In Chad, women are discrete except when it comes to raising awareness.
Ababa Abakhar is a well-known preacher in the community of Am-Timan, in the East of Chad. She decided to use her notoriety to raise awareness on the cholera outbreak and good hygiene practices to stop the propagation of this disease.
In the confine of her house, Ababa talked intensely of her commitment in fighting cholera. “I want to tell my sisters to take their courage with both hands and start cleaning their house and the street in front of their house so that we can leave free from diseases like cholera.”
Ababa Abakhar, 45, is a highly-regarded figure in Am-Timan. Teaching women Koran, she is followed by more than 400 women who attend her sermons each Sunday. “Am-Timan is my home, and people know me” she reminds us naturally.
When the outbreak was declared, Ababa was already in great position to take part in the efforts to combat the spread of cholera. A position she endorsed quite early at the onset of the outbreak.
“I went to see and visit the women who were sick in both the Cholera Treatment Unit (CTU) and their home. It helped me realize the urgency of the situation and I decided to include this issue in my sermons to women.”
With the trust of women in her community, Ababa supported health workers to pass the right messages to families, and more particularly change at-risk attitudes and behaviors which at first could appear to clash with ancient traditions.
“It was hard for families to understand that they could not get the body back right away, like we are supposed to in our religion” explains Ababa. “I talked to the families to help them understand the risks of contamination. After talking to them, they understood that the body needed to be treated first and then it would be given back for burial without any risk of contamination.”
But for Ababa the main challenge lies in a much deeper issue, the one of hygiene. “You don’t need to wear glasses to see the hygiene issue in Am-Timan. Cholera is also due to this lack of hygiene. I really want to use my notoriety to make women change their ways so that this disease never comes back to Am-Timan again. The only solution is for the community to realize the situation so that they can act on it.”
In getting communities mobilized and effectively improving hygiene behaviors, women are key. “The health of a child depends on his mother” explains Djiwerie Oussmane, president of ANNASSOUR, a women organization working in the district of Am-Timan. “If she understands how to prevent cholera she can have the tools necessary to assure the well-being of her child. Mothers are the core of a family.”
Ababa was one of the 100 women trained by UNICEF’s partner ANNASSOUR to raise awareness of women in the community on children’s rights, and in relation to the seriousness of the cholera outbreak.
“In our tradition, woman like Abbaba are very respected by our community because of their religious education and knowledge” continues Djiwerie. “When they speak out, everybody listen. If we want to get our message across we need to go through these canals.”
The support of Annasour helped Ababa to go beyond her sermons, and record a prevention message at the community radio “Darbadja”, explaining cholera transmission and prevention.
“I want women to be aware that cholera is caused by bad hygiene practices and that we can easily avoid it if we take some measures like washing our hands with soap, sweeping our house, sanitizing the space where we sleep and treating the water before drinking it.”
In the hand of a well-known women as Ababa, radio became an even more powerful mean to reach out to those other women in more remote and rural places who do not always have access to water points that can be found in the city.
“Using the radio is a good way to reach women, especially the ones who are leaving the city to work in the fields. They need to treat the water they get from the pond or the river. It is important for those women to bring water purifier packets with them.”
Ababa’s commitment towards the well-being of her community is inspirational and shows the significance of religious leaders’ mobilization in the interest of reaching everyone, especially every woman.
Since the beginning of the epidemic in the Sila and Salamat region, on August 14th 2017, more than 1,200 cases have been identified and 71 death registered. Thanks to the Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department of the European Commission (ECHO), UNICEF has supported community radios, religious leaders and women organization to raise awareness on cholera contamination and prevention, and prevent further escalation of the epidemic.