Memories and Projects from Our 2019 Summer Practicum

This blog post is brought to you by Mekala Pavlin, a graduate student in Social Work at the Silberman School of Social Work in New York City, and Spencer Dirk, an undergraduate student in Public Health at Austin College in Sherman, TX. Mekala and Spencer were part of our 2019 cohort of practicum students from the US who spent a couple of months working with the MSG staff in the Rorya District. To learn more about our practicum program, please follow this link.

From left: Director of Operations Dorothy Ochieng, practicum students Katie Claar, Maggie Chen, Mekala Pavlin, Spencer Dirk, and Executive Director Max Perel-Slater.

Mambo! As we are sitting on the porch of Maji Safi Group’s office on our second to last day here in Shirati, today’s cool and gloomy weather reflects our sadness about leaving on Friday. Shirati and Maji Safi Group are truly special, and from the day we arrived, we were welcomed into the Maji Safi family, immediately feeling comfortable and cared for.

As we reminisce, our thoughts go back to one of our first days in Shirati. Although still fighting back some jetlag, we were to spend the entire day with the Outreach Program. We had no idea where we were going, but we were happy to be invited and start our time here, so we hopped into the Land Cruiser, and off we went. Two hours later, we found ourselves in Guchuma. Our first stop was the local government office, where the Community Health Educators (CHEs) asked for permission to teach the local residents about WASH-related issues and diseases. The local representatives were welcoming and gave their hearty approval for the outreach initiative. Somehow, it was already lunch time. At a restaurant, we had one of our first traditional meals, consisting of ugali and fried fish. We absolutely loved the food and enjoyed chatting with the CHEs while we ate.

Then the work began. We were paired with two CHEs who approached a group of men sitting outside a butcher shop. We were amazed by the confidence the CHEs had as they started discussing cholera with the group. We were equally stunned by how happily we were welcomed and how engaged the men were. They asked thoughtful questions and genuinely appreciated the knowledge they were receiving from the CHEs. After the conversation, most of the men even purchased WaterGuard (chlorine tablets) for treating their home water supply.

Next, we approached a large group of women who were selling tomatoes, cabbage and potatoes at the local market. Community Health Educator Judith Mbache started discussing urinary tract infections (UTIs) and fungal diseases with the women. We were impressed with her ability to instantly command the attention of the crowd and how she used humor mixed with personal experience to connect with her audience. Again, we were amazed by how responsive the crowd was to this sensitive subject. They asked great questions and were eager to learn more. We kept thinking how differently people in the US would have responded if stopped for a conversation of this nature on the street or at a market.

As the day wrapped up, and we waited for the other CHEs to finish, we shopped with Judith and Rosa for sugarcane, sardines and school supplies. As jetlag really hit, and we were dozing off during the car ride back to the office, the car unexpectedly broke down. We found seats on the side of the road under some papaya trees while waiting for a replacement part, chatting with Rosa for the better part of an hour. Considered how long we have been here, it’s interesting how much we can recall from our first days – it speaks to the incredibly memorable experiences we’ve had.

We both came into our practicum experience very interested in MSG’s Female Hygiene Program and curriculum. After expressing our interest in this area, Max and Dorothy explained that MSG had the opportunity to expand the Female Hygiene Program to six schools in the Serengeti Region. As part of this venture, baseline surveys were needed for female student participants, parents, community members, teachers, and male students. The surveys we wrote focused on assessing the knowledge these groups already had of menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and investigating methods to reduce both stigma and schoolgirl absenteeism related to menstruation. In order to write these four surveys for the five different target groups, we had to conduct in-depth research. We explored a variety of sources, many from world organizations such as UNICEF and Save the Children as well as smaller non-profit organizations in East Africa and other regions of the world. The volume of information available was large and took days to sort through. Once we had become familiar with published research on menstrual hygiene management, we immediately started drafting our own survey questions.

As the Serengeti Project includes giving out various menstrual products to female students, we realized that MSG could benefit from a comprehensive menstrual product pamphlet, describing all the different options women in the region may come across or use. This was a fun and interesting project that challenged us in many ways. Since we were already familiar with many of the products, it surprised us that it was so challenging to write step-by-step instructions for products that seemed so commonplace. We hope this how-to guide will help women navigate their monthly period more easily in the future.

Our time in Shirati with Maji Safi Group has been invaluable, and working on a project in an area that was unfamiliar to us taught us humility, the importance of relying on other people, and to think more deeply about our intentions. We will definitely miss buying passionfruit at the Monday market, the children that greet us screaming every morning as we walk to work, the endless chapatti (flatbread) and samosas we have had for dinner, the beautiful sunsets from Oboke Hill, and most of all the MSG staff’s friendly faces!

The Story of Maji Safi Group’s Young Global Citizen Program

Erna Maj was born and raised in Denmark and immigrated to the US in 1978. She received her undergraduate degree in American Studies from City University of New York and her master’s degree from the University of Colorado in Linguistics and Teaching English to Students of Other Languages (TESOL). After raising three sons and working as a language teacher and translator for 20 years, Erna now volunteers her time to serve as Maji Safi Group’s Fundraising and Outreach Coordinator and Board Chair. Erna runs our Young Global Citizen Program and visits Maji Safi Group’s on-the-ground program annually.

 

Back in 2013, when Maji Safi Group was in its infancy, I thought I would help its young co-founders, Bruce Maj Pelz and Max Perel-Slater, by raising a bit of money, so I looked for dots that it made sense to connect.

During my first visit to Shirati in 2012, I volunteered at Tina’s Education Center every morning. I soon learned that the children had little to no exposure to art activities, so in cooperation with a couple of teachers, I started an after-school group where the children did art projects. The story of The Very Hungry Caterpillar became the first environmental print ever to hang on the classroom walls. At least temporarily! The building had no windowpanes, so there was so much dust on the walls that we had trouble getting the tape to stick. Every morning when I set foot on school grounds, students would come running to tell me that the pictures had fallen down – again! Even duct tape was not strong enough to make those pictures stick.

