Mimi the Clown takes the hygiene message into Tunisia

Published: 9 May 2011 15:00 CET

Gina Guinta in Tunisia

What could possibly cheer up hundreds of adults and children staying in a transit camp near the Tunisian-Libyan border in the midst of a sandstorm? Mimi the Clown. 

Yet Mimi wasn’t brought in specifically to cheer up people. Mimi was scheduled to come to the Red Cross and Red Crescent camp for four days to creatively spread safe hygiene messages. The sandstorm just happened to be her first day passing on the message about the importance of washing hands before eating and after using facilities.

Children and adults alike were able to take their minds off the sand and wind whipping against their tents. Further, due to the smaller nature of the family tents, the powerful Saharan storm destroyed all family tents in the camp. Nearly 150 people in the designated family area had to move tents in the middle of the night with Red Cross Red Crescent volunteers’ support. Mimi had a captive audience who wanted to focus on someone bright and cheerful.

For four days, Mimi met with about 400 adults and children from all nationalities present in the camp at the time – people from Chad, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger and Nigeria. The Red Cross Red Crescent Al Hayet (which means ‘life’ in Arabic) Transit Camp opened on April 6 to help the thousands of nationals fleeing Libya and in need of a place to stay, safe water, food, sanitation facilities and health care. To date, more than 4,100 people have stayed at the camp ranging from several days to a few weeks until they are able to return to their home countries.

 Elizabeth Hood, the IFRC hygiene promoter on the operation, says Mimi was having a positive effect on the children and adults at the camp. “Hygiene promotion is critical at any time, let alone when staying in a transit camp away from one’s home and comfort,” she says. 

“We have 10 Tunisian Red Crescent hygiene promoters working in the camp everyday. We have hung large signs with photos and easy messages to remind people to wash their hands and use facilities in a proper way,” explains Elizabeth. “But we felt we needed to be more innovative and ensure the hygiene messages were truly understood. So we brought in Mimi the Clown.” 

From a colorfully painted face and red squishy nose, down to stripped socks and pink shoes, Mimi met with small groups of people at a time. 

Mimi taught people the nine steps of hand washing at the water points in the camp. Children laughed and showed off their counting skills to 10 in English, French and Arabic while vigorously rubbing their hands together with soap and water. Mimi was also invited into tents where she sat with Red Crescent hygiene promoters who used specific picture cards to reinforce ideas about health and hygiene to small groups of women and children. 

After four days of leaving behind many safe hygiene messages; she still had her real job to do as a clown. Mimi also left behind colorful balloon giraffes, dogs and other animals for the kids at the camp.