Refugees Fight Open Defecation Through Hygiene Promotion Campaign At Household Levels

A refugee stands infront of a latrine nearing completion. credit: Oxfam

Refugees settled in Imvepi settlement have positively embarked on a campaign to fight open defecation. Through their elected leaders who become public health promotion volunteers, the refugees have received training been able to adopt and implement basic hygiene practices like proper hand washing, boiling drinking water; as well as establish sanitary facilities.

The leaders elected by the community are then trained by Oxfam in proper sanitation and hygiene practices. The communities elected leaders to undertake sensitization on hygiene promotion and later Oxfam come in to support the process of hygiene promotion.

Door to door campaigns against Open defecation

Joyce is a refugee from point J village 1 block C in Imvepi settlement. She is one of the hygiene promoters that were trained by Oxfam. She moves from door to door, sensitizing the refugees in her community on proper hygiene practices.

“I ensure that household heads dig and construct latrines and bathing shelters and set up drying racks and handwashing facilities as the first preventive measure for diseases,” she said.

Besides moving from door to door, she also uses community meetings to talk to and sensitize the community members. During these meetings, those who do not practice good hygiene are continuously advised to work round the clock and provide their homes the needed sanitary facilities.

“When we arrived newly as refugees, a huge problem of poor hygiene was registered. Open defecation was a major challenge and the refugees used to fall sick a lot of the time,” she said, adding, “Over time, however, the refugees have improved their sanitation and hygiene. These good practices have helped to reduce the number of refugees contracting diseases like diarrhea and other water-borne diseases.”

Joyce notes that the attitude of refugees towards sanitation has changed from negative to positive, considering the majority have embarked on reducing open defecation.

“If you move from one household to another, cases of open defecation have greatly reduced,” she said.

Promoting hygiene through behaviour change

Martin, another volunteering hygiene promoter in Imvepi settlement notes that the standard of living for refugees has greatly improved health-wise due to hygiene practices.

“We were trained for four days and now we are able to use the knowledge to educate the communities in good hygiene promotion,” he says. With the training, he and fellow hygiene promoters have been able to change behaviours of the communities.

The refugees are very positive in hygiene promotion and in each village at the zonal level, they have devised a method of sustaining the hygiene promotion.

They have drawn a weekly cleanliness program where the community members meet up and clean around the shared water points, to maintain a clean environment; they also clean their jerrycans and tighten the jerrycan lids to avoid contamination. The members are also encouraged to daily clean their homes and ensure that their neighbours’ homes are clean too. Those whose homes are found unclean are continually advised and encouraged to adopt good practices.

Besides sensitization, members of the communities are also actively involved in constructing latrines and shelters and educating the children to avoid open defecation.

“These latrines help to prevent the community from practicing open defecation, which prevents the outbreak of diseases. Those found defecating outside in the open are called to construct latrines and avoid open defecation,” Taban said. He notes a positive response from the community and this has improved and controlled cholera and diarrhoea cases.

Sensitization of new arrivals

Dawa, a community hygiene promoter says they conduct sensitizations even among the new arrivals, where they are advised to establish drying rakes, shelters, and latrines.

“During the earlier sensitizations, we learnt that some community members lacked tools for establishing basic hygiene facilities. This was taken forward to Oxfam and some materials like logs, poles for latrines were provided.” Dawa notes.

Hand washing is a very important component that hygiene promoters emphasize to the refugees. She said this has changed the lives of refugees and reduced the spread of diseases.

At the latrine points, bottles filled with water are placed for handwashing using soap. This has enhanced hand washing at the household level.

At water points, cleanness of jerrycans, washing the tap stands, cleaning the water point and fencing is done to protect the water points from damages by animals.

Dawa commended Oxfam for the support and says even after Oxfam phases out, they will continue with the sensitization and ensure the refugees can independently manage their household hygiene.

Oxfam works with partners to improve the sanitation and hygiene practices of refugees.

All this work is done with the support of The European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Department (ECHO), which provides funding for projects run by its partners in the field to cover the needs of the most vulnerable. Through the work of Oxfam in Uganda, the Commission supports the provision of safe water, proper sanitation and hygiene measures to refugees and host communities, which are essential for survival and prevention of diseases.