Sexual Health Education through Song, Dance and Theatre

Over the past two months I’ve been fortunate enough to attend several community events and education sessions through UMATI’s current project “Daraja”.   Daraja is funded through Family Health Intentional (FHI) and is long running UMATI project which aims to provide sexual and reproductive health (SRH) education (including education surrounding HIV/AIDS, STI’s, and youth pregnancy) to youth and parents.  A large focus of the project is encouraging youth- parent communication as a means to increase awareness surrounding SRH issues and to reduce to the likelihood of risky sexual behaviour among youth.  These events are typically held outside of urban stone town in relatively rural communities.  Every event I’ve attended has had upwards of 300 participants of all ages, both male and female.  It’s amazing to me how engaged the audience becomes and I often find myself forgetting that I’m in a majority Muslim context.   The openness of discussing sensitive matters such as prostitution, sex, and HIV is inspiring.  Education is such a large determinant in prevention, and to see communities not only participating but encouraging open communication makes me all warm and fuzzy inside (I can’t help it, it’s the public health advocate inside me!).  I also can’t help but wonder how welcoming Canadian communities would be to such blunt and open education.

Daraja Project Banner

Students at a Community Session

The events typically last for about 2 hours and consist of a dance competition (usually between kids from the crowd), a drama presentation, and then a question and answer section.   In addition to these activities Voluntary Counselling and Testing (VCT) services are offer for free to anyone in the audience would like to be tested for HIV/AIDS.    I’d have to say that I most enjoy watching the kids dance; they get so excited as soon as the music starts and somehow manage to move their bodies in ways I can’t even imagine moving mine.  Once the selected few have had their chance to show off their best moves the audience votes for the best dancer and the lucky individual gets a prize.  To finish off the event two teams are picked from the crowd to participate in a tug-a-war contest, this usually leads to the crowd breaking into fits of laughter.


UMATI Drama Presentation

Aside for my exciting work with the Daraja project I’m going to have a very busy schedule for the next month.  I’ll be coordinating UMATI’s involvement with a community health fair which will take place over 5 days at the end of July.  UMATI’s role here will be to provide education on sexual and reproductive health to those in the community as well as hosting several drama skits scheduled throughout the fair.  The fair is in collaboration with several other NGO’s and health organizations throughout the island it has been a great opportunity for me to network and work alongside some brilliant minds doing inspiring public health work in Zanzibar.  July will also have me spending a lot of time writing proposals.  Two major grant applications are due at the end of the month and I will be submitting them on UMATI’s behalf in hopes of acquiring funds to implement a SRH project for commercial sex workers (CSW) and hopefully, men who have sex with men (MSM).  Both of these populations are at extremely high risk of contracting HIV and other STI’s.  This funding would go a long way in increasing education and promoting safer sexual practices within these communities.

Life here in Zanzibar isn’t all work.  The month of June turned out to be quite a social month for me and Lisa (the IYIP intern working here with ZANGOC).   Between the annual Zanzibar International Film Festival (ZIFF), visitors, trips to Dar es Salaam, the YCI volunteers arriving, and birthday celebrations, there really hasn’t been much down time.  The highlight of my social calendar thus far has probably been a party that I attending for my co-worker, Halima’s, 2 young daughters.  Now, birthday celebrations are somewhat of a new Tanzanian custom to me.  In mainland Tanzania they weren’t typically celebrated (at least not from my experience) so I was rather intrigued by what the evening was going to entail.  Especially as there was about 2 weeks of planning and preparation involved.   Needless to say, the event was epic.  The 6 hour party hosted upwards of 100 people (in a relatively small space) and involved all kinds of dancing, food, presents and even several outfit changes for the birthday girls.  There was a gift giving ceremony where each guest approached the girls sitting on an elaborate pedestal to wish them happy birthday, take a bite of cake and then hand over their gift to be added to the rapidly growing pile of goodies.  Everyone had a fantastic time (I even danced, which does not happen often!) and the birthday girls were exhausted by the end of it all.  It was a truly amazing experience and I’m so thankful to be welcomed into such a wonderful community here in Zanzibar.

Me, Rawha (UMATI employee), and the Birthday Girls

Well, that’s all for now.  Kwa heri kwa sasa (goodbye for now)!


– Sabrina Mullan, IYIP intern, Tanzania 2011. You can read more about Sabrina’s experience in Tanzania on her personal blog: Sabrina in Tanzania.

For more International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) blogs, check out our IYIP section.








