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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