Kenya: The vital role of volunteers in combating communicable diseases

Published: 19 July 2016 6:53 CET

By Ogola Florence, Kenya Red Cross Society

Volunteers are one of the most important pillars of the Kenya Red Cross Society. They are selfless individuals who invest their time and energy to support the Red Cross whenever there is an emergency operation.

Kheira Abdi is a volunteer based in Mandera County, in northeastern Kenya. Since May, she has been on the social mobilization team, helping to raise awareness about a cholera outbreak that has affected thousands of people.

“Our day begins with a brief from our supervisor who takes us through the activities of the day,” said Kheira. “We start our day around 7:30 a.m. before the heat becomes unbearable, and thus slowing us down,” she added, with a smile.

Before the volunteers go out to the community, their team leaders - who are technical people in the field - give them a brief of what is expected and ensure that each volunteer has the required tools to enable them to accomplish the set goals. The environment is calm, with team members talking with each other, not to each other. They encourage and inspire one another and finally embark, in pairs, on what they do best, that is, meeting and sensitizing the community with broad smiles on their faces.

Witnessing positive changes in behaviour

“At the beginning, some community members were very rigid and unwelcoming,” recalled Kheira. “Now I meet some of them when I’m not working and they enquire as to when I will bring them aqua tabs to treat their water.”

Kheira is among a team of over 300 volunteers in Mandera County, sensitizing the community on preventive measures against the spread of cholera at the household level. This involves teaching the community about water treatment, proper handwashing procedures, how to keep the environment clean, and what to do if someone presents cholera symptoms.

“I am happy to wake up every morning knowing that I’m serving my community and humanity as a whole, and it gives me so much joy seeing the results, especially during revisits,” said Kheira.

“When we first visited homes, we would notice mats laid under the trees with weak patients lying on them and compounds littered with dirt. But now we find homes with handwashing facilities installed and children playing happily.”

In June, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies released 276,165 Swiss francs from its Disaster Relief Emergency Fund to support the Kenya Red Cross Society in responding to the cholera and chikungunya outbreaks. Activities aimed at reaching 200,000 people focused on social mobilization, case management, and surveillance.