James: People are responding because hygiene is for their own good.

February 26, 2018

By Richard M Kavuma

One of the standout community volunteers among South Sudanese refugees in Palorinya settlement in Moyo district is Ababa James Oful.

James has endured many ups and downs in his life. Now 25, he joined the South Sudan police in 2010, after dropping out of school in Senior 2. But in August 2011, his police patrol vehicle was involved in an accident that cost him his left leg. He was treated in Nairobi hospital and returned to work in Juba – war forced him to seek refuge in Uganda.

Often wearing a thoughtful countenance and moving on crutches, James easily commands the respect of both his fellow volunteers and the community.

“We move from household to household advising people to observe hygiene and sanitation, for example by digging pit latrines,” says James, a refugee from Torit state in South Sudan. “And after using the latrine, they should wash their hands with soap and keep the latrine clean and covered, so that flies do not go from there to contaminate food and make the people sick.”

James is one of the 50 hygiene promoters supporting IOM Uganda’s Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) project for South Sudanese refugees and host communities in West Nile. Covering Palorinya in Moyo and zone 4 of Bidibidi settlement in Yumbe district, the project is funded by European Union Humanitarian Aid (DG ECHO), and implemented by the IOM, UN Migration Agency.  In Moyo, IOM works with Lutheran World Federation (LWF) as its implementing partner.

Besides funding latrines and other sanitation and hygiene facilities and public health education, the project is also building piped water systems in the two districts.

“The people are really taking the advice because we make them understand that hygiene and sanitation are for their own lives, for them to be safe from diseases,” says James, a father of two girls.

James says he fled the South Sudan capital Juba in May 2017, because he felt particularly vulnerable.

“There was a lot of fighting and just killing of people, like genocide. And because I could not escape by myself in case something happened, I decided to leave.”

Until then, James was a police detective

He wants to return to school so as to work and give the best possible education to his daughters.

Like James, Gala Gladys Joseph, fled South Sudan because the violence was too much to bear.

“I could not stay there anymore. Maybe someone could come at night and they slaughter me,” says Gladys, who comes from Kajo Keji County, and who had studied at Maganjo Insitute of Career Education in the Ugandan capital Kampala.

Having lost her father and mother, Gladys had returned home to Kajo Keji to work with a hotel, when the violence forced back to Uganda.  Now, though, as a hygiene promoter, she is happy to support her community, who include her aunt and nieces and nephews.

“When I go to a household, I introduce myself as a hygiene promoter, but many people do not understand hygiene and sanitation, so I have to explain everything,” she says. “Hygiene is personal cleanliness from head to toe, but sanitation is about the entire environment in which we live, including latrines and bathing and washing areas. The environment must be clean to avoid diseases.”

That echoes the view of the project donor, European Union Humanitarian Aid, whose representative in Uganda, Isabelle D’Haudt, recently said:  “We are confident that this EU investment in safe water and better sanitation and hygiene for the refugees and their hosts will greatly improve living conditions and keep people free from preventable diseases. As one of the major humanitarian donors of water and sanitation assistance worldwide, the EU will continue to support the communities in West Nile.”

Both James and Gladys were trained by LWF, IOM’s implementing partner, and continue to receive support from the NGO. Like James, Gladys says she would like to return to school to upgrade her certificate in catering to a diploma to improve her prospects. For now, though, they are happy to serve their new community in Palorinya.