend, and a Maji Safi Group volunteer, finding medical staff to interview when we were not at the disease prevention center. At the center, we had our laughs with the MSG Community Health Workers, primarily Aska and Mwanvua, and filled out as many of my study questionnaires as possible. Though I have yet to study the data in detail, I am excited to see if my research shows any trends, and hopefully my work will turn out the way I had hoped and will be useful for MSG!

Left to right: Mwanvua, Bena, Aska, and Sarah

Left to right: Mwanvua, Bena, Aska, and Sarah

Being in Shirati has been a great experience. Though I have heard people say it is in the middle of nowhere, to me it feels like it is the center of everything when I run down the dirt roads with the sun reflecting off Lake Victoria before sunset, when clouds and thunder are rolling in, or when I see the Kenyan hills in the distance. The image I have in my head is beautiful with the people shouting “Mzunguhowareyou!” (white person how are you) or “kimbia kimbia haraka haraka!” (run run fast fast!), and the cows and the sheep butts only add character to the landscape. I have learned about global public health and gained so much perspective on what is really lacking in a place like the Rorya District in Tanzania. I feel so lucky to have spent my time here with Maji Safi Group, an organization dedicated to filling the gaping holes in health care in the form of disease prevention, particularly for waterborne and related diseases. I can only say asante sana (thank you so much) to the entire Maji Safi Group team for making me feel so welcome and helping me with my independent study process. I will miss this place a lot. So, asante sana!

Shirati, Tanzania

Shirati, Tanzania

 If you are interested in getting involved with Maji Safi Group’s fight against Cholera, please contact us at and consider donating.



Responding to a Public Health Crisis

Max Perel-Slater, Maji Safi Group Co-founder and Tanzanian Executive Director, grew up in Berkeley, California, and graduated from Berkeley High School. He received his BA in Environmental Studies & Earth and Environmental Science from Wesleyan University. He also studied abroad with the School for International Training in Arusha, Tanzania, where he did an independent research project about the water situation in Shirati, Tanzania. He continued this research the following summer as part of his Senior Capstone Project at the Wesleyan College of the Environment. Max has worked on water projects in Shirati since 2009. He was selected as a World Learning Advancing Leaders Fellow in 2013 for his work with Maji Safi Group.

In early April, Maji Safi Group began hearing rumors of cases of cholera in the Rorya District. As a public health and disease prevention organization, we took these stories very seriously and started to contact the district health authorities, including local government officials, health officers, officials from the district hospital, and the district medical officer. Unfortunately, at this point there were no clear answers regarding the situation.

What is Cholera?
Cholera is a type of acute, watery diarrhea and vomiting caused by a bacterial infection. In its most severe form, cholera is one of the swiftest lethal infectious diseases known – characterized by an explosive outpouring of fluid and electrolytes that, if not treated appropriately, can lead to death within hours. In places where drinking water is unprotected from fecal contamination, cholera can spread with stunning speed through entire populations. These two characteristics of cholera have yielded a reputation that evokes fear and often panic. However, with prompt and appropriate treatment, mortality can be kept low. Furthermore, cholera outbreaks can be prevented or controlled through a combination of public health interventions, predominately through disease surveillance and early warning, safe water, adequate sanitation, health and hygiene promotion, and education campaigns on the use of oral rehydration solutions. (UNICEF Cholera Toolkit 2013)

Due to the severity of a potential cholera outbreak, we readied our team for a large-scale response, if needed. Although cholera awareness, prevention, and treatment are part of the MSG Community Health Workers’ standard training, we felt it was important to conduct a short refresher workshop with our staff to discuss the specific characteristics of the disease, methods of prevention, and home-based rehydration and care for people already suffering from cholera infections. We also found that there was a serious need for learning tools and handouts about cholera in Swahili. Consequently, MSG’s Community Art Coordinator, Jacky Lucas, and the team began developing a pamphlet on cholera prevention and rehydration of patients.

On April 15, we received word from the District Health Officer that there were 30 confirmed cases of cholera in the Rorya District. Cases had been reported in seven villages, which led to markets and public gatherings being prohibited as a precautionary measure. MSG had not previously been active in the villages affected by the cholera outbreak. These villages are about 30 km from our office and center of operations.

Cholera in Tanzania
While cholera has been eradicated in many areas of the globe, countries with poor sanitation and hygiene conditions are still devastated by the disease. In fact, cholera is known as the sanitation disease. Tanzania is an endemic country, meaning that over the last five years, one or more cholera outbreaks have occurred each year. Official numbers report that there have been over 9,000 cases of cholera in Tanzania in the last 4 years, with over 160 deaths. However, some community organizations suggest that these government figures may be significantly underestimated.

Due to understaffing, the Rorya District government did not have the capacity to operate a cholera education campaign without external help, so Maji Safi Group was asked to mobilize our Community Health Workers and step in. Rorya District Head Health Officer, Mr. Maimbo, commented, “Maji Safi Group has a very important role in teaching the community how to protect their families and neighbors and how to get treatment for sick people. People need to know to treat their water, wash their hands, and use a toilet.”

