Clowns, puppets and papier mâché: all in a day’s work for hygiene promotion volunteers

Published: 23 August 2016 10:43 CET

By Anita Dullard/IFRC

Florian Hass is a hygiene promoter working in two refugee camps in Northern Greece. He works alongside 45 volunteers from the camp communities to make sure people have the information they need to take action and keep their communities healthy and safe.

What is hygiene promotion?

Hygiene promotion is all about preventing diseases; we work together with the health clinic to identify the kinds of diseases or health issues that the camp might be at risk of and then we put together a campaign to talk to everyone about how they can stay healthy. It’s often as simple as promoting good hand washing practice, or long term campaigns to address waste management issues.  

Tell us about the hygiene promotion volunteers?

My team are all seeking asylum themselves, men and women from the community of all ages actually. They are both Kurdish and Arabic speakers because the population in the camps here at Nea Kavala and Cherso is mainly Arab and Kurdish people.

The Red Cross tries to be as close to the community as possible. Our volunteers have the same experiences that other people in the camp have. This makes it really easy to work with the community because our volunteers speak the language, they know the problems, and they are trusted and respected.

What kind of issues do the volunteers address?

Waste management is a critical issue in the camps. A build-up of rubbish can attract flies which bring disease, or rats and mice, which attract snakes. So the volunteers themselves clear away rubbish and also make sure camp residents have enough plastic bags and equipment to keep their areas clean. Our volunteers identify and clean up stagnant water which might attract mosquitos, and help the community to get rid of any water around their tents.

We do campaigns on dental hygiene, hand washing and other health issues. For instance, we helped promote the recent measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations for all kids between five and 15 years old. And the volunteers also have a roster for bathroom attendants to make sure the bathrooms are clean and safe places for everyone to access.

How do you get the camp community involved and engaged?

In both camps we have a “fun team”. They think of songs, puppet shows, or even clown shows that will get the community interested, particularly the kids. The volunteers put on shows for the children every week.

The teams are extremely motivated and creative and very competitive. So if one team comes up with a good idea, I just have to pitch the idea to the other team, and they’ll come up with an even better idea. It's great. We did a dental hygiene campaign recently and the team at Nea Kavala made a big papier mâché mouth to make the campaign lively and interesting. I showed a picture of the papier mâché mouth to the team in Cherso and they made a 3D model out of clay, which was pretty awesome.

The Red Cross operations in Greece are funded by IFRC’s emergency appeal of 28.7 million Swiss francs, which includes financial support from the EU’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO) and other donors.