Tuesday, December 4, 2012

life in Mwanza.

Returning to Tanzania after 5 glorious weeks of yoga, turkey sandwiches, happy hour, Minneapolis, and friends and family was tough but I was ready. I was eager to settle in and start in my new position as Program Assistant for Adolescent Programming at Baylor Children's Center of Excellence for Pediatric HIV* care and treatment (very wordy, I know, you should hear me try to say that mouthful in Swahili...) I'm still with Peace Corps, as a third year extension volunteer, but have been 'seconded' (one of my many new vocab words) to Baylor to work with adolescent programming.
Baylor staff at the annual team building retreat at Shafiq Beach in Mwanza, Tanzania

As soon as I got here to Mwanza I hit the ground running. I started to figure out where I could be most helpful and learned how much potential this program has. The main program within adolescent program is called "Teen Club"** and is a psychosocial support group for our clients starting at the age of 13. Teens come together at the clinic on the first Saturday of every month for Teen Club to play games, have a life skills lesson, and to just spend time with their friends. I've been working closely with a few of our staff and my newly appointed assistant and Teen Club rock star to adapt curriculum from Botwana's Teen Club and to create our own. The past few months our themes have been grief & bereavement, risky behavior, and a World AIDS Day reflection writing activity. Every month is different and I'm using my experience teaching Life Skills with my students in the village to know what works and what doesn't.  We've had on average 95 teens come to the past few Teen Club days and the numbers keep growing. Every time they get together whether it's in a large group on a Teen Club day or in smaller groups doing other activities I'm continually inspired by how incredible these programs are in the lives of our kids. To have a safe place where they meet friends who are going through similar challenges, without having to pretend to be someone their not, and to learn how to be a good friend by being involved in such a supportive community is truly life changing.
Playing a circle game to start out Teen Club in October
Teen Club and Baylor staff before running the 5km run in the Rock City Marathon
Teens listen to a staff member teach about the importance of good adherence to their meds
My roomie, Liza, who is another volunteer with Baylor gets the teens pumped up before the run
Teens repsond to questions about whether a behavior is 'risky', 'low risk', or 'no risk' by moving to stand behind the respective sign

Aside from helping organize Teen Club each month, I've also been working with smaller groups of our teens who have expressed interest in "extra curricular" activities. Soon after I started, we met with an organization called Mwanza Youth and Children's network. We developed a partnership and recruited some teens from Teen Club who were interested in media to start a Media Group. MYCN began training this group of 18 teens in everything from the basics of media and why it's important to using tape recorders and practicing interviewing skills. After a few trainings, a few teens were ready and went to try out to have a part on MYCN's radio spot. They made the cut and before we knew it we were live on local radio! 
Teens volunteer answers during a Media Training facilitated by Mwanza Youth and Children's Network
Teens practice interview skills and using a recorder during a Media Training

At Metro FM radio station with Mwanza Youth and Children's Network about to be live on the radio!

Another group I've been working closely with is called Stitch x Stitch. Earlier this year this group was formed by girls from Teen Club who were interested in sewing and starting an income generating project. Baylor hired them a mentor to teach them sewing basics, and Baylor staff has been working with them to develop business skills and financial literacy. The program made a lot of progress recently thanks to Candace and her marketing background by helping the girls develop a marketing plan and get organized. They have new orders almost weekly, with most of their products being purchased by Texas Children's Hospital. 

Well enough about work. Mwanza really is a whole different world from the life I've been living in Tanzania so far. From early morning rooster wake up calls and days of fetching my water on my bike in Sepuka to Monday happy hour at our neighborhood bar (yes I realize this is the second time I've mentioned happy hour in this blog) and going dancing on the weekends (sometime during the week too...), my days and weekends are spent much differently than before. I have good friends and two great roommates who are actual people instead of my previous company of termites and scorpions and I'm so lucky to have them (the people ones). It's not better or worse than the way I was living before in a small village in the middle of nowhere, it's just different. I still have bad days in Tanzania where I just wish I could be home sitting at my parent's kitchen table eating mango salsa and grapes, but I love my job, and this is exactly where I'm supposed to be.


  1. Alli!

    Your new life sounds unreal. This all sounds incredible! You are amazing, keep up the good work. Love you and miss you lots!


  2. "It's not better or worse than the way I was living before...it's just different."

    This. So much this. In my 3 years of service to Tanzania, this is the seminal thought that encompasses my entire Peace Corps experience. I'm glad you feel the same way!

    But more to the point, I echo Cameron -- this new job of yours is nuts! Teen Club, Media Group, Stitch x Stitch...it's like you're in a developed country or something!

  3. Thank you alli for helping and tryng to make differencre in our country I real appreciate what your doing may almight God give you more strength