As Ivorian refugees swelled the population of the Liberian village of Gorgotou, 48 cases of diarrhoea were reported in just two weeks. This traditional community had never used toilets before, something their new guests weren't used to either.
"We recruited eight volunteers in the village and made a plan to start constructing latrines," says Buba Dardoe, a member of the IFRC's regional disaster response team working with the Liberian Red Cross.
"The volunteers were trained in hygiene promotion and given kits to distribute with soap and buckets." This remote community has no medical facilities, so a simple-to-treat disease like diarrhoea can prove fatal, especially for children.
"Since our work, we haven't seen a single case," adds Buba proudly.
One of the Ivorian refugees, Messan Oulai Janot, appreciated the warm welcome from the host community.
"We came to this village as we knew it would be peaceful. But it's different here; at home we farm the land. Here, we have no land," he laments. Asked if he would like to back home, he shakes his head vigorously. "We can't go home until there is a solution in our country. That is what we want and what we will wait for. But most of all we want peace."
Messan keeps a record of all the Ivorians who have reached Gorgotou: to date 244 of them. It's just a small fraction of the 96,000 who are estimated to have fled to Liberia, but it's a lot for Gorgotou's usual population of 3,000 to cope with. The toilets, constructed by the community under the guidance and financial support of the Red Cross, have solved one basic problem.
"The latrine construction has been a way of bringing the two communities together," said Bouba. "We chose to build only permanent constructions. While the refugee community will move on in time, these latrines can be used by the community for many years to come."
This approach will help ensure a healthy community and new volunteers will be able to continue hygiene promotion activities.