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.
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.
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.
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.