Eastern Chad: child animators promote good hygiene practices in Gassire camp
Eight-year-old Halime lives in Gassire, a camp for internally displaced people near the township of Goz Beida, at the Chadian-Sudanese border. The site is home to over 14,500 Chadians who were forced to leave their villages because of inter-ethnic violence and cross-border attacks from neighboring Darfur.
Apart from trauma and violence, this suffered population has had to cope with disease outbreaks which have been brought upon them during the rainy season in Chad – from July until September. Some 70 children have gotten sick with diarrhea and more than 40 became ill due to respiratory diseases such as pneumonia and bronchitis.
Learning healthy practices
Although her resources are limited, Halime has been trying to find the best way to help.
“Now that the school holidays have started I help my mother at home. Every day I go to fetch water from the water-point, which is a ten-minute walk from our hut. At school we were told that it is very important to clean our hands and buckets before fetching the water so we can prevent our families from getting sick,” she explains.
In Halima’s school, as in many others supported by UNICEF and its partner-NGO Oxfam UK, pupils are constantly in touch with child-animators who teach them about body hygiene and environmental health. “Every time when our class-animator tells me something new I tell my mother. At the beginning my mother would only nod but now she tries out what I tell her… sometimes,” says Halima.
Chadian children are increasingly becoming key actors in the promotion of improved hygiene behavior in their communities. Since it is often them who carry water to their households, they would contaminate their family members if their hands are dirty or if they use unclean containers.
“They have an open mind and are enthusiastic to try new things. Once they have understood the usefulness of improved hygiene practices they will adopt them easily and become eager to teach their knowledge at home,” explains a water specialist of Oxfam in Goz Beida.
For Halima, the motivation to improve hygiene conditions in Gassire goes beyond passing on her knowledge to her parents and siblings. “Next school term I want to become a hygiene animator too,” she says enthusiastically. “Then I can better use the knowledge that I have now. I will persuade all my friends that it is very important to wash your hands after using the latrines, to use a clean bucket when you go to fetch water and so on,” she adds just before leaving for a renewed round of water-fetching with her sister.
School vacations in Chad cover the period July to September, exactly the months when the risk for waterborne diseases is at its peak. With the aim to channel hygiene promotion messages through child animators at village-level, UNICEF and Oxfam have been setting-up theater groups in and around the local town of Goz Beida. It is a first opportunity for Halima to practice for her job as hygiene animator in the new school year.
The three steps
UNICEF and Oxfam use a three-step approach to promote hygiene in villages and internally displaced sites around Goz Beida. The first one, which Halima knows well, are the community animators, who visit households and schools in order to sensitize people on the importance of body hygiene, bucket cleaning and other basic but vital principles.
The second one is the examination of water quality, which is done by specialists who visit the villages and camps that are most at risk. On the first day of their visit they test water points, tanks and the quality of water used at household-level in search of bacteria. The following day, when the test results are ready, the specialists go back to show and discuss the results with the concerned families.
Last but not least, a soap distribution is organized every month in parallel to the ongoing hygiene sensitization campaigns. The aim is to ensure that the population understands the importance of hand washing and bucket cleansing, whilst providing them with the necessary material to apply this knowledge.
UNICEF Chad still lacks US $ 1,150,000 to cover the most urgent needs for water and sanitation activities in internally displaced sites and host communities for 2008.