The Faces of Sexual Reproductive Health Education in Zanzibar

The sexual reproductive health peer educator program is ongoing in Zanzibar, and is carried out by YCI’s local partner Zanzibar Youth Forum. The structure of this program is to train groups of young adults on sexual reproductive health and empower them to become leaders and educators in their own communities, where they carry out workshops on SRH topics with their peer groups. The goal for our two-week project was to evaluate the current state of the SRH program by meeting with several groups of peer educators. In meeting with them, we hoped to learn more about the work they’re doing, the challenges they face, the efficacy of the program, and the resources needed to make this program as effective as possible.

When we met with the peer educators, we were surprised to find that the program was not at the stage we had expected – none of the peer educators had access to the SRH manual written by YCI volunteers, and many were not yet at the stage of carrying out workshops in their communities. In our conversations, we learned about the many challenges faced by those wishing to talk about sexual reproductive health in Zanzibar – from cultural and religious taboos, to family disapproval, to lack of resources and effective teaching materials. Despite all these challenges, the peer educators continue to pursue SRH education. They are an incredible group of passionate, hard-working and driven young adults, who are adamant about the importance of increasing SRH education in their communities. I felt honoured to talk to them, and to learn more about their lives.

During the course of this project, I was able to interview a few of these peer educators on camera, and had them share their personal reasons for being part of this program. I learned so much from speaking with them, and want to share some of their perspectives here.

Balkis is an outspoken advocate of education. She is a strong leader, and is passionate about the need for increased dialogue about SRH in Zanzibar.

Muslih is a talented and creative educator, who has been working hard to start conversations about SRH in his community.

Our 25/25 Sponsor: Melanie Riddell

After graduating from university in May 1999 Melanie was looking for a way to see more of the world and help those in need before going the local work force. Her experiences with YCI were just what she was looking for! Costa Rica was an amazing eye opening experience. She stayed with a local family and helped the community build a much needed health post. She lived for two months without electricity or a flush toilet, and two hours from the closest telephone.  Melanie found herself completely immersed in the local culture and her own groupimage1 image2

Two years later in February 2001, Melanie decided to go to another volunteer trip. This time she went to Vanuatu which was just as amazing! She worked with a small community who welcomed everyone with open arms and participated in a number of small health and sanitation projects.  Both experiences were life changing and resulted in life long friendships. She would (and has) recommended to YCI to anyone looking for a way to expand their horizons of the world; give back in a small, but meaningful, way; and to have an adventure of a lifetime.


Independent, liberated, resilient

Written by Charmaine Felix

Independent… liberated… resilient… These are my first thoughts when I reflect on the children in Tanzania. It was really remarkable to see how different they were. In comparison to what I have been exposed to during my lifetime, I definitely learned some valuable lessons from these delightful youngsters and I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity.

I was placed in the city of Mwanza for my volunteer program with YCI. Mwanza is a mid-sized port city on the southern shores of Lake Victoria in northwestern Tanzania. With a population of over 700,000, it is Tanzania’s second largest city, following Dar es Salaam. In this town, I worked with a partner organization called Mwanza Youth and Children Network, located in the Ghana Ilemela district. Also known as MYCN, this organization is a youth led NGO specifically established for serving youth and children in Tanzania.

During my brief time there, I met some really wonderful people. Apart from the seven staff, whom I worked very close with, and other incredibly interesting folks, there were a number of children I got to know throughout my two weeks. It was my second day in Tanzania on a Monday afternoon; I arrived at the hotel where the children were participating in a program for Young Reporters’ Network. The network is currently in collaboration with Metro FM, Barmedas TV and Mwanza Youth and Children Network to produce a TV and radio programme called ‘Sayari ya Watoto’, which translates to Planet of the Child. The young reporters can be heard and seen every Saturday from 0900 – 1000 hrs Eastern African Time. I thought this was quite neat, considering I have not heard of such an idea before.

That Monday afternoon, as I entered the hall where the children were, I was quickly mesmerized with the behaviour. They were attentive towards the facilitator, who was very engaging about the lecture, and participated cheerfully in the activities. I met a couple of them over the lunch break, outside at the hotel patio, where they freely sat on my table and thoughtfully introduced themselves – Monica, Sabina and Highness, to name a few. Their personalities were infectious. They like to chat and ask a lot of questions. Although their native tongue is Swahili, some know a generous amount of English and understood the conversation – which was impressive to me. They were knowledgeable and extroverted at a young age.

