The Inside Scoop from the Women behind the Female Hygiene Program

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A photo of Linda (left) and Judith (right)

There has been much excitement surrounding the new Female Hygiene Program in Shirati, Tanzania. The Female Hygiene Program started this summer, with the aid of Faye Phillips who was awarded a Wesleyan University Patricelli Seed Grant to provide a safe space where young women are invited to learn about their bodies, puberty, healthy relationships, and proper hygiene and care. These young women are encouraged to participate in fun activities and have an open dialogue with female community mentors. In this post, we interviewed the two mentors (Linda Atieno Arot, a professional Health Educator originally from Kenya, and Judith Mbache, one of Maji Safi’s Community Water Workers) that have made the Female Hygiene Program such a success. 

Q: What are the issues that Shirati women face? What have you heard and seen?

Linda:  As for women in Shirati, first and foremost, they don’t understand their biological features. They don’t know how bodies work, making them not understand what is happening in their own body. Young women don’t know how to prevent pain associated with monthly periods or how to go about tending to it.

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Young ladies (ages 13-17) in the Female Hygiene Program

They use local materials and, sometimes, you find that they contract some viral disease or fungus from those materials. When the bleeding comes, they don’t know how to help it. They don’t know what symptoms of diseases look like, and so diseases can live for a long time without any treatment. In Tanzania, there are more male teachers than female, so little girls fear opening up when they start their period. By the time they begin their period, they are not ready because they do not have enough knowledge. They are afraid that something is happening to their body, and they don’t understand what is happening because nobody has taught them.

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Judith: Some women and girls are very poor, as is their whole family, so they don’t have any sanitary materials to use. This makes them afraid as they wonder, “What am I going to use when I’m bleeding?”  Maybe a young woman lives with her father and brother, leaving her to wonder, “Who am I going to ask for help?”

Linda: The girls don’t feel free.

Q: Why are you excited about the Female Hygiene Program?

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During the Female Hygiene Community Outreach event, the young ladies in the group showcased their singing, dancing, and drama skills to teach the community about female health and proper hygiene associated with menstruation.

Judith: I am happy because those girls who are nearby me, whom I live with or teach, can know this subject before they reach the day of their first bleeding. So when I teach them, I am studying who is afraid, and who is not afraid and I come to understand the family from which they come. It makes me feel free to talk with my children. I am happy to teach them how to prevent getting pregnant. I am happy to make them understand before they are in that situation so they can make knowledgeable choices and know what they are doing. From the Female Hygiene Program, they know about the changes in their body before they occur.

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Community support for the Female Hygiene Community Awareness event

Linda: With me, I’m a woman, and I’m proud of being a woman. Because I was never taught how I could protect myself, I am very concerned about the young women who are attending the Female Hygiene Program. I want to help them learn how to protect themselves while teaching them about female hygiene. They can protect themselves from contracting various diseases. I’m also happy because before we didn’t have a program like this. The number of girls who are getting pregnant is so high and I think that with this program, that the number will be very low. Families can use locally available hygienic materials during menstruation in place of pads. Poor families can’t get the money for pads. Through this program, girls can also know how to tell other girls, spread the word and get others to come to the Female Hygiene Program. This way, we join hands and make the goal of Tanzania to know and create awareness about female hygiene.

Q: Describe the program and its goals.

DSC_4194 Judith:  For the participants of this program, we began working with the singing and dance girls in the office (ages 9-16) who will become junior ambassadors as we teach them about female hygiene. They were timid before, but when we continue with them, the fear disappears, and they ask many questions. When we demonstrate, they are free to ask and they can demonstrate too without any fear. Some of them already have their menstrual period, so when we ask them questions, they are not afraid to answer us. Our goal is to make them teachers themselves.

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A group shot of Linda and Judith with the young ladies in the Female Hygiene Program.

Linda: We want to help the girls to open up themselves, let them know the changes that take place in their body, and to make sure they understand what is the menstrual period. They also learn the courage of not being afraid of whatever they are undergoing. With that, we hope that we will use the girls to go out to other children, so that they can be ambassadors of their knowledge.

Q: How has working with 3 generations of women been for the development of the program? Do you think each generation brings a different angle/positive aspect to the dynamics of the group?

Linda: When you find a girl who got the information about her period from her sister, she got very recent information. The one who is being taught by grandma is being taught that you shouldn’t go out of your house when you have your period, which is information from a long time ago. The different generations all have different perspectives. Even student to student can teach each other, and this is valuable. DSC_4205 Q: What do you foresee as challenges in this program?

