Aden - Huwaida Obaid, a hygiene promoter working with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Aden, Yemen, believes that conflict-affected communities need information now more than ever.
COVID-19 has affected the whole of Yemen. And like everywhere else, rumours are spreading nearly as fast as the virus. This is where Huwaida’s work comes in. She not only shares information on healthy practices but tries to counter harmful information circulating in the community, but it is not easy.
“A lack of resources and medicine during the COVID-19 outbreak, coupled with expensive and unavailable hygiene items in local markets, has made it difficult for us to continue promoting hygiene practices,” she explained.
These are not the first obstacles that she has had to tackle in her career.
Since joining IOM in 2014, Huwaida has been striving to overcome the adversity that she often faces as a woman conducting field work. Travelling on her own to educate rural communities about healthy hygiene practices, she was not always received warmly.
Despite her frustration at times, the 29-year-old mother “loves working closely with her community, especially people in need”. She is determined to continue spreading awareness and teaching people how to protect themselves from disease, especially women, who are often in charge of running their household.
"Working as a hygiene promoter is the greatest opportunity I have ever had. I am very happy to serve the community by promoting hygiene practices that help them stay healthy and have a better life," she said.
Huwaida started her career during the Abyan conflict in 2011. She worked on a project which raised awareness about the dangers of mines and violence against women.
Six years of Yemen’s most recent conflict have drastically damaged public services like clean water and safe sanitation systems across the country while communities have struggled through history’s largest cholera outbreak before the current COVID-19 pandemic. Spreading key hygiene messages in local communities has become a vital part of the world’s largest humanitarian response.
"My message to the world is to support our activities. They provide the community with access to clean water and knowledge on hygiene practices as well as COVID-19 precautionary measures. We need your help to keep people healthy,” said Huwaidah.
Mohammed Salem Nasher is another hygiene promoter working with IOM’s team in Aden.
He visits displacement sites throughout Lahj, Abyan and Taizz governorates to train community leaders on how to carry out awareness raising campaigns. He shares his knowledge and experience on message delivery, education, recording their work and report writing.
“I love the work that we do because it connects us to our own humanity. Regardless of who you are and what you do, this work shows you that we are all human before anything else,” said Mohammed.
But it was over nine years ago that he first started building his skills.
“I began doing this type of work during the displacement crisis back in 2011, when many people were displaced in Abyan during that war,” he said, recalling how the same conflict that influenced Huwaida’s career path also brought him to this work.
“I volunteered to help people who were being displaced by fighting. We would help local organizations in Abyan raise funds from charitable people and the private sector in order to provide aid. Later, I moved to Aden where I also helped displaced people who had fled the same fighting,” he added.
Having discovered a passion for working with his community, Mohammed decided to further his experience by joining IOM as a Hygiene Promoter in March 2012. A graduate of Abyan University’s Faculty of Education, the young teacher knew that teaching people how to protect themselves against disease could be some of the best knowledge he could pass on.
“Hygiene promotion is not much different from working as an instructor. They both teach people of different ages, educate them and spread awareness,” said Mohammed, describing his transition into his work with IOM.
When disease outbreaks would occur like cholera or dengue, Mohammed would voluntarily train committees on hygiene practices in displacement sites with little access to water or hygiene services.
“We used to meet committees and people in our free time to educate them about cholera and dengue fever, but today my work has become even more urgent due to the COVID-19 outbreak,” he explained.
Despite movement restrictions and physical distancing making their job more difficult, Mohammed and his colleagues have incorporated infection prevention and control measures into their work to ensure that they can keep spreading lifesaving messages and not the virus.
“People in Yemen have lost all hope in ever receiving public services, and humanitarian aid has become the only lifeline left for them to survive. Knowledge is essential for people survive in our country today,” said Mohammed.
On Global Handwashing Day, Mohammed had one message for the world:
“I hope that people protect themselves and follow the precautionary measures for their own and their children’s sake. We have to support each other so that we can all get through this safely,” he concluded.
Written by Mennatallah Homaid and Noora Naser from IOM Yemen’s communications team, with editing by Olivia Headon