A family fleeing Somalia famine, learns for the first time that that safe hygiene practices can save their lives

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By Kate Brogan, WASH Programme Assistant

Sultana and her husband had finally made the difficult decision to leave southern Somalia – food shortages from the 2011 drought, along with ongoing conflict, meant they no longer were able to feed their four children. The family began the arduous journey to Ethiopia in search of a better life.

They were lucky to have access to a car for their journey, but did not have the money for adequate food or shelter, so they all slept in the car at night. When they finally reached the Dollo Ado reception centre two days later, all the children, ages 2–10, had fallen seriously ill. They had what Sultan describes as measles; coughing and bad diarrhoea.

Though life is difficult in the Kobe Refugee camp, where the family has been re-settled, Sultana says International Medical Corps has made a lifesaving difference to her children. She admitted that when they lived in Somalia she never would have sought medical attention for the children – either by visiting a doctor or going to a medical centre – she would wait for the illness to pass and hope for the best.

During the first few days in Kobe camp, International Medical Corps’ Community Hygiene Promoters (CHPs) visited Sultana. They explained the importance of coming to the clinics in the camp if anyone in her family was ill, and that illnesses like diarrhoea can be prevented by safe water storage and handling, and by using the latrines and handwashing facilities provided. Following the advice of her CHP, Sultana visited the Health Centre in Kobe Refugee Camp, and today all of her children are fit and healthy.


International Medical Corps’ support did not end once the family’s health emergency was resolved. The staff continues to promote sanitation and hygiene practices that will help prevent Sultana’s children becoming ill again. When Sultana and her family lived in Somalia they never had a latrine.  Since coming to Kobe she now understands the importance of safe waste disposal and she is proud to say she shares a latrine with her three neighbours.  They all work together to ensure it is always clean, and she has trained all her children on how to use it.  She knows the dangers of germs from children’s faeces and wants to keep her compound clean.

All the messages she hears from the CHPs regarding sanitation and hygiene she teaches to her family and neighbours.  Her tent is immaculate inside and she is proud of the fact that she ensures her children bathe every day and their clothes are clean.  The compound where she lives is free from solid waste, as both Sultana and her husband know the dangers this can pose to the health of their family and she actively encourages her neighbours to do the same.

Sultana is now on the way to becoming one of International Medical Corps’ “Model Families” in Kobe camp, who help  set an example to fellow refugees on how best to apply all they have been taught by the CHPs.  Sultana will soon be holding “tea talks” in which neighbours are invited to see how she maintains her compound, and to hear how her life and that of her family has improved since putting into practice all she has heard.

Life as a refugee in Ethiopia is very different for Sultana and her family, but the skills and knowledge she has gained from International Medical Corps ensure that they have hope for a healthier future.


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