Fortunately, the idea stuck! This very informal group turned into Maji Safi Group’s After School Program where we teach proper WASH behaviors and disease prevention through art, singing, dancing, games, puzzles, word searches, etc. The After School Program now teaches roughly 2,000 students a year, and the knowledge the children gain makes it back into their homes.

The dots I connected was getting youngsters in the Boulder area to do projects with Maji Safi Group that would teach them about global issues, social responsibility, empathy, and helping others through personal effort and simultaneously raise money for Maji Safi Group’s After School Program.

Whittier International Elementary School became our testing ground for this idea when we ran our first Maji Safi Read-a-thon there in 2013. Read-a-thons are a win-win situation where participants improve their own reading skills and raise funds from sponsors who pay them for reading books. But the idea did not stop there! We started working with students in the leadership class at Casey Middle School on a regular basis; last year, Heatherwood Elementary jumped on the read-a-thon wagon; and this spring, water walks in three Boulder area schools helped raise money for Maji Safi Group’s very first Solar Powered Water Distribution Point (SPWDP) in Shirati.

In addition, board member and kindergarten teacher Alison Adams and retired teacher/librarian Diane Wagner have been instrumental to developing online resources for schools to use around World Water Day (March 22) and Global Handwashing Day (Oct. 15). This fall, we will add an equivalent resource for World Toilet Day (Nov. 19). These resources were created in line with the Boulder Valley School District’s academic curriculum and standards and offer an abundance of information and activity suggestions.

A project with our young global citizens typically starts with a class- or school-wide presentation where the students learn what life is like for a kid their age in Shirati, about the work Maji Safi Group does, and the project in question. Subsequently, information goes home (in English or Spanish) to all families along with the presentation in PDF format, so families can discuss the project with their children. This stage is a wonderful outreach opportunity for MSG as many families learn about Maji Safi Group, and once the students reach out to neighbors, grandparents, family friends, etc., the information reaches many corners of the US.

This spring, our Young Global Citizen Program blossomed like never before. Students, teachers, principals, parents and generous sponsors came together to learn about the WASH situation in the Mara Region and support our work.

The Whittier Read-a-thon

Founded in 1882, Whittier International Elementary School is a historic landmark and filled with traditions. It has been an IB World School since 2003, and along will all IB programs, it aims to:

Develop internationally minded people who, recognizing their common humanity and share guardianship of the planet, help to create a better and more peaceful world.

The 2019 Maji Safi Read-a-thon was the seventh annual at Whittier, so although young, another tradition has been established. Inspired by student council members again this year, 32 students read 450 books to improve their own reading skills and help the children in Tanzania. A huge number of Whittier students can tell you that ‘Maji Safi’ means ‘clean water’ in Swahili, and as the numbers show, Whittier has some amazingly dedicated readers:

Most books read:   75 (kindergarten student)

Most pages read:

6,092 pages/25 books (2nd grader)
5,518 pages/13 books (4th grader)
5,498 pages/25 books (2nd grader)

The Heatherwood Read-a-thon

With strong support from student council members and second-grade teacher Nicole Martini, Maji Safi Group ran its second read-a-thon at Heatherwood Elementary where the students are also directly encouraged to care about their world:

​Heatherwood Elementary’s mission is to educate students to be respectful, responsible citizens who persevere through challenges and who proudly and peacefully contribute, both intellectually and emotionally, to make the world a better place.

Every time I drove east this winter/spring to join a 7:15 a.m. student council meeting, I appreciated the students’ commitment and their early-morning smiles. There they were, eager to take down the information they were taking out to the classrooms about the read-a-thon, making posters to promote participation, and asking good questions about our work and the kids in Shirati. It was obvious that they took their young role in making the world a better place seriously, and so did the 54 readers who read 550 books.

Most books read:   30 (1st grader)

Most pages read:

6,045 pages/11 books (5th grader)
3,844 pages/20 books (3rd grader)
3,394 pages/13 books (5th grader)

Casey Middle School

Maji Safi Group’s relationship with the leadership class at Casey Middle School started back in 2013 when four eight-grade girls organized our very first water walk for their Global Improvement Project. Casey’s mission speaks to students taking interest in the world beyond Boulder:

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Casey inspires students to be creative and critical thinkers.
Our students become engaged lifelong learners who are ​​compassionate
and connected to our diverse, multilingual community and global society.

Over the years, Casey students have done a variety of projects with Maji Safi Group, including raising money for piloting Arborloo Toilets. This spring, they revived the wonderful idea of organizing a Maji Safi Water Walk. The enthusiasm came from six students who studied the WASH crisis, organized the event, and used posters and Casey TV to persuade 34 fellow students to stay after school on May 1 to rally around bringing clean water to a remote and impoverished community in rural Tanzania. Thanks to the Beleza Coffee Bar, we were able to fill recycled bottles that the 40 students carried around a half-mile loop on campus. Around and around they went for a total of 117 miles! Fatigue set in, but the smiles stayed big, and fortunately, the water from up above held off until we were done.

The Watershed School

This spring was the first time Maji Safi Group had the pleasure of collaborating with the Watershed School – a small private school in central Boulder. The school only has 100 students, grades 6-12. Their mission goes well with Maji Safi Group’s work:

To spark adventure and wonder, foster inquiry and community, and build the character and ability of students to take on the world’s greatest challenges.

Their students study real-world problems, travel and have logged thousands of service hours in locations that include the Silicon Valley, the Mexican-American border, the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation, Guatemala, and along the Front Range.

On April 11, the 6th and 7th graders – 28 of them and two teachers – set out to do a water walk to raise awareness in the Boulder community and money for Maji Safi Group’s water point in Shirati. Carrying gallon-sized bottles or buckets with water, they walked five miles. Along the way, they stopped to educate passersby at the Pearl Street Mall and the CU Campus where the annual Conference on World Affairs offered a perfect setting to raise awareness. The well-rehearsed elevator speeches they had created were effective and their enthusiasm contagious for the Boulder community to see.

 

The Flagstaff Academy

The Flagstaff Academy was, thanks to kindergarten teacher Alison Adams, another new partner this spring. Here, we were also working with students who are learning to care about the world community and helping others:

Our mission is to develop students who are equipped to be well-rounded, ethical leaders in the world community with a foundation based on science and technology.

