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.

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