Building healthier communities in a time of crisis

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By Vivian Tou'meh, Syrian Arab Red Crescent

Abeer is pleased to be one of the hygiene promotion team: “I enjoy this work; especially I am in direct contact with people who need support and awareness raising in their daily life inside temporary shelters”, Abeer has seen tremendous change in people’s practices over the past month, “Those people have improved their hygiene and sanitation practices including washing hands after using the bathroom and before food preparation”.

Abeer numerous responsibilities at SARC Tartous branch as a Hygiene promotion coordinator include conducting session discussions on safe hygiene and sanitation practices inside shelters for IDPs to educate them on safe hygiene and sanitation practices and ensuring their optimal health. Some of the crucial topics she addresses include personal hygiene; using latrines, food hygiene, safe water handling; and health-seeking behavior.

Due to the ongoing conflict in Syria, the SARC has expanded its services to address the critical needs of affected Syrians, both inside temporary shelters and areas that lack of health and main services, where people are seeking shelter, water and humanitarian resources. Experts from different SARC branches around the country met during September to discuss the hygiene issue and to put the basic principles for a “Hygiene Promotion Program”, to be promoted on a wider space around the country via SARC’s well trained volunteers.

Muhammad Samer Alkarkoukly, the Hygiene promotion officer at SARC said: “During our first meeting we adopted on the expertise of our volunteers who are working in the field and are in contact with beneficiaries, such as a doctor, a hygiene promoter, a volunteer from the health awareness team”, he continues: “After the consultation among those experts, we established the program basis”.

A plan of training has been prepared upon the volunteers first meeting, which include: Hygiene Promotion principles training, Advanced Hygiene Promotion training and TOT. The main focus under this plan will be the “Hygiene promotion principles training” for volunteers in the branches and the beginning will be in the eastern area of Syria and Aleppo governorate as Muhammad said.

Two hygiene promotion projects have seen the light beginning this year and are running now in Lattakia and Tartous through UNICEF funding in order to improve displaced people hygiene practices and thus reduce the risk of contracting WASH-related diseases.

The children’s hygiene promotion activities under this project include training session to raise awareness among children and to change their practices like giving children some picture about cleaning hands and asking them about the right picture to choose for a right practice. In addition, sessions on how diseases spread and how to reduce it among groups in order to prevent the outbreak of diseases among collective shelters and population gathering.

“SARC’s Tartous branch conducted and comprised drawing and colouring, as well as interactive dialogue with the children, to provide them with simple hygiene messages through games and a participatory approach”, said Abeer. The project in Tartus aims to reach around 9,000 people inside 21 shelters and the second one in Lattakia aims to reach 9,000 people in four gathering groups. Another two activities have been conducted in Homs and Deir Ezzor with the support of the Norwegian Red Cross. In Deir Ezzor, the volunteers provided children with hygiene promotion activities on the occasion of the Global Handwashing Day for three days.

Early in 2009, the SARC started with the Water and Sanitation project in order to support the eastern areas of Syria with water, which lack of water, now and due to the acceleration of events the project developed to be “Water and Sanitation and Hygiene Promotion” WASH. Through the hygiene and sanitation project, lives’ conditions of thousands of families have changed. Other needs will be tackled in the near future, including the supply of hygiene kits and hygiene facilities to reach more people in shelters.