On April 26, three kindergarten classes set out to carry gallon-sized water bottles a mile around campus. For a kindergarten kid, a gallon of water is a challenge, so they enlisted buddies from two 5th grade classes to help when those little arms and legs got tired. Ninety-nine students participated, and even Fuego the Dragon came out to enjoy the sunshine and help out. Fun was had by all – because helping others feels so good!

A huge thank you to all of our young global citizens who care about the wondrous world they live in!

We applaud and thank everybody who chose to be, or support, our young global citizens this spring – who chose to show empathy for kids half way around the globe and through personal effort, help them learn how to stay healthy and gain access to clean water. The students’ enthusiasm and fundraising vigor were impressive:

Whittier International Elementary students raised $1,720 from personal sponsors.
Heatherwood Elementary students raised $2,050 from personal sponsors.
Watershed School students raised $2,610 from personal sponsors.
Flagstaff Academy students raised $560 from personal sponsors.
Casey Middle School students raised $1,760 from personal sponsors.

In addition, community sponsors honored the Whittier readers with $2 a book, Casey alumni donated $270, and an anonymous sponsor pitched in with $5 per mile walked, $1 per book read by Heatherwood students, and a 100% match of all donations brought in by students from personal sponsors.

Grand total: $21,000!

Our Young Global Citizens’ smiles were big and their sense of accomplishment huge. They were not unsung-heroes! In their classrooms and at school-wide assemblies, they received much deserved recognition from their peers; from Maji Safi Group, they received stickers, wristbands, pins and thank you cards; from Ben & Jerry’s and Lindsay’s Boulder Deli, they received coupons for free ice cream; from Audrey Jane’s Pizza Garage, they received delicious slices of pizza; and from their sponsors, they received support for their efforts to help Maji Safi Group’s beneficiaries in Tanzania lead healthier lives.

 

To learn more about our Young Global Citizen Program, please contact erna@majisafigroup.org

New Perspectives on Menstruation from Menstrual Health Management Trainers in the Rorya District

It was Maji Safi Group’s pleasure to provide a one-week Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) seminar to our partners in the Rorya District to expand awareness and education about this vital subject in the Lake Zone of Tanzania. A very big thank you to our two wonderful facilitators, Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) trainer Ms. Dhahia Mbaga (East Africa WASH specialist and MHM trainer) and Mr. Steven Kiberiti (career health promotion specialist and national MHM trainer)!

Background

Menstrual Health Management (MHM) is now debated worldwide, including in countries like Tanzania, as an important aspect of public health, as a basic human right, and as a development issue. While the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) did not make any reference to MHM, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) do so – at least indirectly – under Goal 3 (Good Health and Well-being); Goal 4 (Quality Education); Goal 5 (Gender Equality); Goal 6 (Clean water and Sanitation); Goal 8 (Decent Work and Economic Growth); Goal 10 (Reducing Inequalities); Goal 11 (Sustainable Cities and Communities); Goal 12 (Responsible Consumption and Production); and Goal 17 (Partnering for Goals). The United Republic of Tanzania (URT) is one of the countries that agreed to the implementation of the SDG development agenda in September 2015 and prioritized it in terms of gender equality strategies and the improvement of access to basic human services under the National Five-Year Development Plan (2016/2017–2020/2021). MHM is a crosscutting issue that involves a number of sectors in the development agenda, especially water, sanitation, environment, education, health, industry, information and communication. If the service provisions are improved in all sectors aforementioned, menstruating women and girls will have access to clean menstrual hygiene materials, access to private and convenient toilet facilities with water and soap for cleaning their bodies, access to washing and drying their reusable pads discreetly, and access to disposing of used menstrual products safely in designated containers. In addition, the existence of good healthcare facilities with competent health professionals will ensure that menstruating women with complications are served appropriately to guarantee their well-being and good health outcomes.

Despite tremendous MHM work done in Tanzania by MHM stakeholders, including development partners on training, continued advocacy work with policy makers, open dialogue to abandon certain socio-cultural norms that discriminate against adolescent girls and women during menstruation, information sharing, and exchange on progress made so far on MHM in this country, there are still challenges in terms of reaching all peripheral regions in Tanzania, especially the Mara Region. It is for this reasons that Maji Safi Group (MSG) in the Rorya District of the Mara Region, a member of the Tanzania MHM Stakeholders Coalition Group, requested two consultants, Dhahia R. Mbaga, WASH specialist and Senior MHM Trainer, and Stephen Kiberiti, Health Promotion Specialist and MHM Trainer, to facilitate an MHM Trainers of Trainers (ToT) workshop for its staff and their working partners to support the implementation of the new MHM program in the Rorya District. The training focused on a holistic MHM approach with three main components: Breaking the silence, managing menstruation hygienically, and finding solutions to safely reusing and disposing of feminine hygiene products.

The training took place in Shirati, Tanzania, April 1-5, 2019. It brought together 66 participants (21 men and 45 women) from the Rorya District Council, Department of Health, Education and Community Development Office, teachers from secondary and primary schools, health workers from hospitals in Shirati, local entrepreneurs from the private sector, staff from Maji Safi Group (MSG), and other non-government organizations working in partnership with MSG in the Rorya District.

The new cohort of 66 National MHM Trainers of Trainers (ToT) joins two other groups that were trained from 2017 to 2018 with funding from the Water Supply Sanitation and Collaborative Council. Involved were: representatives from NGOs and CSOs, the education sector, the health sector, the water sector, members of parliament, participants from higher learning and research institutions, the private sector, media, and people living with disabilities. It is expected that the trained MHM ToTs will pass on the training obtained to their respective workplaces, i.e. districts, wards, neighborhoods, health centers, schools, faith-based organizations and congregations, local entrepreneur groups, youth groups in Shirati, and individual households.

