Mambo! I am Sarah Muskin, and I have been in Tanzania since January 2015 as a study abroad student at the School for International Training (SIT) in Arusha. As I am an Environmental Studies major at Vassar College and interested in water issues, my program’s academic director introduced me to Max Perel-Slater and Bruce Pelz. Both Max and Bruce were SIT students in the Arusha Program in 2009; since then, they have co-founded Maji Safi Group (MSG), where I completed my SIT independent study project. MSG is a disease prevention and health promotion organization located in the rural Rorya District of Tanzania.
After working with Max over the phone for a few weeks, I decided to collect data on the perspectives of community residents, hospital employees, and the MSG Community Health Workers on the effectiveness of the Maji Safi Group Disease Prevention Center at the Shirati KMT District Designated Hospital. I arrived in Shirati on April 8, looking forward to nearly three weeks of learning about Maji Safi Group, the hospital, and health care in Tanzania, meeting people in Shirati, and running under the sky of this northwestern Tanzanian landscape. However, beginning my own research proved trickier than expected, because the day after I arrived in Shirati from Arusha, the first case of a cholera outbreak was confirmed in the Rorya District.
The first thing I needed to do when I heard this news, embarrassingly enough, was google “cholera”. While staying with Maji Safi Group, I had the luxury of having access to satellite Internet. Although I often had to wait up to a few hours for the Internet to work and be patient as pages loaded, the information about this disease was easily accessible to me. I was able to learn quickly about the symptoms of cholera, how it is transmitted, and how to treat it. I learned that I was not at a high risk of getting the illness since I drank filtered water and used a toilet. In contrast, people in the Rorya District are at risk of getting this disease because they do not know what it is, nor do they have information about the disease or basic hygiene and sanitation available to them. In fact, during this outbreak, the only people or organization doing any sort of education about this preventable disease was Maji Safi Group.
Just days after the first cholera case was confirmed, every Maji Safi Group Community Health Worker had been trained to educate the community about cholera (kipindupindu), and thousands of illustrated pamphlets were ready to be distributed. In the following weeks, most of the Community Health Workers, along with Maji Safi Group’s directors, traveled to the areas where kipindupindu cases were most prevalent and had claimed the most lives in order to educate in public areas, conduct home visits, and give out information about kipindupindu.
Personally, I spent most of my time gathering data for my own project at the Shirati Hospital, which currently does not have any cholera patients. However, the hospital center, which I was told would have about 6-10 drop-in visitors a day, had 55 visitors stop by the first day the Maji Safi Group Community Health Workers began educating about kipindupindu. What I found is that Maji Safi Group plays a crucial role in doing exactly what they are trying to do: promote health and empower communities to fight waterborne diseases like cholera.
As for my research at the center and in the hospital, I had fun and learned a lot. I roamed around the hospital with Bena, who was my interpreter, my friend, and a Maji Safi Group volunteer, finding medical staff to interview when we were not at the disease prevention center. At the center, we had our laughs with the MSG Community Health Workers, primarily Aska and Mwanvua, and filled out as many of my study questionnaires as possible. Though I have yet to study the data in detail, I am excited to see if my research shows any trends, and hopefully my work will turn out the way I had hoped and will be useful for MSG!
Being in Shirati has been a great experience. Though I have heard people say it is in the middle of nowhere, to me it feels like it is the center of everything when I run down the dirt roads with the sun reflecting off Lake Victoria before sunset, when clouds and thunder are rolling in, or when I see the Kenyan hills in the distance. The image I have in my head is beautiful with the people shouting “Mzunguhowareyou!” (white person how are you) or “kimbia kimbia haraka haraka!” (run run fast fast!), and the cows and the sheep butts only add character to the landscape. I have learned about global public health and gained so much perspective on what is really lacking in a place like the Rorya District in Tanzania. I feel so lucky to have spent my time here with Maji Safi Group, an organization dedicated to filling the gaping holes in health care in the form of disease prevention, particularly for waterborne and related diseases. I can only say asante sana (thank you so much) to the entire Maji Safi Group team for making me feel so welcome and helping me with my independent study process. I will miss this place a lot. So, asante sana!
If you are interested in getting involved with Maji Safi Group’s fight against Cholera, please contact us at [email protected] and consider donating.