Where children learn…

Tanzania 2013_2 165 Erna Maj, or “Mama Bruce” as she is known in Shirati, started working with the Maji Safi Group (MSG) in March 2012. She received her Master’s Degree from the University of Colorado in Linguistics and TESOL and works as a language teacher and translator. Mama Bruce has worked and volunteered for aid organizations in the US, Tanzania, Guatemala, and Argentina and is currently acting as the US Fundraising Coordinator for the Maji Safi Group. Below, Mama Bruce shares her Maji Safi experience and what it is like to work with the children in Shirati involved in MSG’s After School Program.
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Imagine young children who do not have the opportunity to color, to read children’s books, to play Memory and Scrabble, to play with playdoh, to cut and glue, to have their faces painted, or to do math with manipulatives. In Shirati, there are a lot of children like that. They are happy kids who can kill a snake, herd goats and dance the kuduku, but their schools are characterized by huge classes, rote learning, a lack of supplies, and very little emphasis on cognitive development. In most homes, there is no money available for art supplies or books. In Shirati, developing the kind of imagination and creative thinking western schools and parents are so focused on honing all too often becomes a dream deferred. Instead of carrying creative ideas in her head, a girl ends up carrying buckets of water on her head.

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Or that used to be the case, I should say. Now, there is the Maji Safi Group’s office which is in the process of being turned into a true Community Resource Center. Here, kids come to play and learn about personal hygiene, water treatment and disease prevention through stories, singing and dancing, games and art. In the afternoons, eager hands, enthusiastic voices and fascinated minds fill those two rooms to the brink. Health instruction is being given, hands are being washed, books are being read, pages are being colored, and memory cards with vijidudu (bacteria) in twenty different colors are being turned. And not to be forgotten, there is Maji-Maji-Vijidudu (Water-Water-Bacteria) – the Shirati version of Duck-Duck-Goose

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I have had the pleasure of working with the children in Shirati twice. In March 2012, Maji Safi Group was in its infancy, so I worked at a school. While I was there, the idea of an afternoon school program, based on children’s literature and art, was born. We wanted to see if the children would come. They did – dozens, often walking several miles to participate. In March 2013, Maji Safi Group had become an established and highly respected organization with its own After School Program taught by the Maji Safi Community Water Workers (CWWs). I was asked to help add art projects to the children’s curriculum. Minyoo (worms) were created as reverse paper cuts, syllables of hygiene content words were matched, word search sheets were made and colored, paper scraps were used for math, board games were created and played, and The Very Hungry Caterpillar came to Shirati in Swahili.

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Mama Bruce, as they call me there, cannot wait to return to work with the Maji Safi CWWs and the children they teach. My suitcase will be filled with homemade teaching materials and children’s books and my head with ideas. If you have ideas or materials to share, please contact me at [email protected]. I cannot wait to see kids as fascinated as the one below again, fascinated by a children’s story.

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