Training Objectives

The MHM ToT training objectives were:

  1. to create a cohort of trainers with knowledge and skills on inclusive WASH and MHM, who in turn will train others in workplaces, districts, wards, neighborhoods, and health centers as well as teachers, students, and peers;
  2. to gain knowledge and skills to address the challenges on Menstrual Health Management based on different training modules presented and visual aids used for training;
  3. to provide the opportunity for participants to bring positive changes, equity and non-discrimination to access to water, sanitation and hand washing to promote menstrual health management in the community;
  4. to support the Government of Tanzania with the implementation of National Health Policy, National WASH guidelines and other policies with strong links to MHM to ensure safe, sustainable and inclusive sanitation and hygiene for women, men, girls, boys and vulnerable groups; and to support government and partners in providing sustainable, inclusive MHM education with consideration of equity and non-discrimination to vulnerable and marginalized groups by changing mind sets at the national level.

Lessons Learned from the Training

The lessons learned from the MHM ToT Training were:

  1. The training was organized around a three-pronged approach: breaking the silence, safe and hygienic management, and the safe and hygienic disposal and reuse of feminine hygiene products. It was key to address the dignity of both women and girls and secure positive health outcomes in the Rorya District.
  2. The strategic step of engaging male participants was crucial for breaking the silence as fathers and brothers in the society need to understand that menstruating women and girls have needs that require additional resources to allow for hygienic management, access to menstrual products, and sanitation facilities that can accommodate female needs during menstruation.
  3. The strategic engagement of both male and female youths in the training was a step further in the Rorya District in terms of creating change agents on breaking the silence on menstruation and seeing it as a natural process, similar to wet dreams for adolescent boys, and therefore supporting adolescent girls during menstruation.
  4. Lack of appropriate information on menstrual management to adolescent girls prior to menstruation and delegation of parenting to aunties and grandmothers do not promote an enabling environment for girls to be open about menstruation.
  5. It is important to address gender inequalities in water and sanitation to ensure access to water services and user-friendly sanitation designs that can accommodate all age groups, are inclusive to people with disabilities, and can fulfil the needs of menstruating women and girls.
  6. Descriptions of first menstruation experiences shared during the training were associated with feelings of embarrassment, discomfort, shame and confusion, and they were characterized by pre-conceived notions of menstruation by peers and socio-cultural beliefs. We envision that with appropriate menstrual hygiene management education – both before and after the onset of menstruation – adolescent girls will change their perception of menstruation.
  7. Menstruation is still surrounded by myths, taboos, silence and secrecy across various cultures in Tanzania, especially Luo, Haya, Hehe, Kerewe, Simbiti, Kurya, Chaga and Sukuma, so there is a need to demystify those menstruation-related myths and taboos that compromise the dignity, well-being and safety of women and girls.
  8. During the training, it was noted that menstruating women and girls make diverse choices of menstrual products, including commercial products. However, the traditional reusable pads are widely used, so with support from Maji Safi Group, there could be a good business opportunity for a trained female entrepreneur group to make reusable pads that are safe for menstruating women and girls.
  9. It is important for Maji Safi Group to keep strengthening the collaboration with the District Council to mainstream Menstrual Health Management in district development plans and spread further training to other departments in the district, wards, schools, workplaces, institutions and among out-of-school youths.
  10. Evaluation carried out at the end of the training revealed that the Menstrual Hygiene Management Lab was the best tool and most liked by participants. In lieu of that, MSG could consider purchasing a mobile MHM Lab Tent that could be set up during Global Water Week, Toilet Day, MHM Day, national events, workshops, conferences, community meetings and market days. The MHM Lab could engage a large number of participants in a short period of time and provide an opportunity to transform menstruation issues from shame to pride.

Painting a Mural with Maji Safi Group

Brynn Berry and Jessica Gannon are both master-level students from the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis, an MSG partner since 2013. Jonathan Berry is a graduate of the Mortenson Center for Engineering for Developing Communities at CU at Boulder. Jonathan is providing technical support for the Arborloo Toilet grant Maji Safi Group received from Friends of Tanzania. Brynn and Jessica have contributed greatly to the artistic aspect of MSG’s work with spreading awareness about preventing disease and adopting healthy WASH habits.

My name is Brynn Berry. My friend Jessica and I have been working in Shirati since August and have the privilege of working with Maji Safi Group (MSG) until the end of December. My husband, Jonathan, has also been able to join as a volunteer for MSG’s Arborloo toilet project.

Most of my work at Maji Safi Group consists of editing, curriculum design, and various art projects. However, before elaborating on my work, let me introduce you to someone much more talented than me.

MSG currently employs a local Tanzanian artist named Jacky. Jacky is a brilliant illustrator, succeeding to capture the culture and vision of the community in his work while providing a visual platform for the dissemination of WASH education. Jacky’s work decorates the Maji Safi office, local hospitals, and primary and secondary schools in the area.

MSG aims to complete six more murals before the end of the year. Jessica and I are assisting in the creation of one mural at the local Katuru Secondary School. The mural will serve as a learning tool for students and community members passing by. I also plan to assist Jacky in the planning stages of the creation of additional murals.

The planning process for mural design is structured to allow a variety of stakeholders to voice their ideas. This participatory approach allows for bottom-up inspiration.

Step 1: MSG’s Community Health Educators (CHEs) provide a list of suggested images/values to be painted.

Step 2: Jacky or I create a sketch of what a mural could look like based on the CHE suggestions.

Step 3: Artists invite MSG staff to interpret the mural. This stage reveals any changes that need to be made. This stage was particularly valuable to me as it highlighted several cultural differences that were revealed in my artwork. For example, a common menstrual care product used in Shirati is kitamba (cloth in Swahili) which needs to be included in female hygiene education.

Step 4: Artists edit and revise drawings.

Step 5: CHEs label and narrate mural in Swahili.

Step 6: MSG presents the sketch to school/hospital administrators and choose a wall for the mural.

Step 7:  Artist, mainly Jacky gets to work.

In addition to mural design, I am busy creating educational booklets that will be used for menstrual hygiene management programming. Maji Safi Group is excited to announce that we have received a grant from Dining for Women, a global giving circle that funds grassroots organizations, to introduce menstrual cups (kikombe cha hedhi) to the Mara region. Menstrual cups will be purchased from a local Tanzanian distributor, and booklets will be given to girls receiving the cups. My work involves content development for the booklets and graphic design work to illustrate the pages.

