South Sudanese refugee educators lead the way on good hygiene

In Uganda’s Bidibidi settlement, community hygiene promoters teach their neighbors healthy habits
Photo: Radhika Shah for Action Against Hunger, Bidibidi Refugee Settlement, Yumbe District, Uganda

A resurgence of violent conflict in South Sudan has forced a new wave of refugees to flee their homes to find safety in neighboring countries. Since July 2016, the United Nations estimates that more than 500,000 people have arrived in Uganda. In August, the Bidibidi refugee settlement opened in Yumbe–just over six months later, it’s one of the world’s largest and fastest growing refugee settlements.

In Bidibidi, Action Against Hunger teams are helping to meet the urgent needs of refugee families by running programs to treat undernutrition and promote clean water, safe sanitation, and good hygiene. Community participation is critical to our success, and it’s led by people like Cecilia Kwaje and Isaac Mawa, refugees who now work as hygiene promoters, helping to create positive change.

Cecilia and Isaac are both from Yai, a village in the southern Central Equatoria province, and fled with their families following the violence in July. Back home, as parts of South Sudan face famine, their village is experiencing a worsening food security crisis.

Cecilia, her husband, and their four young children fled in early September, driving across the border with her brother. Her youngest child, six months old, became ill on the way to Uganda and had to be treated upon arrival in the settlement medical center. Today, Cecilia’s biggest worries are for the rest of her family, who remained behind in Yai. One day, she hopes for lasting peace and a safe return home back in South Sudan.

As Isaac testifies, “I’ve witnessed with my eyes…there is no peace in my community. Where I come from, you can be arrested, you can be killed. It doesn’t matter who you are.” Isaac and his pregnant wife left Yai in September with his sister and niece. They traveled to Uganda on foot, his wife giving birth along the way.

Both Cecilia and Isaac were elected by their community to be trained as hygiene promoters by Action Against Hunger. Cecilia is responsible for 42 households and Isaac for 35—both work to educate families on how good hygiene practices can prevent disease and to promote healthy habits like handwashing. Already, they’ve seen a big change in the community and appreciate the part they play in promoting healthier lifestyles among their neighbors.

“I like working with ACF as a hygiene promoter,” Isaac says, “You see the rate of diarrhea reducing. People want their own household latrines now, and they all have their own clean jerry cans and TipTaps for hand washing.”

Our teams in Yumbe are working to provide the tools and training necessary to meet the needs of refugees. With participation and engagement from the communities and leadership from people like Cecilia and Isaac, we can reach even more families with key messaging on good hygiene and health. 

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About Radhika Shah

Radhika Shah

Radhika works in our Operations Department, helping manage our humanitarian programming in Cambodia, Pakistan, South Sudan, and Uganda.