Working in the MYCN office, I had the benefit to spend some time with the children after school hours. They came here to utilize the computer and printer and prepared for their upcoming radio program. The organization held discussions with the group and even though I did not fully understand what they were talking about, I sensed how passionate the children were about the topic at hand. I am glad I was able to experience a live show one Saturday morning in Mwanza.

As the days went on, the shy ones were not so shy anymore because they saw me almost every day. They called me “auntie” and I thought this was so polite. They greeted me “shikamoo” which is a Swahili word used to respectfully say “hello” to an elder, and even other kids that I passed on the streets addressed me – how humble of them. Moreover, there were other kids that I saw routinely playing outside that did not attend school – much younger than the group. They were known as the unprivileged kids. Although they were seen this way, I was still very much amazed at how self-sufficient and intelligent they were. They used anything as toys that were available at their disposal, such as the telephone cord as skipping rope, or a torn up box as a car, and these kids were content with what they had. I even witnessed a little girl, probably aged two, who was walking by herself to go home without help at her side. Another young boy, probably aged five, was walking with a plastic bag of fruits and vegetables, which he was perhaps bringing home to his parents. I am not used to seeing this daily and so, I was extremely captivated with the children I got to know in Tanzania – independent, liberated and resilient.

Ramadan in Zanzibar

Written by Harpreet Singh

I was in Zanzibar for a little over two months; most of it spent working with YCI. In the midst of my time there was the month of Ramadan. This was one of the most memorable parts of my stay. During Ramadan, people who practise the Muslim faith fast every day for the duration of the month. The fast lasts from dawn to dusk and excludes all food and drink, even water. Islam is so ubiquitous in Zanzibar that mostly everyone participates in the fast, so much so that all normal food venues were closed for the entire day. And eating in public would be considered very impolite and could even get you in trouble, being such a blatant violation of what local cultural norms are.

By Ramadan, I had been in Zanzibar for long enough that I felt comfortable asking if it would be okay if I fasted as well. Everyone I asked was very encouraging and assured me that it would be perfectly alright. I wouldn’t be in Zanzibar for long enough to celebrate the end of Ramadan at Eid. From all I had heard, Eid in Zanzibar was something people traveled from far and wide to celebrate. But despite this, I decided to fast. I would try fasting for one day first, and then continue for as long as I felt I could.

The first day of fasting was hard. All I could think about was the moment the sun would set and I could eat food. Yet, I felt this amazing sense of camaraderie in living this shared experience with my colleagues and local friends. And everyone was amazing in their encouragement. It was probably the greatest bonding experience I had in Zanzibar. At the end of the day, we went down to the water in Stone Town, to the night-time food market at Forodhani Gardens. There we waited for the sun to set on the water. It was one of the slowest and most breathtaking sunsets I have seen. As the last sliver of sun slipped under the horizon of the Indian Ocean, I could finally break my fast. One of my students from the YCI English classes spent his evenings working at a food stand at the market and when he saw me, he insisted on sharing the food his mother had packed for him. It is customary to break the fast with dates, and then a series of deliciously rich dishes to follow. That first taste of the date was so sweet and perfect after the whole day of abstaining from eating. I was surprised by how little I ended up eating, and yet I can remember the vivid flavours of each of the different types of food.


I ended up fasting for only two more days, both times breaking my fast with my home-stay family, which was also a wonderful experience. I won’t ever forget that Ramadan; that gorgeous Zanzibari sunset; or the friends, students, and colleagues who were so supportive during the time I spent in Zanzibar.



“Familiarity in the unfamiliar”

Written by Deborah Dimitruk

Africa, the land of contrasts; colourful kangas and drab cement block homes; beautiful views and yet, garbage on the streets, kind people with smiling eyes and living most challenging lives. Desert and ocean, dry & lush, Islam and Christianity, veils that we westerners think oppress yet for many, they represent freedom; women bridging gaps between traditional and modern and defining their own identities in their own Zanzibar way. Significant social & economic struggle yet people are eager, optimistic, resilient and unbelievably generous. A land of rich and poor, many living without what I consider to be basic necessities, yet they are not unhappy- I was greeted with jambo (hello) everywhere I went and was made to feel very karibu (welcome)!

