UNICEF training helps Educators Mobilize Communities against Cholera
by Benjamin Steinlechner
Port-au-Prince, 6 December - Chydena Laguerre Joseph holds up a poster in Wharf Jeremy, one of Port-au-Prince’s most overcrowded and poorest neighbourhoods. The poster is full of bright cartoon characters showing messages of how to protect against the cholera disease. Gathered around Chydena a group of children wearing ragged clothes and bright smiles begins to sing a song she just taught them:
‘yon gode, dlo, savon – twa bagay nesese...’ (A cup, some water, and soap - three necessary things...)
Chydena, 29, is one of 30 community educators who just the day before were trained by UNICEF in social mobilization techniques to disseminate cholera prevention messages among camps and neighbourhoods in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince. She and other educators came from diverse backgrounds ranging from the arts to sports, allowing each participant to contribute their own experiences and approaches to the workshop and the mobilization that follows.
“This workshop taught me how to better communicate cholera messages,” explains Chydena. “As trainers we don’t use the same language with children and adults. This is why it is important for us to be able to adapt to different audiences.”
The Port-au-Prince workshop, one of many being conducted by UNICEF and its partners in cities throughout Haiti, focused on how to reach people in innovative, interactive, and engaging ways. If put into practice, the simple messages of washing hands after going to the bathroom and teaching people how to react to the first signs of the disease, such as fever, diarrhoea, and vomiting, could save hundreds of lives.
Treating those infected with cholera is important, but even more impactful are the community mobilization activities that can prevent cholera from spreading in the first place. The disease continues to ravage Haiti, with more than 2,070 deaths and more 90,000 infected as of the end of December 3. As with most emergencies, the impact on children - the most vulnerable to all disease - is greatest.
“Cholera is one of the easiest diseases to prevent and treat. So it’s crucial that communities know how to recognize the disease early,” says Gallianne Palayret, UNICEF Child Protection Specialist. “This is why we are helping these educators with communication techniques that will help them pass the message in an effective way.”
UNICEF’s Child Protection unit is currently supporting a number of cholera prevention trainings taking place across the country and targeting different audiences such as prison officials, representatives of women’s organizations, and residential care institutions. The aim of all of this training is to mobilize communities to protect the most vulnerable groups, including children, as quickly as possible.
“Children living in circumstances like these live very badly, they are always in contact with dirty water,” says Chydena. “There are no latrines and keeping up your hygiene is a daily challenge. It is important to protect them by teaching them the methods to prevent themselves against this disease.”
Armed with her new-found knowledge of how best to mobilize communities to respond to cholera, Chydena applied her knowledge in Wharf Jeremy, where children play amongst rubbish, and dirty water, the exposure to cholera is high.
‘Yon gode, dlo, savon - twa bagay nesese...’ (A cup, some water, and soap - three necessary things...)
Chydena hopes that by learning this song, children will remember some of the warnings about the disease, and how the simple act of washing their hands can save lives. She’s also hoping that, like her, they too will become agents of change and mobilize others, including their families, to take the right precautions against cholera.
“Children love to sing and they have a great memory for songs,” says Chydena. “So songs are a natural way of transporting the message.”
For more information:
Jean-Jacques Simon, firstname.lastname@example.org, UNICEF Haiti
Tamar Hahn, email@example.com, UNICEF Latin America and the Caribbean
UNICEF is on the ground in over 155 countries and territories to help children survive and thrive, from early childhood through adolescence. The world’s largest provider of vaccines for developing countries, UNICEF supports child health and nutrition, good water and sanitation, quality basic education for all boys and girls, and the protection of children from violence, exploitation, and AIDS. UNICEF is funded entirely by the voluntary contributions of individuals, businesses, foundations and governments.