From the field

Apr 9, 2013

Apr Syria crisis: A struggle for survival

9
2013
The Syria crisis is rapidly spiralling out of control. More than 1.3 million people have now fled the conflict into neighbouring countries, leaving the organisations trying to help overstretched and struggling to cope with a massive surge in refugee numbers. 
 
With the number of refugees expected to rise to three million by the end of 2013 and promised funds yet to arrive on the ground, the scale of the crisis is outstripping the response. 
 
We are reaching a point where the crisis risks overwhelming the ability of host governments and agencies to respond.
Oxfam aims to reach 120,000 Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon. With your support, we can help people like Omayya (30), her husband, son Mohammed (9) and daughter Ghazal (3). 
 
 
Left-right: Ghazal at the door to the family tent in Zaatari camp. Like 90,000 fellow Syrians now living in the Zaatari camp in Jordan, Hussein has been forced to leave his home because of the worsening security situation. Mum Omayya has had to find a new way of making ends meet and supporting her family. Her daughter Ghazal has a medical condition that requires expensive treatment so Omayya has started making and selling popcorn from her tent. Photos: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam
 
Ghazal had a pacemaker and a hearing aid fitted when she was very young in Syria. But when a problem with it emerged, it was too dangerous to travel to the Syrian capital Damascus to have it fixed. 
 
In August 2012, they came to Zaatari camp in Jordan where Ghazal had a second pacemaker operation in January. The medical bills are taken care of. But the batteries for the pacemaker and cables for the hearing aid need to be replaced and paid for, which is increasingly difficult now as they cost 50 Jordian dinar (approx. €54/£46) a month but she makes just 25 JD a month.
 
“I make popcorn from the tent to earn money to help. I sell small bags for 5-10 piastres and I can make around 100 bags a day.
 
“There are three main reasons I have to do this. One is my daughter is the most important thing to me than anything else in the world. Second, my mother is old – she has diabetes and high blood pressure and is not able to do anything and needs my help; and thirdly, in terms of solidarity in our family and anyone else in need. Everyone is in need here; things are very expensive in the camp. Whoever can work should work to help other people.
 
“Also this work involves the whole family; everyone gathers around when I make the popcorn. Someone fries, someone packs the bags; it’s become something all the family can engage in.
 
“It makes me feel happy because I feel you need to get used to wherever you live to survive. It’s not life that helps us get used to circumstances, we need to get used to our circumstances and work on this. 
 
“Other women who know me from Syria know that I’m a fighter; I’m a strong woman who feels that I need to work wherever I can and feels that I need to provide for my daughter. 
 
“I still need to find special treatment for her. She barely speaks and needs therapy; she can only say a few words. I’m not the kind of woman who just sits idly doing nothing. No! I will never give up.”
 
In Zaatari camp in Jordan, we are installing water and sanitation facilities such as toilets, showers, laundry areas to help to more than 15,114 people and will help to build a new water system that will supply water to all 90,000 camp residents. 
 
 
Clockwise from top: A boy plays at an Oxfam water tank at Zaatari refugee camp. A girl collects water from a tap stand in the camp. Syrian children at the Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan. Photos: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam
 
We have also carried out assessments to see how we can help the vulnerable refugees who are living outside the camp and in host communities over the next few months. Your support is vital.
 
Despite the investments by NGOs and governments, the conditions in the camps are dire. But people continue to flee to Syria. 
 
Hussein (47) had just arrived at the camp with his family: “We left Syria because the bombings were getting so bad. We tried to stay as long as possible, but things are getting worse and worse; the bombings and security was getting worse all the time.
 
“Here, it’s hard too but at least there are no sounds of bombs and we all feel more secure; that's the most important thing. If we were not so frightened, we would never have left Syria.
 
“Things seem quite chaotic here, we arrived last night. I didn't think there would be such a fight for everything.”
 
Please give what you can to our Syria appeal - even the smallest amount can make a huge difference. 
 
€8 will buy hygiene items for one person for one month
 
€20 will buy food for one person for one month
 
€115 will subsidise the rental costs for a family of 5 for one month 

 

Apr 4, 2013

Apr The sweet benefits of pineapples

4
2013

Fresh pineapple is rich in vitamins and minerals. In Rwanda, its benefits are even sweeter for women farmers.

