Community Health Volunteers: Ines's Story

Date Publish: 
02/09/11
Region-Country: 
Egypt / Africa and Middle East

Ines, a soft-spoken mother of two, fled Sudan with her husband when
she was just 23 years old, crossing the border into Egypt and
making their way to Cairo. Like many refugees, Ines and her family
suffered discrimination, witnessed violence and struggled for
access to basic services. The experience tried her resolve, but
with the help of an IOM programme, Ines found new purpose helping
other refugees and migrants as a community health volunteer.

Unable to work and suffering from malnutrition, Ines says her
first two years in Cairo were especially difficult. With little
hope for the future, she slipped into a deep depression. It was
only during a routine medical check-up when Ines found out she was
pregnant with her first child, Mohammed, that the fog of depression
started to lift, and she started to think about how she could
better her life and community.

After feeling isolated for so long, Ines knew she wanted to
connect people to each other and make sure they had up-to-date
information on a range of health issues. After speaking to health
care workers who were active in the migrant community, she decided
to look into training opportunities in the health and education
sector. Through local NGOs, such as Tadamon, her dream came true
and Ines enrolled in a nine-month course on health and psychology.
The course enabled her to obtain a certificate in social work and
soon, she was volunteering in the Sudanese community.

In 2008, Ines became a Community Health Trainer (CHT) for IOM.
Through the CHT programme, Ines helped organize advocacy campaigns
to promote health awareness among Sudanese women. Acting as a
liaison for IOM, Ines was one of a handful of CHTs who kicked off
the pandemic preparedness project in Kilo Arba Nus, giving training
sessions to groups of five to 10 women at a time. She worked to
change the mindsets of migrants towards NGOs and international
agencies, and urged them to be more pro-active in safeguarding
their health.

"The benefits of being a CHT have been many," Ines explains as
she cradles her daughter Amna on her lap, "I no longer feel like I
am a second-class citizen and I have learned about many issues like
the flu, hygiene, basic health and tuberculosis. I am able to share
this information with others and because of it, I feel better about
myself because I know I am adding value to the community."

Keeping In Touch With Migrants' Needs

Often, asylum seekers and migrants fall into a state of limbo as
they wait to return to their home countries, obtain a residency
permit or be resettled in a third country. The wait and uncertainty
takes its toll on their physical and mental health, which often
times goes unchecked because many do not know how they can access
health services.

The CHT initiative is part of a wider project that IOM is
implementing to promote good hygiene practices and to enhance
pandemic preparedness and response among migrant and host
communities, with funding provided by the United States Agency for
International Development through the Central Fund for Influenza
Action. In addition, with funding from the US State Department,
Bureau for Population, Refugees, and Migration, IOM recently
undertook initiatives to enhance access to Primary Health Care for
Iraqi Nationals Temporarily Residing in Egypt. Other components of
this project include capacity building of NGO and government
healthcare providers, direct assistance to promote access to
primary healthcare and awareness raising initiatives.

Ines's role as a CHT kept her preoccupied as people would seek
her out to obtain information on pandemic flu and TB on a daily
basis. In response to the overwhelming interest, Ines would
facilitate workshops with other CHTs at mosques and health
facilities in the greater Cairo area. Because of their dedication
and hard work, CHT trainers like Ines have gained the trust of
migrants in the community. They have enhanced not only their own
knowledge base and morale, but that of the larger migrant community
as well.

After six years in Egypt and two working as a CHT in
Cairo’s Sudanese community, Ines and her family learned they
were to be resettled to Canada. Although the opportunity was one
the family had been waiting for since they first landed in Egypt,
Ines said she couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness in
leaving her work behind.

"Working as a CHT really gave me a sense of purpose," she says
quietly, wiping a tear from the corner of her eye. "The transition
to a new country will be difficult, but I'm not worried about that.
When I first came to Egypt, I had many misconceptions about the
country and the people, but my experience with the IOM pandemic
project changed all that. I learned that some organizations were
working hard to provide for migrants and refugees. I will miss
making my contribution to this project and the community the
most."

Now optimistic about her family’s future, she says she
hopes migrants continue to receive the support they need.

"I really hope I can continue working with migrants in the area
of health and social services. I also hope that IOM will continue
to adapt and maintain activities in Kilo Arba Nus and other migrant
communities because there are people in severe need. They require
support and it’s important for organizations like IOM to
continue empowering migrants through these projects and stay in
touch with their needs."

Ines recounts her experience as a community health volunteer. © IOM 2010