Delivering Health Education to Refugees at Mahama Camp
Updated: Nov 29
In Rwanda, UNICEF worked with the Rwanda government and United Nations High Commission for Refugees to build water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and health facilities at Mahama Camp. However, they needed a way to reach and sensitize over 50,000 Burundian refugees about hygiene and essential services. The high population density, language barriers, and low literacy rates presented challenges.
In 2017, UNICEF conducted a six-month Talking Book pilot. Community health workers (CHWs) used Talking Books to deliver health and WASH messages. The pilot was funded by the Paul and Cathy Cotton family and the Government of Japan. Global Humanitarian and Development Foundation (GHDF) did the project implementation.
Deliver audio content in Kirundi
To support UNICEF Rwanda’s Communication for Development programming at Mahama Camp, GHDF distributed Talking Books and conducted training for more than 300 community health workers (CHWs) and 25 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers. The 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, topics covered key family practices—including birth registration, breastfeeding, 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.
At Mahama Camp, Talking Books included Itetero songs and stories.
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 the ECD centers. Because the Talking Book has a built-in speaker, families and groups could listen and learn together. CHWs also used Talking Books to record community feedback. The Talking Book user feedback and usage statistics helped program managers monitor program delivery and content engagement. Managers could see which devices were being used, which messages performed well, and where updates were needed.
When the pilot came to a close, 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 routine door-to-door efforts. Likewise, CHWs were able to share consistent and accurate health messages more efficiently during home visits and community events.
Key takeaways from the pilot
CHWs reported that Talking Books helped them deliver health messages more efficiently and reliably. They increased their number of home visits by 110%.
Talking Book user 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: