Each Saturday, I have been working with the team from the Buguruni Anglican Health Clinic to conduct trainings on a variety of health topics. The recipients of these trainings are 45 health works associated with the Christian churches and Muslim mosques in the area. The health workers are charming, boisterous people who love to laugh as much as they love to learn. They are very engaged in this whole process, and are the root of our success. Their desire to help their community makes our team work harder and be more engaged with our work.
I merely observed the first few trainings, with either Mr. Mabula or Dr. Obondo whispering the English translation of the Swahili lesson in my ear. It was clear that the community was confused as to why I was there. At some points, my presence even became uncomfortable. This program is based on sustainability, and the community helping its most vulnerable. The first Saturday, the health workers were talking about how excited they were to work on a program with other Tanzanians, that was both by and for the community. One of the main points was how the community can help itself without help from mzungus (white people). I am the only non-Tanzanian on my team at this point. As I was sitting there, knowing little Swahili and less about Tanzanian culture, I seriously questioned my role in all of this. But that is part of the joy and excitement. The whole goal of public health work, especially international public health work, is to engage and empower the locals. If we do our jobs, the community should have the tools it needs to create programs and carry out health plans without outsider help. While this interaction made me question my role, it also made me proud. I am fortunate to be a part of a team and working with a community that is dedicated to helping their own. I know that this project will continue on after I leave. I know that I am learning more than I could ever give. I’m learning about education, about leadership, and about Three cheers for sustainability.
The week before last, I was finally able to participate. Dr. Obondo worked as both my translator and my co-facilitator, and together we gave a lesson on HIV. What was originally supposed to be a 2.5-hour seminar on HIV and Tuberculosis ended up being completed dedicated to HIV. The health workers had good questions, and wanted to know more about the disease, which led to our change in plans. They were engaged, curious, and willing to ask uncomfortable questions to get answers. Part of this program is eliminating stigma around uncomfortable topics, such as HIV, and it was wonderful to see health workers and church leaders open up about their questions and concerns. Their willingness to talk candidly about HIV, and ask questions about it, gives me hope that similar conversations will be occurring within the community. We have stressed their role in training others and spreading information, and I have faith that it is working. At the end of this training, the participants told us how much they enjoyed our lecture. The Chairman even asked if we could conduct the trainings twice a week, since everyone is learning a lot and eager to learn more (due to schedules, this unfortunately is not possible).
Last Saturday, Mr. Mabula, Mama Mhada and I presented on all aspects of the Ukombozi curriculum. I taught about STIs, building on the HIV training from the previous week. Dr. Obondo was once again a fabulous translator. Mama Mhada taught about drug abuse, and Mr. Mabula taught about violence. At the end of each one of our parts, we asked about the participant’s ideas for combatting each of these issues within our community. Gathering ideas from the participants is integral to our work. If the community does not believe that a certain method will work to reduce STIs, drug abuse, and violence, then we should not include it in our future trainings. If the community strongly believes that a method will work to reduce these issues, then it has to be included. We’re building a manual that is both scientific and practical, that can be used throughout Dar es Salaam, and maybe even throughout Tanzania.
I have finally felt like I am contributing to the trainings in the past two weeks. I recognize that other members of the team could just as easily do my work, especially since they are all trained and experienced health educators. But working with the community is something I love. I learned in Guatemala that I enjoy teaching people. I enjoy answering questions, approaching uncomfortable topics, and feeling as though people are walking away from our trainings with more knowledge. Saturday trainings have become my favorite part of the week. Working with the health workers is incredibly rewarding. The members of our team are smart, compassionate, and invested in making the community better. I am so proud of the progress we are making. There is no training today, but the participants have been instructed to take time to update their action plans and collect data on the number of widows and orphans in their neighborhoods. Next Saturday, we’ll be back at it once more.