The design process is fun and exciting. It demands a conscious effort to create culturally appropriate images and communicate WASH education in the best way possible.

Thank you for your incredible support and interest in our work here at Maji Safi Group.

Best Regards,

Brynn Berry

Returning to Tanzania

Naomi Chang is currently getting her Master in Environmental Engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder. At CU, Naomi is part of the Mortenson Center in Engineering for Developing Communities, and unlike most students in her program, she wholeheartedly believes in the importance of hygiene education. This is largely due to experiences from living abroad during her service in the Peace Corps from 2014 until 2016. Our common interests led Naomi to MSG for her summer practicum experience. Naomi also received a Boren Fellowship to improve her already seasoned Swahili skills by working with MSG’s staff on a daily basis. 

Tanzania holds a special place in my heart. I spent two years in a rural village in central Tanzania as a math and science teacher, creating bonds with students, teachers, and other community members. So, when I was given the opportunity to come back to Tanzania and work with Maji Safi Group, I immediately jumped at the offer. As the time came closer to my arrival in Shirati, I became more and more nervous  ̶  afraid that my previous experience was unique, and I wouldn’t be able to connect with the people of Shirati like I did with those in my old village. I was so wrong!

I immediately felt welcome in the Maji Safi family, with several Community Health Educators (CHEs) treating me like a daughter and others like a sister. Not only were they welcoming, they were dedicated and passionate about their work. I was able to participate in almost all the programs offered by MSG, watching firsthand as the CHEs took the time to fully explain waterborne diseases and their symptoms, how to prevent transmission, and how to filter and treat water.

 

At one primary school, the topic for the week was menstrual hygiene management (MHM). I was curious to see how the CHEs would approach this sensitive topic, because I know it can be an uncomfortable topic for many. To my surprise and delight, the CHEs were able to create a safe space for girls and boys to openly discuss the topic of menstruation, while injecting humor into the subject. Boys and girls were called on to respond to questions and to demonstrate how to attach sanitary pads to underwear. This education is integral to normalizing menstruation for future generations.

MSG also has a great relationship with a school for children who are speaking/hearing impaired. The CHEs have adapted their lessons to better teach these students, and some CHEs are learning sign language to further facilitate the transfer of knowledge. In a country where people with disabilities face stigma, it is great to see that MSG has provided the opportunity for community members to interact and create relationships with them.

I also remember walking to Lake Victoria and getting lost on my way back. Thankfully, a young lady was walking to the Lake and offered to take me to the main road. While we were walking, she asked if I had swum in the Lake. I responded by saying I was afraid of getting bilharzia. She smiled and then launched into the symptoms and transmission of this disease. Shocked, I asked her how she knew all of this and she replied, “Maji Safi!” To me, this was further proof of the excellent outreach and educational programs that Maji Safi Group provides. To see that a random person was able to correctly tell me the symptoms and transmission of bilharzia shocked me and points to the efficacy of Maji Safi Group.

A typical scene at the shores of Lake Victoria. Women who have not received Maji Safi Group’s education about preventing bilharzia often expose themselves to this disease by going in the parasite-infected water to wash dishes and laundry.

It is impossible for me to paint the full picture of the dedication and passion of each of the CHEs at Maji Safi Group, but my experience working with them for three months was an excellent reminder of why I chose to pursue a career in international development.

Presenting WASH Solutions in an Affordable Way

Yinran Huang completed her practicum field work for her MSW at Washington University in St. Louis with Maji Safi Group this summer. Yinran was born and raised in China where she received a Bachelor of Marketing and Management from the Shanghai University of International Business and Economics in 2014. After working for several years with different marketing companies in China, Yinran decided that she wanted to focus on social work and began her MSW in 2016. MSG enjoyed welcoming her to Tanzania, and we are excited to bring you her blog reflecting on her experience.

Have you ever wondered how MSG helps normal households gain access to safe drinking water, proper sanitation and hygiene in an affordable way? Well, here come the answers. With the partnership of AfriPads and Population Services International (PSI), MSG has introduced several cost-effective products for program participants and local communities, including WaterGuard, water filters, reusable sanitary pads, and Arborloo toilets (see our previous blog for more information).

In Shirati, lacking financial resources is one of the key barriers to implementing good WASH practices within household settings. Many people still drink untreated water and rely on crude, improvised materials to manage their menstruation because they cannot afford or access proper WASH products. Now, normal households in Shirati have more choices for getting clean water, cheaper sanitation solutions, and female hygiene products.

Let’s begin with water. In Shirati, accessing drinking water can be costly and time-consuming. Surface water sources, such as ponds, rivers and Lake Victoria, are usually free but unimproved/unprotected and often far from dwellings. Groundwater, on the other hand, is a much safer but a more expensive choice due to the cost of drilling the well. So, most people fetch water from surface water sources every day, and the most common way of purifying water is boiling. However, the sustainability of this method is questionable as the cost of firewood/charcoal/gas is high, and people must wait for the water to boil and cool down before use. Thus, WaterGuard and water filters offer normal households a more convenient alternative for water treatment.

WaterGuard

WaterGuard is a chlorine water treatment tablet provided by Population Services International (PSI), Tanzania, and one of MGS’s recommended water treatment methods in Shirati. The chlorine tablets offer an alternative to boiling water. Chlorine is released when a tablet is dissolved to disinfect the water and prevent water-related diseases. Each tablet can treat up to 20 liters of water, which will satisfy a typical household’s minimum daily requirements for clean drinking water. Two tablets are needed if the water is very dirty. After adding the tablet, the water must sit for 30 minutes. WaterGuard is sold either by the strip with 10 individually sealed tablets (500 TSH = $0.25) or in boxes with 12 strips (6,000 TSH = $3). Thus, flexible purchasing choices allow consumers to access safe drinking water with minimal disposable cash on their hands, and WaterGuard is more time- and cost-effective than having to gather firewood or buy charcoal.

