A Senior Hygiene Promotion Officer based in Yemen, Esmail Al-Sabahi is passionate about his work.
“We try to alleviate the suffering of those people who are affected by armed conflict in Yemen,” Esmail says. “I cannot even express my love for my work—I am so happy and proud to work with International Medical Corps. And I am happy that International Medical enables me to continue helping people.”
Esmail has a master’s and PhD in environmental science, with a focus on water quality and contamination. He worked as a lecturer at a university in Yemen for seven years, but when the war began in 2014, he lost his job. Fortunately, he found his way into the NGO sector and became a water quality officer at another nonprofit before joining International Medical Corps’ water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) team in 2018.
Today, he leads the distribution of cleaning tools and hygiene kits, runs cleaning campaigns, monitors water quality, and works with colleagues on water supply and sewage issues and the rehabilitation and construction of latrines. However, he sees the educational component of his work as being the most critical: since joining International Medical Corps, Esmail has trained more than 500 community health volunteers (CHVs)—many of whom live in camps for internally displaced persons—in public health and disease prevention. These CHVs are able to individually reach hundreds of people in their own communities, leading to improved hygiene habits and a reduction in disease.
“Hygiene promotion is very important for increasing awareness of the outbreak of disease,” he says.
Despite having been a university professor, when Esmail came to International Medical Corps, he realized he still had to approach some things like a student.
“Coming to International Medical Corps has changed my life because I was interested in water quality, but I didn’t have much experience with the basic principles of humanitarian action and dealing with vulnerable people. Teaching students at the university, I was on a different side of water quality,” he says. “At International Medical Corps, I learned how to use humanitarian principles in the field to help reduce suffering. Now I deal with the community face to face. I sit with them, I understand what problems they face and I try to help solve their problems.”
At International Medical Corps, Esmail also began using chlorine more widely than he had done in the past. He explains that he and his team distribute chlorine tablets and 20-liter jerrycans to community members and show them how to add the tablets to their water to make it safe and cholera-free—in addition to teaching them how to improve their personal and environmental hygiene habits.
Esmail loves watching his WASH colleagues’ work change the lives of people in Yemen. He mentions communities in Taiz and Ibb governorates where the WASH team installed a solar-powered borehole. The existing boreholes had been powered by fuel, but after the start of the war, the community could no longer find or afford gasoline.
“International Medical Corps implemented a solar-powered water supply system, so those people don’t need to find fuel again,” he says. “We changed their lives from negative to positive. They were very, very happy.”
Recently, Esmail began a new phase of his WASH career at International Medical Corps: he’s become a regular blogger for internationalmedicalcorps.org. You can read his first two blog entries below: