Improving hygiene and sanitation in Darfur

Workers at the Norwegian Church Aid (a Caritas partner) Water and Sanitation facility in Bilel Camp Credits: Caritas

Workers at the Norwegian Church Aid (a Caritas partner) Water and Sanitation facility in Bilel Camp
Credits: Caritas

By Edwyn Shiell, Act for Peace – Campaigns & Communication Coordinator

The Norwegian Church Aid (a Caritas partner) Water and Sanitation facility in Bilel Camp is a humble thatched building. At the entrance are a series of heart shaped flower boxes made from red brick which bring the surrounding dry desert ground to life.

On entering the facility, the cool shade provides a refuge from the blistering heat of the dry day. Adorning the stick walls are hand drawn pictures which depict safe, hygienic practices.

A group of ‘Hygiene and Sanitation’ workers led by Osman Haroun, huddle into the small building and spend a few minutes discussing their roles of educating the people in Bilel camp with hygiene messages.

One if the workers, Jawaher Ahmad Ibrahim, said, “My weeks are like this. I have 3 days for home visits in the camps for hygiene promotion. This is normally with the women and children as their husbands are trying to work. These visits can be as simple as discussing washing hands after using the latrine or before preparing food.

“One day is normally for cleaning their living areas. We do this by mobilising all the people in the camp community to clean their spaces and they then dedicate one day to learning about good hygiene and sanitation practices. I normally sit with community members and discuss how to stop the spread of disease, in addition to water point visits to ensure these practices are being taken up by the people”.

“Common hygiene is something we very much take for granted in the western world, but in a camp of 30,000 people, disease is common and simple hygienic practices can mean life or death for thousands of people.

Joheed said, “I think there has been excellent progress, particularly in Bilel camp. General cleaning in commonly shared community areas, household cleaning, self cleaning – we have noticed big improvements and some very positive changes.

“Even the understanding amongst people, the hygiene message is being understood by more and more people. It is progressing in the camps.”

The group all seem positive and willing to talk about their experiences working in Bilel Camp. It is obvious that this grassroots work of spreading health awareness by treading door-to-door has become an area of expertise for Water and Sanitation workers and since 13 international aid agencies were expelled from Darfur in 2009, this has been a major gap filling exercise to pick up were the expelled agency’s left off.

In 2010, the program will provide new boreholes, hand-dug wells, solar powered water yards, hand washing facilities, new latrines as well mass hygiene promotion campaigns each month carried out in camps, general clean up community campaigns, hold trainings on diarrhea and train teachers to spread hygiene messages.

Joheed said, “It’s not easy delivering this message to different communities, from different places with different understandings of human hygiene. It is very challenging. It takes effort to get people to change their ways of thinking about hygiene.

“Skin diseases are very common in the camps and they remain fatal for young children. These preventable diseases are killers in Bilel Camp. This is part of our work and it is something we come across on a day to day basis in the camps.

“We mobilize communities about the reasons behind these skin diseases and the solutions such as hand washing, cleaning. This is a key part of our message in the camps.

“The issue in Bilel is now becoming scarce. The work we are doing is very effective.”

Caritas Internationalis works in Darfur in cooperation with Action by Churches Together (ACT) helping 350,000 people, including 240,000 who have lost their homes. The implementing partner, Norwegian Church Aid, has two national Sudanese partners, the Sudan Council of Churches and Sudanaid (Caritas Sudan).

Caritas Internationalis

President: Cardinal Luis Antonio Gokim Tagle
Secretary General: Michel Roy

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