Ceramics Water Filters

The Maji Salama Ceramic Water Filter is manufactured and distributed by Safe Water Ceramics of East Africa (SWCEA). The Maji Salama filter tested at a 99.99% microbiological effectiveness rate with a life of at least five years, according to SWCEA’s official website. The clay filter is placed in a food-grade plastic storage bucket with a spigot at the bottom for dispensing the filtered water. With a rate of 1 to 3 liters per hour, depending upon the volume of water in the filter, a single filter can provide enough safe drinking water for up to 6 people. In MSG’s office, several water filters provide a safe, reliable, and convenient drinking water resource for all staff members and program participants.

Female Hygiene Education and AfriPads

MSG noticed that the poor hygiene situation in Shirati is exacerbated by a lack of knowledge about menstruation and the use of poor solutions, like rags, instead of proper feminine hygiene products. In response, MSG’s Female Hygiene Program promotes proper menstrual hygiene management (MHM) education through culturally sensitive communication. The program is active in several primary and secondary schools in the Rorya District, and a small group seminar is held every Saturday afternoon at the MSG office. The classes give adolescent girls the opportunity to discuss female hygiene-related experiences and ask questions in a safe and supportive environment.

By educating adolescents, MSG plays an essential role in also educating adults and the community in general. Children and adolescents serve as agents for change because they take the knowledge and good practices learned from MSG’s Community Health Educators back home. Hygiene education is thus transferred from MSG’s programs to families and communities where many have no other access to formal education about hygiene and sanitation.

Maji Safi Group partners with AfriPads and introduces their reusable sanitary pads in the Female Hygiene Program as an alternative to disposable pads with at least two comparative advantages: affordability and waste reduction. AfriPads is a cost-effective and environmentally friendly choice. With proper care, the AfriPads can last at least 12 months. Instead of using 195 disposable pads, only four reusable sanitary pads can satisfy a girl’s needs for a whole year and thus help her save a significant amount of money.

Given the massive cost associated with healthcare, disease burdens, loss of productivity and labor capital, investing in WASH-related products will not only result in a large range of economic and social benefits but also be more cost-effective in the long run. MSG’s dedicated work gives people easy and affordable access to WASH supplies, resulting in healthier families and communities.

The Arborloo Toilet’s Journey to Schools

Inspired by the success of Elliot Skopin’s Arborloo project at the Maji Safi Group office, four Arborloos were recently built and installed at two schools in Shirati, Tanzania. Two of the most attractive design points of the Arborloo toilet are its cost-effectiveness and its ease of construction. Additionally, Arborloo toilets have the benefit of generating safe and nutrient-rich compost from human waste without requiring any handling of excreta. Once the Arborloo pit is nearly full, the top is covered with at least 15 cm of topsoil and allowed to sit for a few months. Afterwards, a tree or small garden can be planted on top of it, and the newly formed compost will provide essential nutrients for healthy and rapid growth.

For these reasons, two toilets were installed at Katuru Secondary School, and two were installed at Sota Primary School. Each school received one toilet made of jamvi (reed mats) and one toilet made of sheet metal. These two designs have different benefits. The jamvi toilets are very inexpensive to make and easier to transport, due to being lightweight. The sheet metal toilets are more durable but also more expensive and heavier. Since these toilets were installed at schools, the high volume of users made it necessary to pilot a durable design that would not require maintenance every time the Arborloo needs to be moved to a new pit.

Fourteen high school students from Rustic Pathways, an organization that focuses on cultural immersion and interacting with the community, helped install the four toilets under the supervision of Maji Safi Group’s Community Health Educators (CHEs), local carpenters and masons. Students from both Katuru and Sota also helped dig the pits, saw wood, and install the superstructure, ring beam and slab.

Following installation, the CHEs returned to the schools to introduce students to the design, use, and benefits of the Arborloo toilets. Students were encouraged to ask questions and discuss the differences between typical deep-pit latrines and Arborloo toilets. Currently, lessons that address the construction, maintenance and composting process are being refined and implemented at the schools. These will form the basis for Arborloo education and be adapted for different audiences.

To further help facilitate understanding of Arborloo construction, several small cardboard models of different designs are being created. Each model consists of a pit (plastic bottle), a ring beam, a slab and a superstructure with a roof. The ring beam and slab have removable tops, so participants can see the faux wire mesh and rebar structures inside. Because no toilet is complete without a handwashing station, all models come with a demonstration stand and bucket to remind everyone of the importance of combining proper sanitation facilities with good hygiene practices.

A week after installing the Arborloos and teaching the students how to use and maintain them, Maji Safi Group’s CHEs revisited the Arborloos during an after-school program to monitor whether the students were using them. Dirt, ashes and excreta in the pit were noted by the CHEs, and the students reported that they were very pleased with this additional facility. Hopefully, these students will become Arborloo ambassadors to their families and in the community to help end open defecation in Shirati!

 

 

 

A Model Tanzanian School Matron

To celebrate Maji Safi Group’s five-year anniversary, we are continuing our series of guest bloggers from the Maji Safi Group (MSG) community. Our second guest is Angelister Mwinuka, matron at Katuru Secondary School in Shirati. MSG has been working with Katuru for several years now, and Angelister Mwinuka has been an extraordinary partner in breaking the silence about menstrual hygiene and bringing awareness to the importance of school attendance. In March this year, MSG opened Female and Male Hygiene Clubs at the school. The clubs will continue the positive changes and the more welcoming school environment MSG’s programs have facilitated.

We hope you enjoy reading about Angelister Mwinuka’s inspiring experience and knowledge.

1. What changes have you seen in students at Katuru Secondary School since partnering with MSG?

Since MSG started, we have seen an increase in attendance rates, and the girls have learned how to keep themselves clean at all times. We now have supplies to stay healthy, like water and soap, and we have extra pads if students need them. Since MSG came, girls are in class more, and fewer girls have asked for permission to leave and go home because of menstruation. I have also noticed that more girls are passing their exams. Additionally, as a school, we have started small income-generating projects, like farming vegetables, to help pay for feminine supplies like pads and soap, so the products are continually available.

