One Year with Maji Safi Group

Tanzanian Experiences

Susan carrying water on her head

Susan carrying water on her head

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

Busy days working in rural Tanzania

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

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

Susan registering Health Screening participants

Susan registering Health Screening participants

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

Susan working with the Community Health Workers on planning events

Susan working with the Community Health Workers on planning events

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

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

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

Susan working with Health Screening participants

Susan working with Health Screening participants

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

Challenges

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

Susan working during World Water Week

Susan working during World Water Week

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

Being a member of the community

Susan cooking for a funeral

Susan cooking for a funeral

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

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

Susan with her Shirati family

Susan with her Shirati family

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

Susan Waltisberg

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