How social challenges prompted Suzan to establish AfyaPlus

What you need to know:

  • Suzan advises women in the early stages of developing community-based organisations like AfyaPlus to first seek knowledge on organisation development and leadership

There are people in the world who come up with innovations to solve challenges they personally experienced in the past.

One of these people is Suzan Yumbe, founder and executive director of AfyaPlus, an organisation based in Iringa.

She grew up in the rural area of Geita with her grandparents.

Their village had no access to water.

It was the responsibility of women and girls to fetch water for home use.

Some of the girls were forced to abscond from school on days when they could not get water near their homes.

They had to walk for kilometres to fetch water that would only run out in a short time.

This affected the girls’ performances in school.

They also could not engage in meaningful economic activities as they had to spend most of their time fetching water.

“Some of the people in the village contracted diseases due to the usage of unclean water in their homes. There were also some women and girls who were sexually assaulted as they walked far from their homes to fetch water. It felt like the society I lived in chose not to address the dangers women and girls were in,” she recalls.

After four years of living in this village, she relocated to the urban area of Mwanza, which was a little bit advanced at the time.

Her first menstrual period came at a time when Suzan knew close to nothing about menstruation altogether.

She asked her mother, who explained it to her on a light level.

In November 2016, she joined Ruaha Catholic University to pursue Environmental Health Sciences and during her studies, she noticed that a shortage of water was a common problem, especially in rural areas across the country.

“In 2017, I decided to become a volunteer to spread awareness in schools about how to prevent water-related diseases. I also founded AfyaPlus in Iringa in the same year and in 2020, the organisation was officially registered. My story was first supported by some fellow students who gave up along the way,” she recalls.

The AfyaPlus Organization is dedicated to preventing and controlling diseases stemming from insufficient water supply, inadequate sanitation, and poor hygiene practices.

Additionally, it provides vital support to adolescents and young women by supplying them with reusable pads.

“We assist schools in Iringa in accessing clean and safe water, and we also facilitate the construction of handwashing stations. These stations enable students to maintain proper hygiene practices by washing their hands at any time during school hours. We also renovate school toilets in different public schools in the country because in such schools,” she details.

In the renovation of these toilets, AfyaPlus ensures they build changing rooms to assist girls in having safe spaces during their periods.

Suzan and her team also educate girls in public schools about menstrual management, safety and sexual reproduction.

“We worked with the government to prepare a four-to-six-month curriculum that covers those areas. On water access, we have so far reached 35 schools in Iringa,” she explains.

She details that the early days of AfyaPlus were blurry due to the financial difficulties she faced.

All Suzan had was a vision of public schools in Tanzania accessing clean and safe water as well as educating girls and boys on sexual reproduction and menstrual management, but she struggled to bring this dream to life.

“I had to first work with volunteers because I could not afford to pay my staff in the beginning. This changed when we started getting grants that funded and elevated the scope of our work,” she details.

Some of the things that shocked Suzan when she became fully involved in her work include how certain societies in Tanzania still hold on to the belief that conversations around menstrual hygiene are taboo.

Another thing was the severity of poverty in rural areas, where some of the girls could not even afford to buy not only pads but also underwear and pants.

“One of the lessons I picked along the way is that people should not wait for their goals to be funded; they can simply start by spreading awareness about the things they want to address,” she notes.

The money will eventually come, she muses, recalling how she met one person who taught her not to wait for grants.

He motivated her to start by just educating society on things she knows from her own experiences and knowledge as a health officer while at the same time keeping records through written reports.

Suzan urged women to constantly open their minds and capture different lessons that would help them in their growth.

“Knowledge does not have a limit, especially when one knows what to absorb and what to filter. It always comes in handy when needed,” she says.

Suzan advises women in the early stages of developing community-based organisations like AfyaPlus to first seek knowledge on organisation development and leadership.

“I would have approached some of the challenges differently had I learned about leadership and management from the beginning. I, however, used the barriers I came across as learning curves,” he says.

She advises women to form a strategic relationship with their networks to attract financial support from international organisations or donors.

"When they know your work, it becomes easier for them to trust you enough to believe that you will use the money responsibly while leaving a positive impact on society,” she says.