2. What changes can MSG bring to schools in Tanzania?

MSG can bring a big change. If people learn about WASH and their bodies, it will help prevent diseases. Students and parents will know more, and they will be able to work better because they are healthy and don’t have to spend money at the hospital or stay home sick.

Healthy students are also able to sit in class for longer, concentrate better and therefore, perform better.

3. In your opinion, what issues have menstruation brought to Katuru students?

During menstruation, female students are not comfortable, and they are embarrassed to be at school around boys. They have pain during their period, which makes them stay home from school. They feel even more uncomfortable when they don’t have the right supplies, and they feel more comfortable at home since there is no place to change their pads at school. If they stay at home because of pain or lack of resources, they miss the lessons. This causes women to have lower passing rates than men.

4. What are the things that schools in Tanzania really need?

There should be enough education about menstruation to explain that it is not a disease and to help young women understand themselves better. Schools should have enough supplies to enable girls to stay in school during their period (pain meds and pads), and schools should have enough water and clean toilets. It is important that the girls have a place to wash their hands and get dressed, so they look nice when they come back to class. There should also be enough education for women and parents and more attention on how to educate girls and keep them protected while they go through puberty. It is often their parents who decide to keep them at home, and then they miss classes. The parents need to help support their children, so they can reach their potential.

5. In your opinion, what are the ways MSG helps people in the Rorya District?

MSG brings new ways to spread education, so the whole community gets the necessary knowledge and makes changes to the environment. When people understand how to prevent disease, they can see opportunities for change all around the community.

It would be great if MSG could also teach outside of the Mara Region because people would live in a healthier environment, and it would help the economy. Hopefully, MSG can go to Tabora and Dodoma and even Dar es Salaam, so people can understand their own health and help build a healthier country.

World Water Day at Monarch Elementary

At Maji Safi Group, we were so inspired by the students at Monarch K-8 School in Louisville, Colorado, who walked on World Water Day to call attention to those without safe water! Kindergarten students, paired with fifth graders, wore lots of blue and carried one-gallon water containers to shine the light on the world water crisis and those who walk long distances each day for water.

How can other schools do the same? Here’s a bit about Monarch’s success.

For months leading up to World Water Day, kindergarten teacher Alison Adams sparks her students’ awareness and empathy. She teaches them about children just a bit older than them, who need to walk miles each day to fetch heavy containers of water for their families. But what if that water is very contaminated and makes the children ill?

“It’s hard for the students to imagine not being able to grab a water bottle or simply walk over to the fountain or sink. The beauty of 5-year-old children is their curiosity, innocence and untainted belief that they can do anything,” Adams said.

Alison Adams during the Water Walk.

 

“Our students ask why other children can’t have medicine to get better. They say things like, ‘They can have my water bottle,’ or ‘Let’s buy them bottles of clean water’ and ‘I will help them carry it!’ They genuinely mean it.

 

 

 

At the beginning of their year, Monarch students learn what it was like 100 years ago in a classic one-room schoolhouse with no electricity, water, computers, etc. In a make-believe play center, students have desks with chalkboards, chalk, wooden chalk boxes, a metal bucket with a cloth napkin for their snack, a pretend wood stove, and a wooden bucket and ladle for water. “We talk about not having running water in your home, so they immediately connect to going to the stream or lake. Then we talk about, ‘But what if you had to walk for hours?’”

 

The Monarch students watch videos with children in other countries who walk with no shoes in the mud or on dirt roads with large buckets and containers. They read books like I Walk for Water and The Water Princess. “Through both mediums, our students hear the words of children who want to go to school, bathe in a clean tub, go to a party, or do other things our kids do so often without noticing.”

 

Adams then talks about organizations that can help and how students can get involved, including by doing a water walk. This year, Monarch students raised $850 for Maji Safi Group, thanks to Adams’ leadership – enough to buy 28 water filters to provide program participants with clean drinking water!

Community Health Educator Caroline teaches about ceramic filters on World Water Day 2017.

 

How did Adams’ own awareness of the global water crisis begin? “From a combination of church and concert experiences. Our family also now sponsors five children in Burkina Faso, Ecuador, Haiti and Brazil. We learned more about the struggles of our children’s families and their communities. Also, by working with several church organizations and youth groups, I was introduced to the work of Compassion International, Blood:Water, and World Vision.”

And now Adams passes her global awareness on. “This is why I teach kindergarten. This is the most important reason I teach. These students are the future, and they will not only continue to ask the questions, they’ll be the ones to find the answers.”

 

 

 

Interview with Craig Hafner: A Commendable WASH Career

To celebrate Maji Safi Group’s five-year anniversary, we will be featuring several guest bloggers from the Maji Safi Group (MSG) community this year. Our first guest is Craig Hafner whose successful global WASH career has spanned over five decades. Craig has always been a huge advocate for the “software” side of the WASH sector, believing that the most lasting and meaningful changes occur when behavioral change is given priority. MSG has been blessed to have Craig’s mentorship during our first five years, and we look forward to continuing to work with him. We hope you enjoy reading about Craig’s vast experience and knowledge.

  1. What are your biggest takeaways from your 40 years in the WASH sector?

My WASH career started in 1978 when I was hired as the first WASH-sector specialist for the Peace Corps. Throughout my career, infrastructure has always been the first thing people wanted to fund and the easiest. However, there are huge issues with the sustainability of projects, and they have not had any real impact. For real impact, you need to change people’s behaviors. In the 1980s, the new big thing was the ultimate hand pump designed by engineering schools with a technical mentality. Additionally, a lot more money has gone into disease treatment and drugs rather than prevention, which is much cheaper in the long run.

Another major barrier for the WASH sector has been the institutional arrangements and the challenges of the overlapping sectors that make this field so multi-disciplinary. If you want to create actual impact on health, you can’t just have the Ministry of Water in charge of WASH – you also need the Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Education. If you don’t have this collaboration, it falls apart. This makes it difficult because it is hard to get people to communicate across ministries; there is a strong silo effect, and each ministry has its own priorities. I am proud to have pioneered some of this collaborative work through the WASH and environmental health projects I worked on with USAID for 20 years. I believe many of our projects were exceptionally good, and we were the first multisectoral projects done by USAID in 1980s. USAID has since used this model with their major grants and continues to bring professional firms on board to perform different specialties.

