Fighting COVID-19: Soap a Gem in Herat

In Herat’s internally-displaced camps, UNICEF is on the ground supporting children and their families

Narges Ghafary
A boy smiling and holding up a bar of soap
UNICEF/UNI325463/Ghafary

08 May 2020

Herat, Afghanistan, 26 April 2020 – Khatera, a 30-year old mother of three, takes the bar of soap.  She admires it as if it is a precious stone and rubs her son’s wet hands.

Amid COVID19 pandemic, UNICEF has supplied more than 84 tons of soap to most vulnerable families like Khatera.  This enabled families to practice proper handwashing with soap for at least 20 seconds.

For Khatera, receiving 12 bars of soap has made all the difference. “I don’t have to worry about buying soap for the time being,” says Khatera with a thrill. “Instead, I will use the money, which I would have used to buy soap, to buy food supplies for my children.”

Two years ago, Khatera left Badghis, a province northwestern Afghanistan.   Due to both drought and a deteriorating economy – Badghis is a place that has, according to her, caused her much grief. They were not the only ones to leave their village in Qadis district. Many others followed, forced to leave due to one of the worst drought in decades and un-ending conflict in their areas.

It’s the question about Coronavirus and her current economic situation that makes Khatera worried. Sitting on a worn-out rug with her child on her knee in a six-metre yard at her makeshift house, she wipes her tears through the corner of her scarf and says, “I am worried for my children.”

A mother and son washing their hands
UNICEF/UNI325468/Ghafary

 

“I don’t have to worry about buying soap for the time being. Instead, I will use the money to buy food supplies for my children.”

 

Recalling her life in her village in Badghis, and looking at her reality as an internally-displaced person, Khatera adds: “I am concerned about my children’s future and most importantly their health. I can’t see them sick. I can’t sleep well at night. I wake up in the middle of the night with the thought of the virus and my children.”

Khatera’s husband has been away from home over the last two months. With limited job opportunities in Herat and his life confined to a tent, he went to Helmand, a province in southern Afghanistan, to work in opium lands. “So far, I have not heard from him. Not sure if he is alive or not. I don’t even have a mobile phone to call him.”

Despite COVID19 pandemic, UNICEF continues to deliver for children

In Herat’s internally-displaced camps, UNICEF is on the ground supporting children and their families. Amid this Coronavirus pandemic, UNICEF is conducting awareness-raising sessions, promoting personal hygiene, supplying hygiene kits, including soap, and providing safe drinking water using solar-powered water supply schemes.  This has enabled UNICEF to reach an estimated 45,000 internally-displaced people, more than half of whom are children.

 “In Herat camps, internally-displaced people live in crowded tents, sharing washrooms and toilets with limited access to health care and basic sanitation services,” says David Igulu, UNICEF Herat Chief of Field Office.  “They are most susceptible to diseases, including Coronavirus.”

 “I came to know about the virus and the ways to avoid catching it through [UNICEF] social mobilizers,” says Khatera, who wears a light-yellow dress with a black pattern on it. Her dark front hair peaks out beneath her green scarf. The last weeks have been exhausting for the mother of three, who didn’t have enough soap to wash her children’s hands.

On a daily basis, UNICEF supported 52 trained social mobilizers to provide a door-to-door visit to teach families and children how to protect themselves from COVID-19.

A family sitting in a door way, one boy holding a bar of soap
UNICEF/UNI325465/Ghafary

 

 “In Herat camps, internally-displaced people live in crowded tents, sharing washrooms and toilets with limited access to health care and basic sanitation services”

 

“Each of us visited 30 families each day and asked them not to gather in large groups, to keep their hands clean and other ways to prevent the virus,” says Zainab, a UNICEF Social Mobilizer. “But people here can’t even afford to buy soap.”

 “Our children suffer most because they are still young and their immune system is weak,” says Khatera. “We have malnutrition and diarrhea in the camp, and it’s still an issue. I am scared if the virus spreads in the camp.  God have Mercy on us.”

The soap is a simple item that can save the lives of Khatera’s children, and many others.  Yet, these people cannot afford to buy it as poverty strikes them, forcing them to choose between food and soap.

 “I need food for my kids, but also soap and detergent, “says Khatera.  “I just want my children to be healthy, go to school, and get educated, so that their dreams come true. It is good that people around the world have not forgotten us and have given us soap which we can use to prevent spread of diseases including COVID-19. Thank you for your care and love.”


Thanks to the generous in-kind contribution of UNICEF supporter Nazanin Alakija @nazaalakija following her recent visit to Herat, Afghanistan.