Project Stories:

From refugees for refugees

Community Health Workers in Melkadida

by Nora Parasie,  2016/11/19

In the Ethiopian refugee camp Melkadida 15 Community Health Workers (CHWs) support humedica to inform the people in the camp about health and hygiene issues. The shared objective is clear: to reduce the number of avoidable diseases by informing about risks. The story of the CHW Hiltira illustrates how this works.

Tea talk about diarrhoea and hygiene

Hiltira is Somali. Five years ago she fled from famine and the threat of the Al Shabab militia to the refugee camp Melkadida. She came alone with her five children. Not until two years later her husband was able to join them. „This was a terrible time. I really did not know how to provide for my children.“ she tells us today. But in the end she was offered the opportunity to attend courses. She learned how to read and write and finally, in 2013, she started to work as Community Health Worker for humedica.

"I was trained to organise education campaigns. There is a great need for information about topics such as HIV, vaccination, diarrhoea, parasitic worms or hygiene. I started by myself: in former times I took less care of cleanliness for example. Today I clean up my rooms regularly, I pay attention to tidy clothing and wash my hands often. Meanwhile I have enough to provide for my children. I also learned a lot for myself and could contribute to improvements among both my neighbours and our society."

Hiltira, Community Health Worker for humedica

Today Hiltira as a Community Health Worker stands before a female audience of 30 and presents useful information about the topics health and hygiene during the so-called humedica Tea Talks. „Health stands on two feet: first, there is the prevention of diseases – that is your responsibility.“ Hiltira explains to her listeners. „Second, diseases have to be treated. humedica takes care of that part and therefore runs the health care station here at the camp.”

During the humedica Tea Talks the refugees learn much about the topics health care and hygiene. Photo: humedica

Focus: Sexually transmitted infections

At present Hiltira puts the focus of her educational work on the field of sexually transmitted infections. „Apart from organising presentations I also visit the families and, first of all, ask them whether it is okay for them, if I talk to them about this problem in our society. Only rarely the people ask me to leave. Often affected women address me directly. I encourage them to go to the health care station for further treatment, if possible together with their partners. Sometimes I also accompany them“, she tells us.

This afternoon not only popcorn and tea, but also the good reputation of humedica has convinced many women to attend the Tea Talk. humedica is well known among the refugees thanks to the big health station in the camp, which takes care of 43.000 refugees. Simultaneously to this work, 15 humedica Community Health Workers, like Hiltira, visit various camp zones to offer health care education.

All CHWs are Somali refugees, who are trained and supervised by the humedica nurse Mohammed. Every morning and afternoon he meets the CHWs at the health care station. Before Hiltira and her colleague Hassan set out for another camp zone this morning, they were provided with a package, which contains everything needed to prepare tea and popcorn for a Tea Talk. Hassan gives the same presentation as Hiltira to the men.

Two helpers had already driven to this zone before to spread the news: humedica is coming, there will be tea, popcorn and a presentation as well. Other CHWs visit families at home. They talk about prevention measures, the correct intake of medicaments and organise the transport of particularly ill patients to the health care station.

Another Community Health Worker stays at the health care station today. He makes good use of the time patients spend waiting to see a doctor and teaches them about hygiene and diarrhoea in the meanwhile.

Visible results

After the presentations Mohammed continues the training of the CHW´s. „During our meetings I ask the CHWs to repeat once more the presentations they hold for the refugees. This is a very good training for them. When all have exchanged their opinions and given feedback, I finally complement and recapitulate.“ explains the nurse. For three years now he trains and coaches the refugee workers. Sometimes he also goes into the camps, where he notices significant results of their work:

humedica nurse Mohammed meets the Community Health Workers regularly to continue their training. Photo: humedica

„You can tell a great difference to former times. In particular the attitude towards hygiene has improved noticeably: people use the toilets now, they take care to cloth cleanly, they use clean or boiled water, wash their hands and cut their fingernails. That is so important. The people here respect us and listen carefully. Sometimes they even excuse for having done things differently before.“

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Note: humedica runs the medical emergency relief intervention thanks to the support of the Foreign Office of Germany since 2011.

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