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Somalia: The Heart of What We Do

The Heart of What We Do

One of the main ways we provide relief in Somaliland’s camps is through promoting the importance of good health and hygiene behaviour.

Like most people who live in Burao’s displacement camps, Safiya Ibrahim Gurxan confronts the prospect of disease and malnutrition on almost a daily basis. The cramped, chaotic conditions make these camps a breeding ground for illness and poor health.

Safyia Ibrahim Gurxan and her children have learned a lot of new things about hygiene in Muruqmaal camp.

Safiya and her family moved to Muruqmaal camp after their herd of goats and sheep was claimed by the drought. She remains hopeful that she and her family will one day earn a good living on their own again. Until then, she welcomes the assistance that Medair provides in Muruqmaal and in 21 other camps here.

“Medair’s hygiene volunteers visited us and gave us hygiene messages three times,” she said. “We’ve learned a lot of new things from them, like burning our rubbish, boiling water before we drink it, and how to clean our latrine and keep our houses clean.”

Our health and hygiene teams encourage camp residents to adopt healthier practices in order to help alleviate the struggles they face on a daily basis. We also distribute ceramic water filters, jerry cans, soap, and cleaning equipment to give residents the tools they need to make the camps cleaner and more hygienic.

Hygiene Promotion
Repeating simple messages is proving an effective line of action, as Medair-trained WASH volunteer Farah Jama Awl can attest
. She has witnessed firsthand the improvements that come from communicating the simple yet key messages of ‘wash your hands,’ ‘drink clean water,’ and ‘use the latrine.’

“Since I’ve been doing it, I’ve seen a big change,” said Farah. “When I first came with these messages, people were saying to me every day: ‘What are you saying? Why are you saying it? Who told you this?’ But in the past six months, they have been taking the messages and applying them. Before, maybe 30 percent took the message, but now I think it’s 100 percent.”

12-year-old Farax Hassan Adan carries home bars of soap and a jerry can for water after a Medair distribution.

“Giving people information is at the heart of what we do,” said Dr. Adele Cowper, Medair Health Project Manager. “People do not necessarily know that washing their hands can prevent diarrhoea.”

Twelve-year-old Farax Hassan Adan, an Ethiopian refugee from a family of eight children, has been very receptive to the hygiene messages. “My siblings received hygiene education and my sister passed it on to me, telling me to use the latrine and wash my hands,” she said. “I also learned to clean the latrine and wash my hands with soap. We have no soap at home at the moment, so this [soap] distribution is helpful for us.”

Knowing that it is healthier to use a latrine is only helpful if there are latrines available to use. In the past year alone, we have built more than 400 latrines in the camps and seen sanitation improve dramatically. Medair’s Daniel Ndege, Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) Project Manager, notes the latrines have made a swift impact.  

“It is very encouraging to see how people have adapted to using latrines,” said Daniel. “In the camps we surveyed, we found that 86 percent of the population were regularly using a clean and working latrine.”

Health Promotion
Even as hygiene improves, the crowded conditions of these camps remains a major contributor to the transmission of measles and tuberculosis (T.B.), according to Adele.

“The other big problem is that the communities may not know what health services they can access−or if they are minority groups or refugees, they might feel that they are not welcome to use the same services local people do,” said Adele.

One of the most pressing concerns is the prevalence of malnutrition and the levels of preventable disease that occur as a result. Incidences of diarrhoea, respiratory infections, and measles are all linked to malnutrition, and together they contribute to being the main cause of illness and death among children in the camps.

In response, Medair runs a comprehensive nutrition programme for children under five years of age, as well as free vaccination services to combat measles and T.B.

Asha Mohamed Yusuf delivers a health demonstration at Koosar camp.

Medair also runs health promotion demonstrations in the camps, teaching women especially about the nutritional value of breastfeeding, about immunisation, and about going to a maternal and child health clinic when they are in labour.

“Today, nearly all the women in Koosaar camp understand how important these sorts of practices are,” said Asha Mohamed Yusuf, Maternal Health Volunteer. “Before, things were not like this, but people are better educated now.”

“I have learned a lot of things about health here in the camp,”
said Honi Ahmed, a mother of 10. “Immunisations protect children against diseases and ensure they stay healthy. I advise all my friends to have their children immunised, but people here are quite sensitive about this. You have to give them some encouragement.”
Camp to camp, day after day, Medair is proving that the lasting effects of better health and hygiene can make a difference, even in the most desperate of circumstances. It’s a message that must be carried forward, and openly shared and acted upon, from volunteer to camp dweller, from family to friend, from generation to generation.


This web feature was produced with resources gathered by Medair field and headquarters staff. The views expressed herein are those solely of Medair and should not be taken, in any way, to reflect the official opinion of any other organisation.



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