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Zambia, 20 June 2018: Good hygiene despite challenges of being in a camp

By Ruth Ansah Ayisi, Communications Consultant, UNICEF Zambia

Since September 2017, more than 15,000 Congolese people have sought refuge over the border in Zambia at the Kenani Refugee Transit Centre in Nchelenge district. From there, they will move to Mantapala settlement where semi-permanent structures are being in put in place.

© UNICEF/Ayisi
Mevan Chimpinde, a hygiene promoter, sensitises group of refugees.

As Mevan Chimpinde, 26, strides along the sandy paths that cut through Kenani transit refugee centre in Nchelenge, northern Zambia, he calls out to women and children to gather around to discuss good hygiene.

They engage willingly, communicating in Bembe, the local language spoken on both sides of the Congolese-Zambian border. His message is straight-forward: “You must wash your hands with safe water and soap after going to the toilet, before preparing food and before eating, so you do not get sick.” The passionate way he delivers the message captivates the group as they listen together under the shade of trees, against the backdrop of a wide lake that separates Zambia from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) here.

A welder by profession, Chimpinde benefited from a three-day hygiene promotion course, supported by UNICEF in partnership with the Zambia Red Cross. “I know that many dangerous diseases are caused by a dirty environment and bad habits, so I volunteered as I want to save lives,” says Chimpinde, who is one of 30 Red Cross hygiene promoters. “The course helped me to develop key messages which I can easily communicate to the refugees, particularly about cholera prevention. Part of it was like a refresher course for me; I had already learned about good hygiene in school and at church, but I also learned new things too, like how to identify severe cases of malnutrition.”

Every day during the week, Chimpinde visits around 15 households and organises group discussions. He also surveys the surroundings, particularly to check for rubbish, to ensure that toilets are clean, and that the handwashing facilities placed strategically around the camp are supplied with water and disinfectant bottles. “If the place is dirty, I call the refugee leader in that area,” says Chimpinde.

Murtaza Malik, Chief of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene at UNICEF Zambia, who is visiting the camp, comments that he is satisfied with the situation: “Although this is a cholera-prone area and families live in close proximity, the camp looks clean, and there have been no outbreaks of cholera or diarrhoeal diseases.”

Gradually, the refugees are being moved to the larger Mantapala resettlement, where the refugees will be able to build homes, benefit from basic services and have a plot of land to farm. To support humanitarian assistance, in February, the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund (CERF) approved US$6.5 million towards humanitarian aid for the Congolese refugees in Zambia.

“The conditions should be better in Mantapala,” says Malik. “UNICEF and partners are supporting the Government in the response by providing boreholes and water tanks to serve households, schools and health centres, as well as supported the building of latrines, including ones especially designed for people with disabilities.”
 

Lack of access to safe water, sanitation and hygiene while fleeing leaves children vulnerable

© UNICEF/Ayisi
Janie with her mother.

That same day at the transit centre, mother Kaimba Bitole attends the nutrition tent with her 8-year-old daughter Janie, who is emaciated following bouts of severe diarrhoea. She will be treated with ready-to-use therapeutic food, provided by UNICEF. Her mother says Janie got sick with diarrhoea when they fled their home on foot earlier this year: “We had no food or water; when we could, we asked people on the way or we drank water from the stream,” says Kaimba.

It is Janie’s first day of treatment, and although severely malnourished and weak, she is no longer suffering from diarrhoea. Janie is eagerly sucking the highly nutritious peanut paste treatment from the packet. Her chances of a full recovery are good. Janie is not only having life-saving treatment, but her whole family now has access to safe water, toilets and better hygiene. “I’m able to make sure I wash my hands at the right time,” says her mother, sitting by Janie’s side in the tent.

 

 
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