Gereida camp, Darfur: a day in the life...

Gereida is now the largest camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Darfur, home to around 120,000 people. Due to an escalation of violence against civilians in the area, the camp has more than doubled in size since the turn of the year. Such rapid growth has led to potentially enormous health risks, with tens of thousands of people living in extremely basic, overcrowded conditions.

To try and ensure that the vast camp remains free from outbreaks of serious disease, Oxfam's Public Health Promotion (PHP) team works to educate communities about good hygiene practice and how best to keep healthy.

Julia Moore, Oxfam's PHP team leader in Gereida, knows only too well the hazards that abound in such an environment. Born in Liberia, Julia spent eight years of her adult life in refugee camps in Sierra Leone and later in Cote d'Ivoire after being forced to flee the conflict in her home country.

“Having experienced life in a camp such as this, I can appreciate the problems the people here are facing,” says Julia. It was while living in the refugee camps that Julia became a health worker. “I had a career as a skills trainer for businesses, but in the camp in Sierra Leone I saw how many people were suffering from illnesses that could be prevented. I did some training with an NGO and started helping out in the camp. Now I'm using the skills I learnt there and I hope to continue working around the world, training IDPs and refugees to become health workers and so the cycle can continue.”

Here Julia takes us through a typical day's work in Gereida:

08:30 - Some of the Sheikhs, who are the camp's community leaders, arrive at the Oxfam office to discuss the distribution of plastic sheeting and jerry cans for carrying water. We believe strongly in community participation so we work closely with the Sheikhs and have an organized meeting with them at least once a week, as well as frequent impromptu meetings such as this. They alert us to any problems and urgent needs, and we discuss how they and other IDPs can best work with us.

09:15 - We visit the women's health group in Camp Alif (Camp A). The people here were the first IDPs to arrive in Gereida, in early 2004. They have seen so many changes here, so many thousands of people arrive since then. The group meets once a week, both to discuss latest health issues in the area, and to learn new tips and ideas from the Oxfam health workers about how they can respond. It's also a good place to find out all the latest news in the camp - the women know everything that goes on here! Today they are concerned about their safety when they leave the camp to collect firewood. They need the wood for making their children's porridge, but they sometimes have to walk many kilometers to find wood and this exposes them to attack from the militias in the area. They say that they need better protection, and some of them have started to take wooden poles from their own shelters instead of risk going outside the camp.

10:45 - One of the most important things we do is train health workers from within the camp. Last month we trained 25 IDPs as hygiene supervisors, to work to promote good hygiene practice among the community and encourage people to go to the clinics when they're sick. We make sure that both men and women are trained up, and hopefully they will continue to work for Oxfam here and elsewhere in the area for many years to come.

12:30 - The rainy season is now beginning and so the risk of malaria increases, with pools of water ideal breeding grounds for mosquito larvae. The public health and the engineering teams are working together to spray the latrines to prevent flies and mosquitoes. Each latrine takes several minutes to spray, and we have constructed more than 4,000 in Gereida, so it's very time consuming! As well as spraying, we are also distributing mosquito nets to women and young children.

14:00 - I attend a meeting to discuss the current cholera concerns. Two cases of cholera were confirmed in Nyala, the state capital about 100 kms away, and it can spread extremely quickly. Although there are no cases here yet, we have to make detailed plans just in case. The PHP team has also been increasing its visits to homes to monitor diarrhea.

15:00 - In Dar al Salam camp several hundred men, women and children are participating in a “community clean-up,” collecting and burning solid waste around the area. Animal carcasses ”“ mostly cows and donkeys - are burnt and disposed of as they are potential breeding grounds for disease. Last month we ran a campaign to raise awareness of jaundice, which was attended by more than 2,000 people.

16:00 - In Babanusa camp, the children are still in health class. There is not much for them to do in the camp and very few of them have the opportunity to go to school. We run classes where they learn how to stay healthy by washing their hands after they go to the latrine, properly preparing their food and so on. There are more than 150 children in this class, sat on mats under an acacia tree, and they often stay on well after the class is supposed to have finished. The teachers are all IDPs from within the camp and they play games and teach the children songs that help them learn about hygiene - I must admit that this is probably my favorite part of the job!

17:30 - Back to the office to write up the daily reports and call the logistics team to discuss the transportation of some equipment. So far the rains are only light, but by August the roads will be impassable and the only way to reach Gereida will be by helicopter, so everything we need must arrive by then. There are no phone lines here and cell phones do not work so we have to use satellite phones. Gereida can feel very remote and extremely challenging sometimes, but I love working here!