The women leading the cholera battle in northeast Nigeria

A force of determined women already involved in the fight against polio has been assembled to lead work to curb the spread of a cholera outbreak in northeast Nigeria. Displaced by conflict and themselves living in camps around the crisis region, these women are moving from tent to tent to help families understand the risks they face during the rainy season, and how to get help if they fall ill.

UNICEF and partners are responding to the outbreak of cholera in the region and this volunteer force is one of the most powerful means to helping curb the spread of disease.

Volunteer community mobilisers, or VCMs as they are commonly known in the camps for the displaced, are often the only way community members know how to keep their families healthy in the face of extreme hardship.

Our VCMs provide their neighbours with this vital service while facing their own hardships brought on by displacement. These are their stories:

A woman holds a poster as she speaks to another woman about cholera.
UNICEF AbubakarAmina talks to her neighbour about how to prevent cholera in Muna Garage Camp.

We left our village of Kashimburi two years ago after the insurgents attacked the town and burnt homes around the neighbourhood. My family and I, all forty of us, left the village and walked for two days until we arrived the outskirts of Maiduguri. We have been living in Muna Garage camp since we arrived.  – Amina

 

A woman in purple speaks to a man dressed in white. A cholera poster sits on the ground between them.
UNICEF Abubakar Adama is an active participant in the campaign to prevent the spread of cholera.

I volunteered to become a VCM when the Bulama (community leader) mentioned that people were needed to help the community. I wanted to help .  – Adama

A woman stands in front of a group of people with her arms raised to show soap on them
UNICEF AbubakarA group of displaced families listens to a talk about the importance of handwashing with soap.

I was previously very active in my village, I was a birth attendant. So I have experience with working with communities so I volunteered to continue .  – Zara

When the rains arrived, it created more problems, the environment became dirtier and it is causing all this disease! We go round the camp and create awareness about the importance of hygiene such as the use of soap for handwashing, proper washing of children after defaecation. So many things… – Amina

You have to pay attention to handwashing, bathing properly, keeping your environment clean.   – Adama

We pray to God. But we also have to work together to ensure that everyone is rid of the disease by telling them about its causes and how they can prevent it. – Zara

Three women holding cholera posters speak to a fourth.
UNICEF AbubakarVolunteer Community Mobilizers play a crucial role in helping to prevent the spread of cholera.

The health of the community is important. There is a difference when you educate people. Diseases become less rampant.  – Amina

The VCMs of Muna Garage camp join a cadre of community members committed to stopping the spread of this potentially catastrophic disease. With the VCMs leading the charge, prominent community members, teachers, and religious leaders are mobilised and have a busy few weeks ahead as the area suffers the full impact of the rains.

Fati Abubakar is a Communications Consultant and photographer. Harriet Dwyer  is an Emergency Communications Specialist, UNICEF Maiduguri

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