Linda: The venue could be a challenge, because the girls are used to the Maji Safi Office. There are young children here, these girls are the oldest, and they want to be free. We can lack finances, some think they would be coming to receive something, to be given something, but maybe we are not capable for issuing them. Judith and Linda Also, you might find that with the number of children in the class, sometimes only the two of us handling a big class could be difficult. It will force us to divide the class, and with dividing it, the number will also increase. We will have to look for another person to assist. Transportation can also be a problem.  We are coming from very far, and so are the girls. That can be a problem. Some are very interested in this program, but they come from very far. It will make us to go them, which will also need to be financed for us to get there. Also, younger or older sisters could be in the class, and they won’t feel comfortable because their family member is present – this could be a problem. It depends on how old, how confident, and how free you are.

Maji Safi has been amazed by the support we have already received to keep this program running. We are excited to be the newest partner of Lunapad’s Pads4Girls program. They have generously donated 250 AFRIpad kits (reusable, eco-friendly pads) to support the Female Hygiene Program. 

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Additionally, on November 9th, the Maji Safi Female Hygiene Program held its first community performance. Over 550 Shirati residents came to the Maji Safi office to view the female hygiene education presentations (songs, dances, and skits) performed by the young women of the group.

If you would like to support the Female Hygiene Program, please visit the Maji Safi website and donate or contact Emily via email at Emily@majisafigroup.org.

Leading by Example: Meet Prisca

My name is Prisca Julius. Before joining Maji Safi, my life was difficult. I only finished one year of secondary school because I got married and had a child. I then lived with my husband until he passed away, after which I moved back to my parents’ house. During this time, I worked as a trainee at a tailor’s shop.

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I enjoy being an Ambassador for Maji Safi because the job allows me to work for the benefit of my community. As a leader of the Singing and Dance Group, I am very happy to come to work every day. The children in the Singing and Dance Group have discovered their ability to communicate positive messages through their performances. You now hear the group’s songs all over town. The students have also found a supportive place where they can get extra academic attention. Many of the kids don’t know how to read, so we are working on that.

Leading by Example: Meet Winner

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My name is Winner, and I was born in 1986 in Buturu in the Rorya District. I started school in 1995 and finished my primary education in 2001. I was not able to go onto secondary school in 2002 because my parents were unable to pay for my school fees. After this, I decided to find a life partner, and I got married. After getting married, I became pregnant and had twins in 2005, one girl and one boy. After this, I became a seamstress and started sewing clothes. After starting sewing, I became pregnant again and had another boy, so now I have two boys and one girl.

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I am very thankful for Maji Safi’s education because it changed me. Before, I didn’t know the importance of a toilet, or even the importance of treating water. I used to drink untreated water, and I even had a toilet, but I didn’t use it. Maji Safi made it so I knew the importance of using a toilet, and it helped me know how to prevent disease.

Leading by Example: Meet Consolata

My name is Consolata, and I was born on February 12th, 1992 at Bukoba Government Hospital. In 1999, I started first grade at Sota Primary School in Shirati and finished in 2005. After this, I went to Katuru Secondary School in Shirati, starting in 2006 and finishing form four in 2009. After secondary school, I then decided in 2009 to join the organization Sisters of Little Servant of Mary which is in Losaka, Zambia. In 2012, I decided to return home after I discovered it wasn’t my passion.

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After joining Maji Safi, I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know, for example the transmission of Bilharzia. But now I am sure of what I am doing, and joining Maji Safi helped take away my fears and build my confidence to give the community advice.

Transmission of Bilharzia. For more information visit http://newint.org/features/1981/09/01/dirty/

Transmission of Bilharzia.
For more information visit http://newint.org/features/1981/09/01/dirty/

With Maji Safi, I was able to get trained on Participatory Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (PHAST)  and Children Hygiene and Sanitation Transformation (CHAST) in order to help build a better understanding in the community when I teach. My intentions while I’m with Maji Safi are to help the community be able to bring change. I am also able to follow my dream as a facilitator. I have one child named Andrew Japhat who was born on May 7th, 2013, and I am very happy to be with Maji Safi and promise to continue to enjoy myself and learn as much as I can.

Leading by Example: Meet Mwamvua

My name is Mwamvua, and I was born on July 28th, 1993 at Shirati Hospital. In 2000, I started 1st grade and finished primary school in 2006. In 2007, I was to continue to secondary school and finished form four in 2010. I was unable to continue to higher education, and I became a seamstress and also helped my mom with running her restaurant. On July 16th, 2011, I had a baby girl whose name is Vivian Benedictor.

In 2012, I was lucky to join Maji Safi and am now a full-time Community Water Worker (CWW). With Maji Safi, I have learned a lot of things that I didn’t know before; especially, now I recognize the importance of preventing disease, and I have been able to help development within families with the education I got about health and the environment.