Africa, the land that so many fear.  The land of Ebola & genocide, poverty & corruption.  I didn’t fear and I am sure I know why.  I saw familiarity in the unfamiliar.  I saw young people, men and women together, sharing, laughing and collaborating for the common goal. I saw families playing, groups of friends socializing and couples sitting together – and remarkably, “courting” in not much different a way than in my own culture.  I saw kindness, respect and generosity for this Mzungu (a stranger in a foreign land) and I saw people, wanting for themselves no different than I have wanted for my family and myself.

In an article I read recently, the author used such words as “splendor and squalor”, “treasure and trash” to describe Africa; while there is a certain truth in these words, I couldn’t help but feel that they only captured the Africa that we see and not the Africa that we feel.  They fail to capture the essence of Africa, which is the people, the cultures, the history and the stories.  So yes, there is work to do to strike squalor and trash from the vocabulary and it will happen in due time. I will choose to remember Tanzania, Africa for the smiles, the colours, the rugged beauty of the land and most of all, the extraordinary people I met on this journey.



Say “yes” more than you say “no”

Written by Sara Vitale

After 30 plus hours and three airports, I was finally stepping off the plane and putting my feet on Canadian soil. My boyfriend was standing at the gate, bouquet of flowers in hand peeking out from behind a crowd of people. For a minute I felt like I was in a romantic comedy, preferably Love Actually—that’s my favourite. A big lump formed in my throat as the distance between us became smaller until I was standing in front of him and he kissed me hello. To continue my romantic cliché, being away from him was hard. There were so many moments in Tanzania that I wished I could have shared with someone I loved. The hardest part of my whole experience however is trying to answer his first question, “How was it?”

How could I sum it up in a sentence or a short conversation?  To be honest, I still haven’t managed to do that successfully since I’ve arrived home. 7 months later, I find myself referencing my experiences in every day conversations and at the same time it almost feels like a dream. To someone who has only seen the developing world through the ruse of a five star resort you appear to be some sort of serial do-gooder or perhaps a fool for investing so much money, time, and energy to essentially work for free. I’ve had so many heated discussions and so many misguided reactions to my choice to volunteer but alas it makes for an interesting exchange. My answer to why I made the decision to go is quite simply that I wanted to broaden my horizons and have a series of small moments with people that I otherwise would never have met. The experience brought me a truer understanding of the fact that life is so much more meaningful when it is spent supporting others, having educated conversations, and loving one another. It sounds so obvious but I think it’s easy to forget when you’re caught up in school or finding a career or worrying about having enough money to maybe one day move out of your dad’s basement.

Though I wished that my entire trip could have been seen through rose coloured glasses, there were some moments that weren’t perfect, there were moments that broke my heart, there were moments that made me feel like a huge stereotype, moments that deeply angered me, and then there were some teachable moments, lots of laughs, singing, dancing, delicious food and many run ins with cockroaches. I was so lucky to meet Danielle, a seasoned volunteer who guided my clueless self around the city of Arusha. It is thanks to her and the countless others including the staff at the Umoja Center, the wonderful children and mamas at House of Happinesss, and the amazing YCI staff and volunteers in Zanzibar, that I was able to leave Tanzania with beautiful memories. Truth be told I miss it so much and hope to return one day when I am able to stay longer!

During my stay I worked as a sexual health teacher at the Umoja Center and spent my evenings with the children at House of Happiness. The classrooms at the Umoja Center are damp, dark, former chicken coops. The students and staff try to brighten them up with signs and drawings but the center could definitely use some new facilities. The staff is actually working very hard to acquire funds in order to purchase their own land and build a new center. Many of the books in the library have developed mold in their pages because of the dampness. Strangely, despite their physical state, I felt right at home in the classrooms at the Umoja center. Each and every one of my students was glorious and bursting with desire to learn, question, talk about music, create art pieces, and fiddle with the computers in the lab. They were just like my students at home, idolizing Beyonce, falling in love and then two days later falling out of it, trying to fit in with their peers, wanting to be somebody, and be recognized for their unique qualities. One of my students in particular completely inspired me, her name is Beatrice and she is an example to women everywhere. My favourite moment of my entire experience was when she told me about being a “super girl”. The term refers to being an independent woman who gets her own university education regardless of what anyone tells her. It refers to valuing yourself over doing everything to please your boyfriend or your family and it was the most poignant thing that has ever been said to me. I’m happy to say she is now attending college, where I hope that she is still challenging the box that society places women in.

