Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection

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Youth in Aleppo educate their communities on health and hygiene

Child entertainment activities held by the Community Mobilization Team in support of a polio vaccination campaign in Aleppo. Some of the key messages disseminated at the event include the importance of hand washing and the need for vaccinating children against polio. Photo credit: UNICEF Syria/2015/ Yaman Halawi

In Aleppo, one of the hardest hit areas of the Syrian conflict, the situation for children remains extremely precarious. The destruction of health care services, a lack of electricity, water shortages and mass population displacements place children at an increased risk of communicable diseases due to poor hygiene and disrupted access to treatment facilities. As telecom cables and broadcasting towers lie in ruins, community-based outreach programmes are one of the few remaining sources of information for a population left to their own devices.   Tamara Abu Sham and Halfdan Broch-Due from UNICEF explain why one innovative pilot project, funded by the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and other donors, has been so important in empowering youth to mobilise their own communities around hygiene and health promotion.

Tamara Abu Sham and Halfdan Broch-Due, UNICEF@UNICEF

The Community Mobilization Team in Aleppo consists of 24 young and enthusiastic mobilisers who are trained to disseminate critical information on good hygiene practice, immunisation and child care. Overall 400 health workers and volunteers have been trained across the country.

The project has given young people an opportunity to take on an active and positive role in a bleak environment. One youth volunteer, Abdullah explained the positive impact of his experience as community mobiliser, and now passes on the training he learns to new volunteers. “When the crisis broke out, I wanted to help my community but I felt cuffed and powerless,” he said. “After finishing my own training, I worked for the hygiene promotion project in different areas of Aleppo and I started training 15 other volunteers.” 

The Community Mobilization Team engages children using fun and games designed to capture their attention and also provide a breathing space from the harsh reality of life in Aleppo. This includes theatre, music and sports.

The team works painstakingly through long hours of preparation and planning in addition to walking door to door in order to educate on good hygiene practices. There is, however, a real sense of purpose to the work.

The project participants gain key transferable skills that will better prepare them for the future. The hygiene promotion campaign reached 3 500 displaced families and over 12 000 children in schools in the governorate.

Esraa Khalaf, a UNICEF Health Officer in Aleppo, testifies on the positive change made by the community mobilisers: “There is an increase in the number of mothers accessing the young child feeding consultation centres, thanks to the community mobilisers who guided the caregivers to the centre through the door to door visits.”

“This is not a story of success,” says Amer Dyar Bakerli, the team leader. “But the story of the beginning of it.”

Since 2012, the European Commission has committed €26.7 million to UNICEF’s response in Syria.

Last updated
31/08/2015