Hope is in Children
Time flies when we are busy. It is hard to believe but the first month of my PULSE assignment is already behind me. Recently, together with ‘Healthy Communities’ Volunteers, I took part in workshops held in Poprad and Presov in the eastern part of Slovakia. People volunteering for ‘Healthy Communities’ are Roma Health Mediators. They provide basic medical support for the inhabitants of the settlements and facilitate communication with healthcare providers. During the meeting, volunteers shared their experience and success stories ranging from direct life saving episodes to successful implementation of nutrition education, increased number of prophylactic check-ups and introduction of proper waste disposal. This meeting was also a great opportunity to discuss the biggest challenges of their daily work. Although each community has it is own specificity, inadequate hygiene, sanitation and limited access to drinking water, were highlighted as the main problems in all settlements.
During the workshop, the ACEC Director led an empowering session related to the ethical codex of the health mediator, touching important aspects of protection of human rights, respect of privacy and dignity of the clients and obligation to help all people in need regardless of skin color, nationality or beliefs. Volunteers were also trained in life saving skills and increased their knowledge about daily medical procedures and health and safety rules which are crucial, particularly with regard to spread of infectious diseases like tuberculosis, which has become more prevalent in some settlements in the past few years. None of the volunteers left this training session empty-handed – everyone received a well-equipped first aid kit and electronic blood pressure gauge.
The workshop was an inspiring experience for everyone. All practical information provided during the training was very important, but a team building aspect should not be underestimated. Most of the volunteers work alone, usually in the settlement they normally live in. They struggle with stereotypes and prejudice with the outside world and a lack of understanding and positive will within their own community. It is very important for them to know that others face the same challenges. All people that I met during these workshops were incredibly brave and I consider myself lucky to meet them.
During the next few days, accompanied by the health mediators and their coordinator, we visited settlements in Swinia and Kosice (Lunik IX). The purpose of our visit was to get a better understanding of the needs of the local community and feasibility of embedding Personal Hygiene and Sanitation Education (PHASE) concepts in respective settlements. GSK’s PHASE program is a schools-based approach to basic health and hygiene education, which helps children to mitigate diarrhoea and other diseases caused by inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene; since its launch in Kenya in 1998, it has reached over 1.5 million children in some of the world’s poorest communities.
Kosice, Lunik IX, is a home to one of the largest Roma communities in Slovakia. In the block of flats (in a dangerously damaged condition) with apparent capacity of 2500 inhabitants, lives over three times as many people. In the majority of buildings there is no electricity or water. Unemployment among inhabitants of Lunik IX is close to 100%. An address on Lunik IX is a sentence for life in the margins of the society, without almost any possibility to earn a decent living and get a good education. The social situation at Lunik IX is gradually getting worse and in spite of efforts of multiple NGOs, it seems like there is no idea how to bring it back to life. I was very close to admitting that – yes – people are right – there is no hope for Lunik IX. But on the way back we met a small girl who said that her dream is to become a Health Mediator when she grows up. I then understood that change will go through generations. Kids are getting inspired by positive examples, and hopefully they will be able to drive a positive change in the future.
Swinia is a settlement in the countryside inhabited by over 1400 people. Homes there are in desperate condition, with no water or electricity. A single well supplies an entire community with drinking water. Water for washing or bathing is taken directly from a stream. Kids are forced into a life that is incompatible with their young age, but they are incredibly beautiful, smart and smiley. They seem to be happy. Maybe because the best things in life are for free? They are friends, they can count on each other and perhaps that is what is most important?
In spite of all the bad things, the smiley faces and positive energy of children from Svinia and Kosice – Lunik IX inspired and motivated me to increase effort on the introduction of PHASE. The conditions in which these kids are forced to live are extreme, but simple behaviors can protect them from multiple diseases caused by inadequate water, sanitation and hygiene. I hope it will be the next little step toward their better life.
Please note, that opinions and observations presented in this post are my personal reflections.