 

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Working for Maji Safi, I can continue to teach the community, especially children and women, about the importance of health education and the environment, so the community can prevent disease. Women and children are able to bring a big change within their family and the community around them.

Maji Safi made me into an ambassador of education and economics and also brought change within my family and the surrounding community in general. I want to continue teaching about health education and clean environments to carry on development within the community for future generations.

Maji Safi through the Lens of a Filmmaker

Paul Horton is the Photograph and Film Director at Neue Studios in Middletown, CT. Paul volunteered with Maji Safi during the summer of 2012. During his time in Shirati, Paul, and his team, produced films and photographs for Maji Safi.

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Paul filming the Singing and Dance Group in Shirati

One year ago, I traveled to Shirati to film and photograph the Maji Safi project.  It was my intention to provide them with stills for use on their web site, and edit a few films that would describe their project.

I arrived in Shirati after spending three days in the national parks of Tanzania.  Both the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater were wonderful locations for filming and photos.

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Ngorongoro Crater

We spent our time initially at the after school program and the singing and dancing program.  Luckily, I was there for the big performance of the singing and dancing group.  It took place at the Maji Safi office/community center, and had a huge audience.  The spirit was really celebratory, and a moment that I will not forget.  After the performance was an impromptu dance party that lasted for awhile.

We then concentrated on filming the Community Water Workers (CWWs).  We visited 3 or 4 homes and filmed as the CWWs reviewed the hygiene materials with the families.  A high point for me was returning to one of the houses to play music with the father of one of the families.

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We had set aside time to film the process of collecting water from Lake Victoria, a task performed by water carriers.  We hired a pikipiki, a Tanzanian motorcycle,  to carry me as we filmed Mayanga on his bicycle.  It was certainly a new experience to ride facing backwards on a motorcycle as I was filming.  No major injuries, though.   It is hard to believe that he makes that trip many times a day.

I have posted some photos from my time in Shirati as well.

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My crew was the best (thanks, Pete and Abby!), and the experience was extraordinary.  With luck, I will return next summer to update all the footage, and to report on the new Maji Safi programs in Shirati.

Paul

Leading by Example: A Latrine Story

Judith Mbache, known as Mama Mkubwa (Big Mama) by the Maji Safi community, joined the Maji Safi in March 2012 in the first class of Community Water Workers (CWWs). Since then, Judith has been an integral part of the CWWs, by acting as a mentor to the younger ambassadors. She was instrumental in developing and implementing the After School Program and is now taking a lead role in the new Female Hygiene Program for Shirati girls.

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Judith and her granddaughter

My name is Judith Mbache. I was born on the June 19th, 1964 in Kabwana, Shirati. I have a form 2 secondary education from Kenya, and I attended nursing school for two years. I have 3 kids, a daughter and two sons. My children live far from Shirati, and I now live with my granddaughter named Judith who goes to Tai Secondary School, form 1.

Before joining the Maji Safi Group, I was a farmer and palliative care provider. Palliative care is a service provided to the severely ill in their homes. Examples of such diseases are cancer, sickle cell anemia, TB, HIV/AIDS, and diabetics.

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Judith working with Shirati children during Maji Safi’s After School Program

After joining the Maji Safi Group, I have gone through so many changes. Firstly, the school children refer to me as a teacher. Secondly, I am able to budget my money every month. Thirdly, I was enabled to build a permanent improved latrine. Earlier, I used to participate in open defecation. So now I am able to be among the people who conserve the environment and prevent fecal-oral infection and diseases like cholera, dysentery, chronic diarrhea, and worms.

Being able to own a toilet has brought me so much respect in my community. Guests come to my house, and I don’t feel shy, and I show them the bathroom straight away.

I would like to give thanks to the entire Maji Safi community for enabling me to change some of the things in my life. It has empowered me with education, and now I have a clearer understanding, and I know the importance of latrine use, and I now have my own toilet.

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Judith’s new latrine

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Judith’s house and latrine

Thank You.

Yours,

Judith Mbache

Where children learn…

                                                                                                                                                                                                           
Tanzania 2013_2 165 Erna Maj, or “Mama Bruce” as she is known in Shirati, started working with the Maji Safi Group (MSG) in March 2012. She received her Master’s Degree from the University of Colorado in Linguistics and TESOL and works as a language teacher and translator. Mama Bruce has worked and volunteered for aid organizations in the US, Tanzania, Guatemala, and Argentina and is currently acting as the US Fundraising Coordinator for the Maji Safi Group. Below, Mama Bruce shares her Maji Safi experience and what it is like to work with the children in Shirati involved in MSG’s After School Program.
 
