Today marks the halfway point in my volunteering experience. I’ve been in Tanzania for two weeks, and it’s depressing to think that it’s almost over. I’ve fallen completely in love with Morogoro; the people, the food, the culture and language, as well as my work here, are all overwhelmingly great. There’s still so much I want to learn and see! Two weeks doesn’t seem like nearly enough. It’s strange because before I left to come here, I was nervous about spending “such a long time” away from home. In fact, I’m so happy here. I dread the thought of leaving.
This past week was a particularly exciting one, because finally we started to implement our project. Specifically, we are working in conjunction with Jamie, an awesome YCI IYIP intern (!!!), to help improve awareness about proper hygiene and sanitation, and to help correct negative behaviours among students from three elementary schools in an area called, Chamwhino. Currently, the latrines at the school are in extremely poor condition. There exist only 18 latrines for 2800 students. Further, those that do exist are dirty and unsafe. Many are covered with urine and feces, the flooring is thin, and many flies surround to the area. As a result of these factors, many students avoid using the facilities, and choose to go outside in the open instead. (To be honest, I can’t blame them.) This of course causes many health, sanitation and environmental concerns.
As a solution to this issue, part of our project has been to introduce six WASH clubs within the three elementary schools in the Chamwhino area, to help create awareness and correct poor hygiene behaviors. The WASH clubs are to be led by 12-15 peer educators, ranging in age from 15-19 years, and coming from a neighboring secondary school. This past Wednesday, we began a three-day Peer Educator and Facilitation Workshop for selected applicants, aimed at building the skills necessary skills to manage a club, including: hygiene education, leadership skills, presentation skills, critical thinking skills, among others.
The workshop was led by Jamie, as well as my fellow volunteers from Newfoundland, Brian and Jill. Though we planned for the session, the first day was a little nerve racking for me. After talking so much about the project with Jamie, and organizing our activities, I had become really invested in it and its success. In the end, it went really well. Our topic for that day was focused on hygiene and sanitation education, in order to ensure that all of our peer educators would have the necessary base-knowledge to pass onto their club members. Going into it, we weren’t entirely sure what to expect in terms of their hygiene education level. In fact, they really blew us away. Not only did they demonstrate a high level of education on each topic we presented, but they also showed enthusiasm about participating. Every time we asked a question, hands were raised left and right, with peer educators providing elaborate responses. It was awesome.
For me, the real high point of the project came on the second day of the workshop. My part for that day dealt with leadership – what it is, and four important leadership skills, including interpersonal skills, effective communication, conflict management and a positive self-image (self-esteem and self-awareness). A lot of the students had expressed expectations about learning how to lead, and so I felt a lot of pressure about doing a good job. It seemed that to know the information was one thing, but learning how to relay it to younger students, seemed both an imperative and foreign lesson. In fact, I think it went really well. As I spoke, I felt as though they were really listening to me, and learning. As I introduced new concepts, like active listening and non-verbal communication and asked them to give me examples of each, it was clear they understood. Once again, all of the students showed enthusiasm about participating. They also seemed to enjoy my session, and laughed when I made jokes or did role-plays. At the end of their session I also ran a Good Leader / Bad leader role-play with them, in which they had to act out a scene. The groups didn’t have more than 15 minutes to prepare, but they did so well! Not only did they touch on many of the topics we had learned about, but they showed great comedic insight as well. Everyone was laughing and having fun.
Today was the last day of training. My part involved club sustainability, critical thinking, and personal challenges. Well… with the exception of a small part I did during the beginning involving a sock puppet. (The sock puppet is good for discussing sensitive toilet topics with younger kids, and can be used to encourage them to talk about things they may be too embarrassed to talk about on their own.) Apparently I got saddled with teaching how to use the puppet to talk about sensitive topics, by actually using the puppet in front of our group. It was a little embarrassing, but funny all the same (my fellow peer educators really got a kick out of it), and I think the students got the point!
To finish the training workshop, we had a hygiene relay race and distributed certificates for the completion of the session. After everything was over, many of the students hung around to talk, ask questions and take pictures. It seemed like everyone had a good time, and that they were excited about the club leader opportunity. It made me feel like we had done good work as a team, and that they had appreciated our efforts.
Looking back on the session, I feel inspired by the students and everything they brought to the session. Their educational experiences seem in some ways, so different from ours in North America (for instance, when asked how many of them “used the internet”, only one of fifteen students raised their hands), yet they bring the same enthusiasm and intelligence (if not more), to the table. I believe they could grow up to be politicians, business leaders and development workers, among many other things. I was excited to hear many express interests in becoming doctors and teachers. I feel like they have affected me much more than I have affected them.
Though what we did at the school over those three days was relatively small, compared to other development projects and initiatives, I came away feeling as though I’d made some connections with the students there, and possibly even inspired one or two of them somehow. Before I left home, I was somewhat skeptical of what kind of impact I could make in my short time here, but I really do feel as though I’ve made a difference (however small). I have high hopes for the WASH clubs, and am excited to work further with the peer educators over the coming two weeks.
-Sarah Entwisle, Youth Ambassador, Tanzania 2011
Click to donate towards the Tanzania Hygiene and Sanitation Project in Chamwino.
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