Field Diary: From Za'atari refugee camp to Blue Nile State

From UNICEF Jordan to UNICEF Sudan- Encountering innovation and new challenges

Ghaith Jalabneh and Aaliyah Madyun
Man smiles underneath tree surrounded by children
05 July 2020

Editor’s Note: All photos and stories gathered were taken prior to the COVID-19 outbreak. Following the outbreak, Ghaith Jalabneh worked out of the Khartoum office to support the Covid-19 response. 

My name is Ghaith Jalabneh. I am a program officer for the Makani programme in the Za'atari Refugee Camp in Jordan. Makani (‘My Space’ in Arabic) centres provide a safe space for children and young people to access learning opportunities, child protection and other critical services. 

I came to Sudan on a mission to work with the emergency and field operations team in Blue Nile State. Blue Nile State is in the southeastern part of Sudan. In Blue Nile State, 36.5 per cent of the population are in need of humanitarian assistance. Due to decades conflict, there is a large population of displaced people who lack basic services and are greatly affected by disease outbreaks such as cholera, flooding and other natural disasters. This was my first time in Sudan and I found the people to be incredibly warm, hospitable and generous. 

Man wears traditional Sudanese attire
Here I am proudly wearing a traditional Sudanese jalabiya while having Sudanese tea at a tea stall in Damazine.

A bright idea: Sun, water and innovation

While in Blue Nile I realized that access to clean and safe water is a critical issue.  In September 2019, a cholera outbreak occurred in Blue Nile State, with the highest number of cases occurring within Roseires locality. To assist this vulnerable community, UNICEF Sudan installed a water point and a solar-powered hand pump in the community.  It was the first solar-powered hand pump to be installed in Sudan, an innovation developed by the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) team at UNICEF. It is the only water source in the neighborhood and has already made a radical change in the lives of many community members. 

Before the installation of the solar-powered hand pump there were long, crowded queues for water. Manual hand pumps are very labor-intensive, especially for women and children, because it requires lots of force.  These hand pumps could only serve 500 people per day while the solar-powered pump can now serve up to 1,500 per day. 

While visiting the water point, I met many children who were very excited to talk to me about the new water point. These children were very happy that they no longer had to walk long distances to get water.  Sadly, millions of children around the globe miss out on education because they are forced to spend hours collecting water. It is often an arduous task that involves carrying heavy jerry cans along dangerous and unsafe routes. I was happy to hear of the positive changes the new water point made in these children’s lives and I told them that they should return back to school and focus on their studies.  

Man speaks to children in front of blue water point
UNICEF/Yahia Alkhalifa
At the newly installed water point in Roseires locality I spoke to children about the solar-powered hand pump, an innovation developed by my UNICEF WASH colleagues.

A community in need 

A large population of people residing in the regions of Blue Nile State and neighboring Sennar State are returnees. Returnees are Sudanese citizens who fled to neighboring countries, such as Ethiopia and South Sudan, during past conflicts. In Kormuk Village in the town of Dinder in Sennar state, returnees arrive on a weekly basis. Along with my colleagues and partners from the National Council of Child Welfare (NCCW), I traveled to the village to speak with returnees and assess their needs. We found that many of the newer returnees had urgent needs. Because they did not have birth registration certificates, neither from the countries which they had previously resided or in Sudan, they were unable to receive food distribution cards or access health services. We also found that many of the children had missed out on critical vaccinations and were vulnerable to a host of preventable diseases. Additionally, not only were the children out of school, most of the children did not speak Arabic, the primary language of instruction in Sudanese schools. The population was extremely vulnerable and my colleagues set to work immediately to work on solutions so that this community could receive the help they urgently needed. 

Man speaks to children under tree
UNICEF/Anwar Alnour
The kids in the village were very curious about where I came from and I told them I work with kids just like them in Jordan. The kids wanted a nice playground so they could play with their friends.

A new emergency

During my time in Sudan, COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. UNICEF Sudan’s emergency response team had to quickly shift gears and reallocate resources so they could effectively respond to this new public health threat. I joined my emergency colleagues in Khartoum and helped developed preparedness plans for the communities we serve. One area that was particularly vital was ensuring that lifesaving medical supplies were able to reach the country. Like many countries, Sudan closed its borders and shuttered the airport. Our colleagues worked tirelessly to ensure that lifesaving medical supplies, including vaccines, arrive safely in the country. 

Man wearing mask standing with supplies at airport wearing UNICEF vest

My time in Sudan was one that I will always cherish. I was in awe my colleagues who work tirelessly to reach the most vulnerable children in Sudan. I enjoyed working closely with the amazing team in Blue Nile State and the Country Office in Khartoum and getting to meet such dedicated people.