By: Torbjörn Granrot, Swedish Red Cross / Katherine Mueller, IFRC
More than 15 months ago, Anter Gatluak Muon, his wife and seven children ran for their lives, fleeing the erupting conflict in South Sudan, and crossing into the relative safety offered across the border in neighbouring Ethiopia. They walked for five days, in scorching heat, across the barren landscape and settled, along with thousands of others, in the Leitchor refugee camp in the Gambela region of Ethiopia.
It was the early days of the refugee camp and living conditions were harsh and unhygienic. Over the months that followed, however, things improved. “There is a great change,” says Anter Gatluak Muon. “Before many people were suffering from diarrhoea and vomiting. Now it’s much cleaner. The refugees participate and they really want to improve their lives.”
Since arriving at the camp, Muon and about 300 other refugees have joined the Ethiopian Red Cross Society as volunteers. They help prevent disease from running rampant through the camp by keeping it clean and sharing information on hygiene. “I commit myself to the community and I like to work,” explains Muon, who is now a volunteer health supervisor. “We received training and now there is awareness, and that can save lives. Our fellow refugees appreciate our work every day. They say, God bless you!”
Through an emergency appeal launched by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, volunteers are trained in hygiene and health promotion, first aid, and malaria prevention. Thirty health volunteers are responsible for identifying sick people and escorting them to the clinic inside the camp. If someone is in need of more extensive care, the Ethiopian Red Cross Society has an ambulance service to take patients to the nearest town, Gambela, a three hour drive away.
Every day, the health volunteers walk door-to-door to educate their neighbours within the camp about the importance of keeping their surroundings as clean as possible. “We talk a lot about personal hygiene. Now they know how to clean their environment in order to decrease diseases,” says Muon. “We want to lift the people up and keep them healthy!”
Many Ethiopians in the Gambela region have also offered refugees shelter in their homes as they come from the same Nuer tribe. But Ethiopia is not home, and South Sudan is where their hearts lie. “We would like to go back if our land is okay,” says Muon. “In our hearts, we feel hope that one day, it will happen.”
The emergency appeal of 1,050,574 Swiss francs supports the Ethiopian Red Cross Society in reducing the health risks of more than 34,000 South Sudanese refugees through activities such as the provision of first aid, ambulance service, and hygiene promotion and environmental cleaning. The appeal is currently 72 per cent funded through contributions from Movement partners.