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Imagine young children who do not have the opportunity to color, to read children’s books, to play Memory and Scrabble, to play with playdoh, to cut and glue, to have their faces painted, or to do math with manipulatives. In Shirati, there are a lot of children like that. They are happy kids who can kill a snake, herd goats and dance the kuduku, but their schools are characterized by huge classes, rote learning, a lack of supplies, and very little emphasis on cognitive development. In most homes, there is no money available for art supplies or books. In Shirati, developing the kind of imagination and creative thinking western schools and parents are so focused on honing all too often becomes a dream deferred. Instead of carrying creative ideas in her head, a girl ends up carrying buckets of water on her head.

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Or that used to be the case, I should say. Now, there is the Maji Safi Group’s office which is in the process of being turned into a true Community Resource Center. Here, kids come to play and learn about personal hygiene, water treatment and disease prevention through stories, singing and dancing, games and art. In the afternoons, eager hands, enthusiastic voices and fascinated minds fill those two rooms to the brink. Health instruction is being given, hands are being washed, books are being read, pages are being colored, and memory cards with vijidudu (bacteria) in twenty different colors are being turned. And not to be forgotten, there is Maji-Maji-Vijidudu (Water-Water-Bacteria) – the Shirati version of Duck-Duck-Goose

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I have had the pleasure of working with the children in Shirati twice. In March 2012, Maji Safi Group was in its infancy, so I worked at a school. While I was there, the idea of an afternoon school program, based on children’s literature and art, was born. We wanted to see if the children would come. They did – dozens, often walking several miles to participate. In March 2013, Maji Safi Group had become an established and highly respected organization with its own After School Program taught by the Maji Safi Community Water Workers (CWWs). I was asked to help add art projects to the children’s curriculum. Minyoo (worms) were created as reverse paper cuts, syllables of hygiene content words were matched, word search sheets were made and colored, paper scraps were used for math, board games were created and played, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar came to Shirati in Swahili.

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Mama Bruce, as they call me there, cannot wait to return to work with the Maji Safi CWWs and the children they teach. My suitcase will be filled with homemade teaching materials and children’s books and my head with ideas. If you have ideas or materials to share, please contact me at erna@majisafigroup.org. I cannot wait to see kids as fascinated as the one below again, fascinated by a children’s story.

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KUKU Cup Round 1: Sota

Bruce Pelz, an honors graduate of the University of Colorado, came to Tanzania to study and conduct research for his honors thesis on “The Future Environmental Views of Children across Cultures and Socioeconomic Class” in 2010 with the School for International Training. After graduation, Bruce became a Co-Founder of the Maji Safi Group and is currently living in Shirati full time as  Maji Safi’s  Vice President and Secretary. This is Bruce’s story of Maji Safi’s exciting new soccer program and how the love of this game can help teach communities about disease prevention.

First

It had come down to the final moments of a penalty shootout. With music playing in the background and Lake Victoria sparkling in the foreground, team “Msikiti” had the chance to snatch the under-15 final from team “Human” and take home the coveted chickens in the first ever Maji Safi KUKU Cup. The venue was a pitch at a shore side school under construction that had just reopened after a one-month break. The circle of 200 people I was standing in could only make me think of how we live in a world of cycles, more specifically habitual cycles.

Second

Sota is a fishing village on the shores of Lake Victoria. It is known for high rates of open defecation, Bilharzia (a parasitic disease that is estimated to infect 75% of all primary school children from bathing in the Lake), and chronic diarrhea as a consequence of drinking untreated and unprotected water. These cycles are the result of poor sanitation and hygiene in a fishing culture where life is lived on a day-to-day basis. In spite of these living conditions, the human spirit and an intense love for soccer now appeared to have started to kick these cycles and bring attention to preventing the diseases that historically have paralyzed development in Sota. The KUKU Cup seemed to be working.

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What is a KUKU Cup, you might ask. In Tanzania, it is very common for soccer tournaments to be organized with animals as trophies. There are KONDO Cups (Sheep), MBUZI Cups (Goats), and KUKU Cups (Chickens), but you could probably use just about any animal as the trophy. The Maji Safi Community Water Workers (CWWs) took it upon themselves to take this tradition and combine it with our mission of preventing disease through holistic community empowerment. All the CWWs asked for were teaching materials and 2 balls. Subsequently, they organized a 3-week tournament where there would be an afternoon game three times a week. In order for a team to be eligible to play in the afternoon, the participating players were required to attend the 1 hour lesson about disease prevention before the game.

