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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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!