Maria graduated from Saint Mary’s College with a Bachelors of Social Work in 2011. After graduation she spent 2 years working in Jinja, Uganda as a teacher and with Holy Cross Family Ministries. Through Family Ministries she coordinated and implemented youth activities and weekly groups at secondary schools, facilitated workshops and seminars, conducted home visitations and counseling, and contributed to weekly radio programs. She is currently a candidate for a Masters of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis with a concentration in International Social and Economic Development. Maria has been a practicum student with MSG since January 2014 working on program evaluation, and promoting US outreach and awareness programs. Maria spent the summer in Tanzania with MSG.
As I sat across the table from two staff members from the school’s Office of Field Education and Community Partnership, I couldn’t seem to put meaningful sentences together. I was attending the mandatory “debriefing” session for all students who had been abroad over the summer semester doing practicums, but instead of being in a group of eight or nine students, like they had expected, it was just me and the two Field Education coordinators. So I had been sitting there, for what seemed like a life time, answering questions about Maji Safi Group, what I did during my time in Tanzania, what Tanzania was like, and if I had had a “good” experience. All this was easy enough to answer, until they came to the last question, “What was the most important relationship established and what was the most meaningful part of your experience?” No pressure. I began to try to answer, but found myself only saying half sentences and words that were meaninglessly strewn together.
“Relationship? Uh, the community, well, directors, health workers, uhhh Dr. Chirangi. Meaningful well beautiful, incredible place, what an experience, learning meaningful learning, life changing… really.”
Yeah, I was sounding very eloquent and like a student who should be embarking on her last semester of a graduate program. But how could they expect any different? How could I summarize what had been one of the most incredible learning, career defining and life experiences into a couple of sentences, especially having two people staring at me and waiting for a response after only a couple seconds to process?? While I think I was able to pull it together and say something half way coherent and reflective of my experience, I still find it very hard to put into words what it was like this summer living and working in Shirati, Tanzania alongside the Maji Safi Group staff and leadership and what it has meant to me and my future in international development.
I began working with Emily Bull in January 2014, the beginning of my second semester as a graduate student at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, which is part of Washington University in St. Louis. As part of the Master’s program, students are required to have a practicum experience, which is essentially an internship using relevant social work skills. I knew I wanted to work with small organizations doing work in East Africa, and while Maji Safi Group’s focus on water, sanitation and hygiene was very different than anything I had done in the past, after my first meeting with Emily I knew I wanted to work with her in whatever capacity that might be.
I had a great experience during my first semester working with MSG and Emily in St. Louis, but my time spent in Musoma and Shirati over the summer was far more influential on my career path and my future in international development than I could have imagined. I found that MSG’s true commitment to being community driven and empowering women and youth, the enthusiasm of everyone associated with MSG, and the passion the leadership team shows in all that they do is what sets MSG apart from the countless other organizations in the field.
For three months I become completely immersed into the life of MSG, which meant that I not only got to know the directors very well over shared meals and afternoon Frisbee and KanJam sessions (they also graciously took me in as a summer roommate), it also meant I got to experience first hand the passion and drive that they bring to anything and everything involving MSG. I was able to get a great insight into what goes into running an international development organization, for better or for worse, and was allowed to be part of meetings and discussions that most students in my position would normally not be part of. I have such deep admiration, respect, and appreciation for all those on the MSG leadership team. My relationship with them has been one the greatest gifts to my life this past year.
But then I can’t talk about the summer without mentioning the complete and awesome love I have for all of the MSG Community Health Workers in Shirati and Mama Deborah (our house mama). While I didn’t get to spend as much time with them as I had hoped, it was nothing short of love at first sight….or actually, love at first song and dance. These incredible women and men are the heart and soul of MSG, what keeps us going, what informs all decisions, the connection to the community, and drive behind the love, compassion, and authenticity that can be seen and felt through all of MSG’s programs and activities. The days spent in the office with them were the highlights of my time there. While our Kiswahili/English conversations were pretty confusing and broken to say the least, we found that there are certain communication methods that are pretty universal: laughter, hugs, songs, and dance. And every day was full of this kind of conversation.
The amount I learned from the Community Health Workers and MSG leaders in the short time I was there is mind boggling. I further developed my passion for international development, especially where public health and social work intersect to make the most impactful changes. It also reaffirmed my love for East Africa, and my desire to work with community driven organizations.
As December nears, I find myself with very mixed emotions. I am eagerly awaiting graduation and finally being done with my MSW, but it also signifies the end of my practicum with MSG. I am so passionate about this organization and everything they stand for. There’s no way I could ever thank them enough for all they have taught me and the opportunities they have given me, and the beautiful relationships that have come from it. As I begin applying for jobs and begin making plans for after graduation it’s hard to say what the future has in store for me, but one thing is certain; MSG will always be a part of everything I do, all the people I meet, and the places I go. Asante Sana Maji Safi Group.