VOICES FROM THE FIELDTHE IRC BLOG
The clean-up brigade
April 21, 2012 by Jane Yang
|Teams of volunteers clean up litter in the Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya. Photo: IRC|
As Earth Day approaches we’re taking a look at some of the environmental concerns that arise in humanitarian crises; among them, how to address a growing litter problem in the massive Kakuma refugee camp in northwestern Kenya.
TURKANA, Kenya—They’re officially named “block health committees,” but to me, they’re the Kakuma refugee camp clean-up brigade, teams of six volunteers per block—a neighborhood of approximately 900 houses—on a mission to ensure safe and sanitary conditions within the camp.
“We work with the community health promoters,” explains Louis, one of the block leaders, referring to International Rescue Committee refugee staff members who provide health care services at the local level. “They give health messages [on topics including the importance of handwashing] to each household, while we do a hygiene inspection.”
Louis, a refugee from Sudan, checks on a family’s latrine to determine if it is clean and functioning properly, and looks around for potential mosquito breeding areas. On average, each block health committee member will visit 10 households a day in order to inspect one entire block each week.
“It is important for the Block Health Committees to be community-led,” explains Haron Emukule, the International Rescue Committee’s environmental health manager in Kakuma. Through these volunteers, all refugees like Louis, the IRC’s environmental health program is able to reach every household in Kakuma, promoting hygienic practices and encouraging families to dispose of their trash in regulated refuse pits.
In the future, notes Haron, the block health committees may become and independent entity like the community-based Hope for the Vulnerables that was born out of a previous IRC-run education and sanitation program.
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