  1. What are some seminal moments during your WASH career that have shaped your thinking?

The first experience that got me interested in WASH was carrying water as a Peace Corps volunteer in the 1960s at the school in Tanzania where I was teaching. After a few days, I hired a young man to fetch it for me and realized what a huge problem water was. Later, while I was working in northern Kenya on a medical mission during my master’s work on the Turkana tribe, I also saw first-hand the impact of drought on people and the desperate need for clean and clear water.

Working with Gilbert White at the University of Colorado was career changing, and one moment I remember vividly is when I was given the book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, by Thomas Kuhn, 1962. It taught me about paradigms in thinking and how every so often, these paradigms shift when people look for new ways of approaching a problem. I always respected the interdisciplinary approach Gilbert White brought to WASH and his focus on behavioral sciences at CU. One instance that stuck out was when I was consulting for World Vision in the late 1980s in Ghana and visited their well-drilling rig. They had only done 2-3 days of outreach and preparation in the community after I had been advocating for 9-12 months of education (which was probably too short).

Two of my proudest achievements have been helping start Friends of Tanzania 27 years ago, which has been worthwhile and successful, and representing the Peace Corps when the UN launched their Water Decade in 1980 because they were going to solve the problem by 1990. Unfortunately, that did not happen, and I have seen many examples of unmet goals like that. For example, the Carter Center was going to eliminate the guinea worm disease by 1990, then 1995, then 2000, but is still working on it because of the difficulty of changing people’s behaviors.

 

  1. What aspects of Maji Safi Group have turned you into a supporter and advocate?

What first attracted me to MSG is the undertaking of attacking the lack of behavioral change in the WASH sector. I have thought for a long time that the fundamental issue around WASH is behavioral change, and I have not seen that much of that. Keeping in touch with various ideas and efforts has been intriguing, and I am excited to continue to follow MSG for two main reasons. One is to see if it is going to be successful, and two, are people going to look at the model and say that they need to adopt more behavioral change into WASH projects.

  1. What role do you think women play in the WASH sector, and how has that changed over your career?

This has been talked about in the sector since the early 1980s when Mary Elmendorf, a USAID consultant, was advocating for women’s role in WASH. For a long time, people have payed lip service to it. First, it was that you have to have a woman on a project committee; then, it was that a woman had to be the treasurer; and then, it was that a woman had to be leader of the committee. But it has been slow and gradual and has a long way to go as with many feminine issues in society. Having women take over more responsibilities and taking more of a leadership role is very important. I have yet to see many successful female project managers of WASH projects, but hope to see that continue to change.

MSG has always put women at the center our WASH work at every level. Over 75% of our staff are women, and as you can see they mean business.

  1. Bill Gates has referred to behavioral change as the hardest thing his foundation has tried to address. Why do you think that is?

To see how difficult it is, you can just look at issues like people giving up smoking and questions of obesity around the world. Getting people to alter their behaviors is a difficult thing to do. Lots of studies in many different contexts have gone into this for many years, but no silver bullet has been found. People have habits and are influenced by peers and society. Getting people to make fundamental changes to the way they live their lives has always been difficult.

 

  1. What do you think effective WASH behavioral change campaigns do?

I have been encouraged by Maji Safi Group’s progress since you started, and you seem to be making inroads, but while working in the WASH sector, I have not seen many success stories. Dr. Valerie Curtis, professor at The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, has done some good work over the years, but good examples and successes on behavioral changes have been hard to come by.

 

  1. If you could change one thing about the WASH sector, what would it be?

 

Rather than keeping behavioral change as an afterthought or add-on to the technical aspects of WASH projects – maybe 5% of a budget – you should build WASH projects around community education initiatives and put 25-30% of the budget into behavioral change campaigns.

 

 

  1. What do you think good projects and organizations usually do well?

Good projects I have seen were planned with the community up front and were engaged in the community. This is key, so the community has a sense of ownership in the project, which leads to sustainability. Having effective management of the projects is also critical to make sure you have systems that provide good checks and balances for the expenditure of funds. If an engineer has a salary of $5,000 managing the budget of a $100,000 project, there is a high chance of mismanagement, so checks and balances are essential. I remember meeting a paramount chief on a trip in Sierra Leone who wanted another water project for his community. I learned the history of the village from him, only to find out that his porch was made with the pipes that were supposed to be for a previously provided community system!

Successful organizations have also had good outreach and a collaborative approach to dealing with the needs and interests of others. Learning from what other organizations are doing to solve similar problems is essential as well as being open to new ideas and approaches. There is no problem with taking the ideas of others and running with them and being flexible with how you are planning things. Staying in touch with the newest ideas and models to find best practices is important.

Finally, being willing to continue doing hard assessment on a regular basis, taking responsibility for failures, learning from your mistakes and being willing to move ahead is key. For WASH specifically, it has to be an interdisciplinary effort, and if you want to affect health outcomes, you need a collaborative approach that can’t be dominated by the engineers.

 

  1. You have been involved with development work in Tanzania for over 50 years. What are common mistakes you have seen organizations make?

Through my long-time involvement with Tanzania, I have noticed a lot of things, but in general, I think there has been a lack of community involvement and communication, which has led to a lack of ownership. I think the book Watering White Elephants, by Ole Therkildsen of the Scandinavian Institute of African Studies, 1988, is a real indictment of funding water projects that were not sustainable. One major difference I saw between WASH work in Tanzania and Malawi was that the people who were in charge of building water systems in Malawi were from the Office of Community Development, so there was much more local buy-in than there was in Tanzania.

Over the years, I have also seen the perverseness of organizations paying increasing sitting fees for workshop attendees, and this is especially prominent in Tanzania compared to other countries. I see it as a failure in development. To pay people salaries, per diem expenses and other allowances to get training is inhibiting. Dealing with the levels of corruption in Tanzania has always been a challenge, and as a country, Tanzania has often had a really low international rating.