In cooperation with local government officials, MSG developed a plan for providing communities with crucial information about the outbreak, teaching students at primary and secondary schools, visiting families, and making public announcements in the affected villages. Our CHWs were also available at the MSG Disease Prevention Center at the KMT District Hospital to provide information and teach families of patients. Additionally, our hotline and radio program supported our on-the-ground initiatives with updates, allowing community members to ask questions and discuss the outbreak.

Local government officials in the affected villages were very supportive of MSG’s work and frequently wanted to walk with the CHWs to direct them to the families in the greatest need. After spending the day visiting families with the CHWs, Utegi village leader, Mr. Odhiambo, said, “It went well. It is helping us prevent the spread of the cholera disease. The community said these lessons had not been available before. They want you to come back and teach them and their neighbors more.”


Since the start of the cholera outbreak…

MSG has conducted home visits with

396 families 


22 cholera patients

MSG has taught

754 people

at local markets about cholera prevention

MSG has aired

8 radio shows

about cholera with

169 callers


24,000 estimated listeners

MSG’s Hotline has sent disease prevention text message alerts and lessons to hundreds of community members and has had

92 callers

interested in learning more about cholera prevention

MSG’s Disease Prevention Center at the Rorya District Hospital
has been visited by

136 patients, medical staff, and community members

MSG has taught

1,646 students

at primary and secondary schools in villages with cholera

MSG has learned that only


of the community members taught by MSG
had previously received education on cholera

MSG has learned that only


of the community members taught by MSG
already knew all of the symptoms of cholera

The village of Nyanduga has been devastated by the cholera outbreak. During home visits in the area, we found that in certain neighborhoods, nearly every family had someone who was currently sick or had been sick within the last two weeks. The recurring risk factors with these families are no treatment of drinking water, no access to toilets, and no knowledge of disease prevention. As MSG Director of Operations, Bruce Pelz, said, “I sat with two 80-year-old women while Community Health Worker Prisca taught them about cholera prevention. I realized that this was the first time in their lives that they had ever received education about preventing disease.”

The lack of knowledge about disease prevention in villages like Nyanduga has devastating consequences. This became abundantly clear while CHW Jacob and I visited a large family in a neighborhood devastated by the outbreak. A neighbor told us to visit this family because at least one person had been sick. The family greeted us warmly, and they all stopped pealing cassava to gather around and listen to what we had come to say. They told us that their seven-year-old son, Peter, had started to have watery diarrhea and vomit three weeks ago.For two days, he got worse and worse until he was no longer able to get out of bed. They took him to the hospital where he was diagnosed with cholera and given an IV and antibiotics.

Two days after returning home from the hospital, Peter’s four-year-old younger sister, Linda, also began to have watery diarrhea. She was still recovering from a malaria infection and quickly became very weak and dehydrated. Her parents rushed her to the hospital on her father’s bicycle. She was given an IV to rehydrate her and was sent home. Linda’s diarrhea continued, and the next day she passed away. The night before the funeral, Linda’s 17-year-old aunt, who lives with the family, began to have cholera symptoms. Linda’s parents said they felt terrified and helpless – they did not understand why people in their family kept getting sick and felt powerless in preventing cholera.

As Jacob explained the methods of preventing the spread of cholera (treating drinking water, hand washing, toilet use, etc.), the family looked relieved to have the disease demystified, but at the same time frustrated. “Why did we not receive this information before? We went to the hospital three times, but no one told us about the disease.”

One person being sick with cholera can lead to many family and community members getting infected. The spread of cholera can be stopped at the household level, but families need information on how to do it. It is clear that while sick people are getting treatment at the health centers and dispensaries, there is also a huge need for prevention information.

The next day, we visited the Utegi Health Center, where the majority of the cholera patients had been treated. The staff was very happy to see us. They talked about how understaffed the facility was, and that the cholera outbreak had stretched them to the limit. The MSG Community Health Workers began a discussion about cholera and the challenges the community had expressed. It became clear that the staff knew about the disease and how to prevent it, but did not have the tools or the training to teach people how to stop the disease from spreading. We did a role-playing exercise where staff members played both community members and health care providers. We empowered the health center with pamphlets and asked them to inform us if a new patient arrived and needed additional prevention education.

Further Need of Support

The Community Health Workers’ efforts have been truly inspiring. Early in the outbreak, it became clear that Maji Safi Group is the only organization providing disease prevention education. The CHWs have worked tirelessly to reach as many community members as possible in the affected villages. The CHWs have consistently looked for ways to improve our intervention and to target the groups with the greatest need.

MSG will continue to work in the villages affected by the outbreak to gain ground in preventing future outbreaks. The community continues to embrace our message. MSG is also working to make WASH products more accessible by making agreements with local agents to sell these items at reasonably rates. Additionally, we are creating a plan for future outbreaks, including having a network of health providers in villages, so MSG can get quick alerts about developing situations.

As Maji Safi Group and the CHWs continue the cholera education campaign and develop an early warning system for future outbreaks, we need your support! We have set a goal of raising $10,000, needed to offset the costs of this response and prevent future outbreaks of this dangerous disease. To date, we have raised $3,500. If all of our 550 e-newsletter recipients and other supporters donate $10 or more, we will be well on our way to the goal! Please consider supporting MSG’s important work, so that more than 7% of the local population will have education about a disease that takes their friends and family every year!