As temperatures climb in Za’atari refugee camp, volunteer health workers educate refugees on the importance of good sanitation. Report by Toby Fricker.
It’s summer in Za’atari refugee camp, Jordan. A timely campaign sees teams of Syrian community health workers promoting safe hygiene practices from tent to tent to prevent the diseases that thrive in the heat.
AMMAN, Jordan, 24 June 2013 – The sweat running down Mohamed’s face reflects the intense summer sun that has descended on Jordan’s vast Za’atari refugee camp.
Mohamed, 35, leads a team of 15 Syrian community health workers – one of 12 such teams. Today, as part of an eight-day campaign, his team is walking from tent to tent to promote safe hygiene practices and help prevent disease among the more than 120,000 people living in the camp.
“It’s important to me, because we can prevent disease in the camp. If I and others say disease is not my business, then, eventually, it will reach me, my neighbours and brothers,” says Mohamed.
The timing is critical. In the summer heat, bacteria and parasites thrive, particularly in an overcrowded camp setting – making it more vital than ever to ensure a clean and healthy Za’atari.
Simple actions save lives
The goal of the campaign is to reinforce hand-washing and proper waste disposal, as well as maintaining safe water chains, safe food handling and personal hygiene. The teams also look out for cases of diarrhoea and distribute oral rehydration salts or refer children to medical clinics, when necessary.
At a shop on the edge of the oldest and most crowded part of the camp, Mohamed explains to a father and son the importance of washing their hands regularly, covering water and eating food within two hours of cooking it. “People have to be aware, and basic things may protect children’s lives,” he stresses.
Protecting the community
Mohamed maintains a strong sense of community spirit in his position as a health worker in the camp. “We do this work because we consider the camp as one home. All the children are our children, and whatever happens to a child will affect us,” he says.
Before fleeing to Jordan five months ago, Mohamed worked as a veterinary assistant in a village close to the southern Syrian Arab Republic town of Deraa. He left his home with his father and mother, both of whom have disabilities, as well as his wife and five children. Despite his own difficult living conditions, he’s determined to make a difference in the camp.
In one tent, Mohamed sits with a family. A young girl has diarrhoea. He meticulously explains the process of preparing the oral rehydration salts step by step. “And if she takes these salts, you should not be afraid,” he reassures them.
“For the children, any simple disease could result in death,” he says. “We do this job to protect them – and with simple actions, we can protect ourselves from death, as well.”