Alumni Update: Simone Carter in Haiti

I was 21 and teaching in India when I realized that I was pretty much addicted to working internationally. Challenging as it was, I loved every minute of it and, before coming back to Canada I was already looking up where I could go next. That was in 2005. Since then, I was fortunate enough to spend my summer between my undergraduate and my master’s in Malawi, working at an infant orphanage for HIV positive babies and then onto my Master’s research which brought me to rural Uganda (where I spent my time investigating treatment adherence and food security among sex workers at a trucking center) for 9 months.

Me with a little one during cholera kit distributions in Haiti

Me with a little one during cholera kit distributions in Haiti

When I was accepted into my PhD (in epidemiology, the same field as my MSc) I couldn’t say no, but after the coursework was done, I realized how much I was itching to get back into the field. In one (of many) department emails, I was passed along the information for YCI’s Ghana Youth Ambassador programme and think I finished my application within 24 hours. Before I knew it I was back in the field (and in 33 degrees, my favourite temperature).

Ghana showed me something completely new. It took me away from research and into public health promotion. I loved working with my team and doing HIV and sexual health training with teachers. I found my leadership capabilities within the team and got more and more comfortable talking in front of bigger (and bigger!) groups. In one month we trained over 400 teachers and I was more than motivated.

Coming back I realized that maybe my path wasn’t in academia anymore (and that 7 years was enough for the moment) and started thinking about public health promotions. I wanted to find similar work with community health programming.

In November, I signed my first contract as a humanitarian worker and started the best job ever. I have spent the last 5 months working as a public health promotions officer for an NGO in Haiti. I run the public health Cholera response for a population of 120 000 people. This means that my team and I organize responses with chlorination of houses, distribution of soap and water treatment. Each activity is accompanied with community sensitization and hygiene promotion. We identify public health problems (in water and hygiene) and try and work with communities to find sustainable solutions that can be community run.

I work with an incredibly dedicated staff. In a country that has faced unimaginable devastation; I am in awe by the drive within each of them. Every day I learn something new and I find myself wishing my days would last longer. I feel like I have found the work that I was made for and just can’t get enough of it. It’s challenging for sure, but every day is worth all the effort and care that my team and I try and give every day.

– Simone Carter, Youth Innovator, Ghana 2010

There is space left in YCI’s 10-week project in Ghana starting this June. Check it out!

Want to learn what other YCI alumni are up to? Check out our blog’s Alumni Update category.

IYIP Blog Series: Sabrina in Zanzibar, Tanzania

Since arriving in Tanzania just over two weeks ago time has literally flown by.  After spending 3 days in a very busy and humid Dar es Salaam with 2 fellow YCI-IYIP Tanzania interns (Lisa and Larissa) Lisa and I finally arrived on the sunny, beach lined shores of Zanzibar on Thursday, March 24th.  This is not my first time to Tanzania, or to Zanzibar, so when I stepped off the ferry I instantly felt at home.  That being said, Zanzibar is a very unique place and varies greatly from the rest of Tanzania so adjusting to life here will definitely take some getting used to.

Lisa, Sabrina and Larrisa in Dar es Salaam

My first week of work at UMATI (Family Planning Tanzania) has been slow (pole pole in Swahili), full of introductions and getting to know the organization, it’s goals, projects, and affiliations.  UMATI is a national organization that provides sexual and reproductive health education, services and information for individuals in over 18 cities throughout Tanzania.  During my internship I will be working as a Health Promotion Officer with UMATI in Zanzibar and will spend the majority of my time on sexual and reproductive health projects focused towards at risk youth populations including commercial sex workers (CSW), men who have sex with men (MSM), and intravenous drug users (IDU).  Within each of these areas I will be assisting UMATI in developing new projects, researching and identifying project needs and gaps, proposal writing, and monitoring and evaluation of current projects and programs.

UMATI Office Sign

As a final note I thought I would share an interesting observation/experience – I have discovered in the past few weeks that my name, Sabrina, is actually a Muslim name.  As you can imagine this has caused quite a lot of confusion and often lengthy conversations with my coworkers and people that I meet.  Many people tell me that this must be my Zanzibar name and insist on knowing what I am called in Canada.  It often takes some time to convince them that Sabrina is indeed my Canadian name as well!

Kwa heri kwa sasa (goodbye for now),


– Sabrina Mullan, IYIP Intern, Tanzania 2011

For more International Youth Internship Program (IYIP) blogs, check out our IYIP section.