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Uganda: from beneficiaries to benefactors for IDPs

28-11-2006 Feature

Odonkara Phillips was only fifteen when his family of six was forced to leave their home. This was the beginning of his life as an internally displaced person (IDP) – a fate now shared by more than one million Acholi people in Northern Uganda. ICRC field officer Richard Opige reports on the situation in Tegot camp.

At the height of the activities of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in 1999, Phillips and his family fled to Tegot camp, only a few kilometres away from their village.

When they arrived in Tegot camp, they met only six other families who had built their grass-thatched huts next to a military detachment of less than 30 soldiers. After that, more and more people sought refuge in Tegot, until five years ago everyone in the vicinity was ordered to move to the camp for security reasons. Today, Tegot is home to 172 households in the new district of Amuru.

   
  ©ICRC    
 
  Odongkara Phillips works at keeping the camp clean.    
     

 Survival for the healthiest ones  

In April 2006, an ICRC team carried out a needs assessment in Tegot camp. Sanitary conditions in the IDP camp were very poor. As Phillips, now 22-years old and himself a father, recalls: " There were no latrines. Human faeces were a daily sight all over the camp, no garbage control, and children died from water borne diseases and malaria. Not to mention the HIV/AIDS scourge, no land for cultivation, no boreholes… nothing but survival for the healthiest ones. "

In response to these needs, the ICRC started its work: it began to fill gaps in the drug supply to the health centre, trained its staff and distributed mosquito nets to the camp population to prevent malaria. But it soon became clear that without an improvement in the camp environment, these activities would have limited impact.

For this reason, the ICRC turned to the Community-Owned Resource Persons (CORPs) for support. The CORPs are IDPs trained by the district health authorities to assist with simple medical tasks, e.g. during vaccination campaigns. Together with volunteers from the Uganda Red Cross Society, the ICRC began to teach CORPs on public health and hygiene and how to promote this in their camp.

    

 Taking matters into their own hands  

Phillips is now the leader of the four CORPs trained by the ICRC in Tegot camp. At least thr ee days a week, he and his colleagues Boniface (27 years), Philomena (48) and Doreem (42) go from hut to hut and sensitize their neighbours to hygiene and health issues. With improvized plays on how to prevent diseases, they have managed to convince the reluctant local leaders and the community to work every Sunday in a communal " keep our camp clean " action. " Community attitude is one difficult thing to change, but thanks to us CORPs, the camp environment is now a much better place to live, " Phillips says proudly.

The latest action Phillips and his colleagues undertook was " clearing the bathing shelters of mosquitoes – as transmitters of malaria, they are one of the main health hazards in the camp, " Phillips emphasizes. " Due to poor drainage, mosquitoes were breeding in the soak pit, and whenever somebody was washing, a cloud of mosquitoes would embrace the person, " he adds. His idea was simple but highly effective: pour burnt engine oil into the pit. The change was immediate, and Phillips and his neighbours now do not have to think twice when they need to wash.

Instead of leaving it to humanitarian organizations to " sort things out " , Phillips is working to improve the dire living conditions in the camp himself, and he is able to motivate others to do the same. " With a little support from the ICRC, myself and the other CORPs find ourselves going from people dependent on assistance to people whose actions benefit our whole community. It is as if we have moved from beneficiary to benefactor, " Phillips concludes.