UNHCR and education partners ensure consistent availability of soap and hand sanitizer to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in schools in Dadaab. ©UNHCR/Mohamed Aden Maalim
In 2020, as the world was trying to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic, so were refugee children like 15-year-old Fatuma Mohamed, an avid lover of science subjects.
With strict measures put in place by the Kenyan Ministries of Health and Education, schools in Kenya reopened education in classrooms on 4 January 2021 after being closed for nine months as a measure to contain the spread of the virus.
“My father was skeptical at first. His concern was mostly about the coronavirus which killed my uncle. Later, he realized that he had no choice but to allow me to join other students in my school,” says Fatuma, a student in Horseed Primary School in Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab.
Unilever supported UNHCR’s efforts to enhance sanitation and hygiene in settings such as schools through the donation of 2.6 million bars of soap to help slow the spread of the virus.
Abdi Hussein is a 50-year-old Somali refugee who is both a parent and chair of the School Management Committee in Horseed Primary School. He emphasizes the timely donation of soap from Unilever as an important contribution to the successful reopening of schools in the Dadaab refugee camps.
“I have come across many parents who were hesitant about taking their kids back to school due to the pandemic. To overcome this, we worked with UNHCR and education partners to create a mass awareness campaign on schools’ reopening and the measures put in place, such as mandatory wearing of face masks, availability of handwashing stations and maintaining a safe distance inside the classrooms,” he says.
Throughout 2020 and 2021, Unilever and UNHCR worked together as part of the Hygiene and Behavior Change Coalition (HBCC), a GBP 100 million private-public partnership created by Unilever and the UK Government to help tackle COVID-19 in low- and middle-income countries. The HBCC comprises 21 NGO and UN partners running hygiene programmes across 37 countries to raise awareness, change behavior and improve hygiene infrastructure. In addition to installing handwashing stations and training key workers, HBCC leveraged the educational resources of Unilever to improve people’s hygiene behavior. The HBCC has reached over 1.2 billion people and won several awards such as the Business Charity and Global Good Awards. In total, Unilever has donated over 30 million bars of soap to support UNHCR efforts.
The donation of sanitary and hygiene materials was essential as it provided critical products to ensure the safety of refugee students and teachers, while also allowing humanitarian agencies to avoid diverting funds away from other essential education activities.
Schools in the Dadaab refugee camps follow the Kenyan school curriculum and have currently enrolled about 64,000 refugee students. UNHCR currently supports a total of 22 pre-school centers, 22 primary schools, 6 secondary schools, 5 accelerated learning centers, 9 Alternative Basic Education (ABE) centers, and 6 vocational education centers in the 3 refugee camps within the Dadaab complex.
15-year-old Fatuma Mohamed takes notes during a math class in Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. ©UNHCR/Mohamed Aden Maalim
A refugee student in Ifo Secondary School in Dadaab washes her hands with soap. ©UNHCR/Mohamed Aden Maalim
According to Dakane Bare, UNHCR Dadaab’s Education Officer, the availability of soap donated by Unilever was instrumental in the reopening of schools in Dadaab camps.
“To ensure the safety of refugee children in schools, UNHCR and its education partners have had to ensure consistent availability of soap and hand sanitizer in all education institutions. Attendance of pupils improved once we ensured the availability of soap and other preventive measures,” he says.
“This pandemic reminds us of the importance of solidarity. Keeping the most vulnerable safe means keeping everyone safe,” says Kleva Riza, UNHCR Dadaab’s Senior Operations Officer.
No COVID-19 infections have been reported in the Dadaab refugee schools since their re-opening, thanks to intensive communication, health advisories, strict observance of preventive measures, and other water, sanitation, and hygiene protocols.
Students such as Fatuma do not have to worry about missing their classes any longer and are now realizing their dreams, thanks to the support of Unilever and other donors to UNHCR’s refugee programme.
Fatuma hopes to become a medical doctor once she completes her studies in Kenya and returns to Somalia.
“My father is supporting my education and has greatly helped keep my dream of becoming a doctor alive. Once I complete my education in Kenya and it feels safe to go back to Somalia, I will not hesitate to return and support my country,” says Fatuma.
In 2022, UNHCR Kenya also received a donation of around 1 million bottles of hand sanitizers from Unilever, of which almost 600,000 bottles are being donated to Garissa County Government, Garissa’s main prisons, local police authorities and legal courts, the Garissa Association of Churches, and to UNHCR’s partners who are helping refugees in Dadaab.
With the re-introduction of COVID-19 prevention measures across Kenya following a sharp rise of new infections since May 2022, this latest donation will be vital to help slow the spread of the virus.
The CEO of Garissa County Referral Hospital, Ahmed Diis welcomed the donation from Unilever.
“The Garissa County welcomes and supports initiatives from donors such as Unilever as we jointly fight the coronavirus pandemic around the globe”, he says.
Francis Mulandi, Chief of Garissa’s main prisons also lauded the hand sanitizer donation.
“About 400 inmates will benefit from these products, in addition to staff and people who attend to them”, says Mr. Mulandi.