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This idea worked great with each lesson being attended by 30-40 youths who learned mostly about fecal-oral disease transmission and the Bilharzia cycle. As the weeks passed by, it was fun to see leaders emerge that dared go up to the board and educate their peers about these disease cycles that affect their daily lives so adversely. The participants also learned about taking Bilharzia medication (about $1.50) once a year to prevent this sometimes fatal disease from invading their organs. In a village on a peninsula with no running water, swimming in the Lake and getting Bilharzia are almost unavoidable. This new exposure to knowledge about an annual treatment and preventing disease is vital to all residents, and it can change rare family habits. Throughout the KUKU Cup, participants seemed to be committed and engaged in both the education and the soccer, with winning those chickens on their mind.

Fifth

As “Msikiti’s” final penalty shot crossed the goal line, securing them the coveted chickens, the first ever Maji Safi KUKU Cup came to a close with a dramatic finish that was only fitting. With the music still blaring in the background and the water still sparkling in the foreground, smiles and laughter broke all the disease cycles that had been filling my mind. With the hand washing line still full of kids waiting for popcorn and the newly won KUKUs in the air, the power of soccer and sports was shining with the sun setting over Lake Victoria.

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The Power of Dance

Faye Phillips, a recent graduate from Wesleyan University, volunteered with the Maji Safi Group (MSG) last summer (2012). Faye quickly became part of the MSG community when she  used her love for dance to start the now successful Singing and Dance Group. Students in the MSG Singing and Dancing Group learn about their own health, and explore these issues through dances that they create, skits they perform, and songs they write in their own words. Faye’s joy for dance and passion for the Shirati community has led her to continue working with MSG over the past year in the states. And currently, she getting ready to return to Shirati to start a new Women and Girl’s Hygiene Program for MSG. This is Faye’s story of how the art of singing and dance can be a powerful community changing tool.

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I have always loved dance for its aesthetic qualities and for the joy of creative movement, but the Maji Safi Singing and Dance Group showed me the amazing communicative power of dance.

With my rudimentary Kiswahili language skills, communicating with the people of Shirati relied almost exclusively on body language.  Even though I felt like my Kiswahili vocabulary expanded each day with Singing and Dance class, dance was how I connected with the children and the Community Water Workers. I was able to be playful and express my interest and personality through my movement.  The non-verbal connections were the foundations of the relationships I began in Shirati and they were jump started and developed through dance.

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The communicative power of dance was gratifying for me on a personal, relationship-building level but I also witnessed what a powerful tool for education it can be.  Dance served as an effective and culturally relevant vehicle for knowledge transmission and acquisition, which in turn helps to improve the health of an entire community.  Pretty powerful stuff!

Each afternoon in the Maji Safi Group office yard, children learned about proper hygiene and disease prevention techniques and then applied their knowledge by engaging with it physically through games, skits, and dances.  “Maji safi, maji safi, vijidudu” was by far the most popular game — a version of “duck, duck, goose,” that is hygiene-themed and translates to “clean water, clean water, germs.” This embodied learning technique was of course a fun way to learn but it also allowed the children to feel some sort of ownership over the information.  When it came time for the first community performance, the children wriggled with pride and excitement as they danced and sang for the gathered audience.  The sense of community in that courtyard was also something to marvel at: all who participated and all who came to watch showed wonderful energy and enthusiasm.  Dancers and spectators both were proud of this dance group with a cause.

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After returning to the United States for my final year at Wesleyan University, I couldn’t help but share with the dance community there the impressive work being done by the dancers of Shirati.   My dance company, Terpsichore Dance Ensemble, decided to use our dancing to accomplish some good as well.  We spread the word around campus about the Maji Safi Dancing and Singing Group, their hard work and their performances, and we collected the funds from our performances each semester and sent them to Shirati to further the cause of the MSG Dancing and Singing Group.  We were thrilled to help support the Community Water Workers and children in their effort to educate and empower their community through our shared passion of dance!

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As the dance program continues to flourish, this summer I am headed back to Shirati to help establish another program alongside it that will empower Shirati youngsters in a different way through a Girls Hygiene Program. The group will provide a safe space for girls at the critical age of pre-pubescence and adolescence to learn about their bodies, proper hygiene and care, and healthy relationships through educational activities. The significant gap in girls’ knowledge about menstruation and body change during puberty can leave girls with feelings of shame and panic at the sight of their first bleeding, but with the program’s discussions, conversations and lessons lead by CWWs who will act as female mentors, we hope to empower the girls with knowledge and understanding.

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There is lots of great work going on in Shirati at the moment with the Maji Safi Group, and the youth programs are no exception.  I can’t wait to experience it all in full swing again!