Working together to make toilets safer

by Caroline Leal | November 15, 2018
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Photo : Alexis Huguet/Oxfam
Revo, 50, Congolese refugee, laughs in her makeshift shelter.

Revo is getting ready to pose for a photograph. "Here?" She holds her straw broom and laughs with her husband Kafinzi. Together with their son, they’ve been living in the Mantapala Refugee Settlement in Zambia after fleeing conflict and violence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Revo herself has become an Oxfam volunteer. Three times a day she runs hygiene promotion programs for families in the camp because she knows the spread of disease can be deadly. “We suffered so much before, always running. Now this is our home. We want to start working and contributing.”

Fleeing violence

“I left Congo when the war intensified. They were killing people. Even when we were fleeing we were running over bodies. These people were brutal. They were using axes, slashers, hoes, spears… any tool they could lay their hands on."

Over 17,000 people have fled across the border into neighbouring Zambia.

"It's so difficult when you see someone that has been attacked. It’s very confusing, you don’t even know why you are running, you just know that you don’t want it to happen to you and your loved ones. So, you run."

Upon arrival, the refugees are hosted at Kenani Transit Centre in Luapula province where they receive a hot meal and temporary shelter. The initial response was originally planned for 500 people. Today, 11,000 refugees call Kenani home.

To meet the demand, a permanent settlement has been created 35 kilometres from Kenani, called Mantapala. This is where Revo now calls home.

“I was very happy to arrive in Zambia and experience the peace, because after a very long time I was finally able to get real sleep.”

Oxfam has been working with local partner Action Africa Help (AAH). Together, we’ve been focusing on sanitation and livelihoods. Toilets are something you probably don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. That’s because you and I usually have a safe, clean place to go whenever we need to. But this isn’t the reality for everyone, including Revo.

Working to make toilets safer 

In the developing world, thousands of women and children don’t have a safe place to relieve themselves.

Right now, there are girls barred from going to school while they are menstruating, simply because they don’t have a safe, private place to change their sanitary napkins.

In refugee camps, women and children face the threat of assault as they make their way to latrines on the outskirts of their camp.

That’s a danger which Revo understands only too well, even in the permanent settlement.

"We have a temporary toilet nearby and we are waiting for a permanent one as soon as possible. I’d rather have a permanent toilet. At night, if a child cries to go to the toilet, we are forced to go outside and it makes me feel a bit insecure."

This is why, with your support, Oxfam is working with local partners to build household latrines and near-by toilet facilities equipped with lights and locks.

As for Revo? She continues volunteering for Oxfam.

"I’ve given my life to people because in my heart I love people so much."

Revo’s experience feeling violence is one we’ve seen far too often; her experience taking a leadership role in her community is also one we don’t see often enough. We aim to change that. Our advocacy work is all about supporting women like Revo - putting power and decision making in the hands of women affected by conflict worldwide.

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