Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Teaching handwashing in 30 seconds

©UNICEF Myanmar/2015/Mariana Palavra
By Mariana Palavra

Momauk, Kachin State- Myo Ja will never forget the sound of the bombs, the gun shots, the crossfire, the fear. This was in 2011, when she was ten years old and the conflict between the Myanmar Armed Forces and Kachin armed groups knocked at her door, in Nansai village.

Most of the families decided to flee the area. Myo Ja’s story wasn’t different, except that she didn’t have her family anymore. “My father had died some years before. My mother married again but eventually she died too,” she recalled. “I fled with my stepfather. We walked for two days until we found a safe place to stay.”     
It took two days to walk just five kilometres, the distance between Nansai village and Momauk Township, where hundreds of people found a safe haven in 2011.

Since then, Myo Ja has been living in Momauk Kachin Baptist Church (KBC) camp, one of the first camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs) that emerged as a result of the conflict.
“Dozens of displaced families arrived at this church compound in July 2011. This space became the first camp in the area,” explained Saing Aung, camp manager and KBC pastor. “Today we have 730 people living in this camp. But as the displaced population has increased throughout the years, KBC now runs a total of five IDP camps, where over 1,800 people live.”
To improve the access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene in IDP camps from Kachin State, UNICEF has been working with Metta Development Foundation, a local non-governmental organisation (NGO) whose name means ‘love and kindness’ in the Kachin language. 
With the financial help of the Government of Japan, this project ensures that almost 13,400 IDPs in 15 camps and two schools in both Government and non-government controlled areas (GCAs and NGCAs) have access to improved water sources and sanitary latrines, and benefit from awareness activities promoting good hygiene practices.
“For a period of six months, we have tested the water in all camps on a regular basis. We have also built a total of 98 semi-permanent latrines, 20 washing and bathing spaces, 33 hand washing facilities, and improved 20 drainage systems,” explained Kai Ja, Metta project coordinator. In addition, hygiene materials have been distributed to over 9,000 IDPs, along with the provision of hygiene promotion training.

Myo Ja is one of the most regular participants in the hygiene promotion sessions organised in her camp. “I like them very much, especially because I learn things about health,” she said proudly. Not only does she enjoy the sessions, she also shares what she learns with younger children in the camp. “Sometimes, after using the latrines they don’t wash their hands, so I call their attention and teach them how to wash their hands,” she declared. Indeed, Myo Ja, with gestures and an improvised spoken word song, explains in 30 seconds how one should wash hands properly.  
©UNICEF Myanmar/2015/Mariana Palavra
One of the main goals of the UNICEF-Metta project in Kachin State is to reduce water and excreta-related diseases in children under age five. Although the Knowledge, Attitude and Practice (KAP) survey is not yet concluded, positive results are already visible.

“IDPs gained knowledge on health-related issues and children in the camps can easily explain how to wash their hands properly,” revealed Kai Ja, Metta Project Coordinator. “When the camps were first established there were many cases of diarrhoea. Nowadays, the cases of skin and water borne diseases are rare,” she concluded.

“There was open defecation in some of the camps, as people brought those behaviours from their villages.  Now, you don’t see it anymore,” revealed Saing Aung, camp manager and KBC pastor. “People learned how to use and clean the latrines and they changed their personal hygiene habits”.
Today, Myo Ja is a 14-year old adolescent who still fears going back home. But she is not afraid of her future. She is studying hard, especially English. “If I speak English I can visit other countries of the world,” she said. English language will also be useful to fulfil another dream: “I want to be a singer. I often listen to English songs, especially Justin Bieber. He has nice songs and we can dance to them,” she admitted with a blushed smile.

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