Sensitizing refugees on hygiene

At Mahama Camp, UNICEF Rwanda worked with the Government of Rwanda, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and others to establish health and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) facilities. But they needed a way to reach and sensitize over 50,000 Burundian refugees on proper hygiene and essential services. Challenges included high population density, language barriers, low literacy rates, and refugees’ lack of exposure to modern amenities.

In 2017, UNICEF conducted a six-month Talking Book pilot. Community health workers (CHWs) used Talking Books to deliver health education on key family practices, with a focus on hygiene and sanitation. The project was implemented by Global Humanitarian and Development Foundation, with funding from the Paul and Cathy Cotton family and the Government of Japan . 

Refugees at Mahama Camp listen to a Talking Book.

Deliver audio content in Kirundi

To support UNICEF Rwanda’s Communication for Development programming at Mahama Camp, GHDF distributed Talking Book audio devices and conducted training for more than 300 CHWs and 25 Early Childhood Development centers.

Talking Book content was recorded in Kirundi, a Bantu language spoken by Burundian refugees, and produced in the form of songs, dramas, and interviews. In addition to hygiene information, messaging included topics such as breastfeeding, birth registration, immunizations, menstrual hygiene, HIV prevention, malaria, and more. Talking Books also included content from Itetero, an educational children’s radio program produced by UNICEF and Rwanda Broadcasting Agency.

Talking Books included content from Itetoro, a children’s radio program.

Increasing reach with Talking Books

CHWs used Talking Books to deliver health education during door-to-door home visits, group discussions, and community events. Families also listened to Talking Books at Child Welfare Centers. The Talking Book’s built-in speaker allowed for groups of about 20 to listen and learn together. CHWs also used megaphones to amplify messages for larger audiences.

In addition, CHWs used Talking Books to record community feedback to share with program managers. The combination of user feedback and usage data helped program managers monitor program delivery and content engagement. They could see what messages performed well and where updates or improvements were needed.

When the pilot came to a close, GHDF’s analysis showed that CHWs with Talking Books reached 2.75 times more men, 2.5 times more women, and 1.5 times more children than through their routine door-to-door efforts. Likewise, they were able to share consistent, quality health information more efficiently and effectively during home visits and community events.

A CHW announces a Talking Book listening session.

Key takeaways from the pilot

  • CHWs reported that Talking Books helped them deliver health messages more efficiently and reliably. They were able to increase the number of home visits by 110%.
  • Recorded community feedback helped inform content updates. For example, messaging instructed people not to share drinking cups. However, user feedback revealed that most households didn’t have enough cups to go around.
  • Because Talking Books included Itetero songs and stories, children were especially interested in listening. Dramas and interviews kept listeners engaged. Group listening sessions encouraged discussion on hygiene within the communities.
  • Overall, community members gave positive reviews of the efficiency of the messaging. Many requested more information about diarrhea prevention and breastfeeding.

Global Humanitarian and Development Foundation is a national civil society organization based in Rwanda. GHDF’s areas of work include humanitarian response, economic development, youth programs, and HIV/GBV prevention. Visit GHDF’s website.

To learn more about the Rwanda refugee situation, see:

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