The water savers of Bidibidi

Refugees at a water point in the Bidibidi camp
Refugees at a water point in the Bidibidi camp

When my Welthungerhilfe colleague and I arrived in Uganda’s biggest refugee settlement on my first day of my visit, there was already a man waiting for us at the meeting point and he welcomed me to his community. He was wearing a bright yellow vest with the logos of Welthungerhilfe and the EU and introduced himself to me as Dila Moses Yokwe, a hygiene promoter of village 15 in zone 5 of the settlement.

„Hygiene promoters“ for the Bidibidi refugee settlement

The Bidibidi settlement in Northwest Uganda is currently hosting 272,000 South Sudanese refugees. I had the chance to accompany the team of Welthungerhilfe, which is – in cooperation with ECHO – providing access to safe and sufficient water as well as sanitation facilities throughout the settlement, comprising a total of about 80 villages.

Welthungerhilfe is not only cooperating with the EU but also and very importantly with the community itself to ensure a hygienic and safe environment. They work closely with 60 hygiene promotors, who are themselves refugees and residents of the settlement and were trained by Welthungerhilfe on hygiene and sanitation promotion. Moses in his bright yellow vest is one of them.

1,000 households are building their own latrines

So far Welthungerhilfe has installed boreholes, water hand pumps and water tanks in all five zones of the settlement. Three mini piped water supply systems were set up to increase the access to safe water, which is essential for washing, cleaning, drinking and cooking.

Moses explains to me that besides access to water, sanitation facilities are important. “Otherwise faecal bacteria may enter the body and cause diseases like Typhoid and Cholera, which without proper sanitation spread even faster amongst the community and without intervention, especially without clean water, may cause death.”

In order to prevent such scenario the team of Welthungerhilfe and the hygiene promoters, like Moses, are working tirelessly to ensure safe sanitation. 1,000 households have now access to their own latrine and hand washing facility, of which many were constructed for people with special needs, including pregnant women, elderly people, child-headed households and people with disabilities.

Talking to Moses, he shared with me his day to day tasks as a hygiene promoter. “The team of hygiene promoters within our village are triggering and sensitising the community to construct their own latrine. Then we are monitoring the construction of latrines and the maintenance of the existing temporary latrines until households have built their own. When the temporary latrines are filled up, I inform Welthungerhilfe, so they come to close and remove them. For the latrine construction, Welthungerhilfe supports the households with some materials like wood logs and slabs, so we organise the distribution of the materials. Then I also monitor if there is water in the jerry cans for hand washing and we run jerry can cleaning campaigns to remind the community to keep their jerry cans clean. Welthungerhilfe provides soap for these campaigns.”

„The people in the camp are my people and I want them to be healthy“

Moses grew up in Uganda since he had to flee South Sudan as a child and lived in Uganda as a refugee until 2007, when he returned home to study and work in South Sudan. When he was forced to leave this time, Moses arrived at the settlement in December 2016. He was being located to a new area, which later was set up as the village where he lives now. “When I arrived here there was just forest and it took a week until temporary latrines were put up, in that time people got sick and dehydrated. There is a big difference now. The sanitation facilities are abundant since we are sensitising the people and are keeping the environment clean.”

For this reason he regards his work as hygiene promoter as very important and also as a privilege. “The people in the camp are my people and I want them to be healthy. Therefore, it’s a privilege for me to work for them. They are also keen to follow our advice. Anyway, this work is almost like my studies in public health, so I am enjoying it too. I also enjoy working with the coordinators of Welthungerhilfe because we are working closely together and have a good communication.”

Useful knowledge – also for the returnees to South Sudan

But Moses and his fellow hygiene promoters are also facing challenges in their work. “The lack of sense of ownership of the shared latrines is a problem because then people are not so committed to maintaining them. This is why the construction of own household latrines, as we encourage it, is important.”

He and most people in the settlement are wishing to return to their home in South Sudan as soon as possible. Moses is glad about the new knowledge he has gained through the training and his work and he believes it to be useful once he returns to South Sudan. “I like most, that the new knowledge I gained during the training workshop for the hygiene promoters helps now in the life in the settlement and even for when I will return to South Sudan. At the beginning, after our return, the situation will be difficult and we will have to rebuild our homes.  I will use my knowledge on hygiene and sanitation and also train others to help.”

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