Teaching sexual health to a group of youth not much younger than I am (one of my students was but a year younger than me) was rather daunting at first. With the help of two remarkable teachers, I was able to put together meaningful lessons that allowed my students to debate hot topics, ask questions without fear of judgment, and have some fun along the way.

I didn’t know very much about Tanzania when I arrived but I left armed with all sorts of insights, understanding, and memories. I learnt that when faced with a cockroach, I turn into a ninja with repellent in order to eradicate them. I ate so much chips mayai and it might have once been out of a plastic bag because I love it that much. I still can’t quite duplicate the recipe at home so if anyone has any talent for this dish, please do not hesitate to email me! I danced until the wee hours at Via Via with new friends. I went to birthday parties, listened to church songs, and even attended a Tanzanian wedding! I went to Zanzibar by myself where I was pleased to make the acquaintance of a guy named Oki Dokie (yup, that’s real), saw dolphins, stuck my toes in the Indian Ocean, and learned of Sultans and Princesses. I realized that there is nothing more powerful than the goodness of people and that we can change the world we live in to be more a sustainable, accepting place where everyone can fulfill their potentials.

With that I leave you with my final piece of advice if you’re thinking of volunteering with YCI: make your own adventure. It’s ok to be nervous or maybe even a little scared but what matters is that you take the leap and say “yes” more than you say “no” because who knows where you’ll go if you do!

About the author:

After returning home from Tanzania, Sara started working at Seven Academy where she helps develop educational apps for children. Her company is a proud contributor and supporter of The Global Literacy Project, which brings tablet computers to children without access to education. She has just been accepted to Concordia University to pursue a Master’s in Educational Technology -Yipee!

Hakuna Matata!

Written by Urvi Rana

“Be safe!” “Are you sure?” “Don’t go!”…these are the things I was told before I decided to come to Tanga, Tanzania with Youth Challenge International. The minute my family and friends heard ‘Africa’, they were extremely concerned about my safety! Now, I am not one to back away from new experiences, yet I was starting to get a bit worried myself. Fortunately, I was joined by another volunteer from Ottawa, Ontario on this volunteer trip and that put me at ease. After spending a mere 12 hours in Dar Es Salaam, we were on our way to Tanga. I was told that the culture in Tanga was a lot more different than Dar Es Salaam, and boy were they right!

Tanga is a coastal city located just north of Dar. As soon as we stepped off the RATCO Express, I could tell I was in a whole different city. The next few days confirmed the opposite of my fears. Everywhere I went, I was greeted by people of all ages! ‘Mambo’ ‘Shikamoo’ ‘Habari’ etc – these now became the words I heard daily! I was pleasantly surprised at how safe I felt in this city. In just one week, I felt comfortable enough to take the daladalas by myself and make my own way around town. I could not believe how safe I felt in Tanga, especially since I have been to India numerous times and never felt comfortable enough to take the public transit on my own! I always believed Toronto was one of the friendliest cities, but not anymore. Whether it’s the early morning hours or late evenings, people are always happy and wanting to talk to you.

Tanga will forever hold a special place in my heart and I cannot wait to go back there one day to greet the strangers on the streets and the families I lived with! I was amazed at how welcoming and friendly this city was and started wondering why people back home were concerned. There was nothing to be afraid of, nothing to worry about. I wondered where people got the idea that going to Africa means putting yourself at risk. That’s when I got thinking about the role of media in exercising caution. The media focuses on the large numbers of HIV infected and at-risk patients, it focuses on the poor economy and on its neighbouring countries. I could not be more surprised at how different Tanzania was from what is usually portrayed in the media. It’s not just all about HIV or sandy beaches and tourists wanting to climb Kilimanjaro. Tanzania is much more than just that, it’s a place where the citizens want you to fall in love with their country, it’s a place where everything just happens to work out and it’s the place I fell for!

It truly was Hakuna Matata!