 
The home of Godelive Nyirabakobwa (58) in Nyakigandu village is neat and clean but sparse. The house has good walls and comfortable chairs with a single electric bulb hanging from a wire. To have electricity and a water tap at home is a sign that things are going well.
 
Life wasn’t always this way, however.
 
 
Clockwise from top: Godelive Nyirabakobwa in her pineapple field. Godelive Nyirabakobua says her pineapple suckers are sought-after as they’re locally grown rather than imported. Xaverine Mukarunyana (left), Godelive Nyirabakobua (middle) and Daphrose Nyirankundabanyanga (right) all grow and sell pineapple ‘suckers’ – high quality planting material needed by pineapple farmers. Photos: Simon Rawles/Oxfam.
 
“I’ve always been a farmer,” Godelive says. “Before now I was a beans and maize farmer until I learnt about pineapples. I moved here two years ago after living very far away in a rural place. I used to live a very bad life in the bush but today we are better off in this village. I had malaria all the time, actually so did my children and my husband. I could get a good harvest but we had no access to healthcare or good water.” 
 
Thanks to an Oxfam-supported project, Godelive and 800 other women have set themselves up as pineapple sucker growers and sellers. Pineapple suckers are what pineapple plants, and eventually the fruit, grow from. They are the starting point for any pineapple product.
 
“In the training I learnt how to multiply the suckers, how to care for them and the new technique. We’re using it as the new way to make the suckers. In the old way we just planted all the crops up together but now we grow bananas and pineapples separately. It means it’s a lot better to farm and they grow well. Now I can weed and harvest easily.”
 
In the past, pineapple farmers in Rwanda have been reliant on buying suckers from other neighbouring countries such as Uganda. Due to the distances travelled the quality was unreliable, it raised their costs and plant disease was common.
 
With growing national demand for suckers as more people move into pineapple production due to government agricultural support, we spotted a new work opportunity for farmers living in poverty, particularly women. Instead of families trying to grow crops on small areas of land and getting very small yields, a different use of the same land could bring much higher returns. 
 
“People come to me to buy suckers because they know they are free from disease and are good. Sometimes we use products to protect the suckers from disease and I’m vigilant; if I see suckers which are infected I remove them and throw them away so they aren’t among the others which aren’t affected.
 
“For me, I think soon I will be calm, as all my life will be resolved. In my heart I’ll be happy because I will be eating pineapple and drinking the juice. Personally I tell any woman not to be afraid. Start growing pineapples and I’ll show you how to do it and how to open your own bank account.”
 
Godelive is firmly focused on developing her business plans and improving life for her family.
 
“I feel like an entrepreneur because one day I sat and thought: ‘what if I get pineapple suckers, multiply them and try to generate income from them?’, and I got pineapple plants, divided each into four suckers and grew them.”
 
The success of Godelive and her fellow female farmers has had a wider impact beyond their fields.
 
“Now the women in Rwanda today are more open,” she explains. “In the past it used to be that if you wanted to start something you had to wait for your husband’s approval to start. Today any of us can just start something.”
 
Supporters across the island of Ireland are helping to support this project and others like it in Rwanda. Thank you for making a positive difference.
Mar 13, 2013

Mar ‘Why I left private sector to help Syrian refugees with Oxfam’

13
2013
Amid a sea of male construction and site workers in Jordan’s sprawling Zaatari desert camp, female engineer Farah Al-Basha stands out from the crowd. 
 
The energetic 27 year-old Jordanian joined our team earlier this year, quitting her job at a private engineering company to work for Oxfam. 
 
Instead of working on military and defence contracts and designing underground bunkers, she now helps to oversee work building toilet and shower blocks and installing water tanks at Zataari’s refugee camp. She’s been involved in drawing up quality, safety and inspection plans; liaising with and advising contractors; and carrying out on-site inspections to ensure standards are met at every stage along the construction project.   

 
Clockwise from top: Farah describes her role as an Oxfam engineer as “a life-changing experience”. Farah oversees and inspects the work of the all-male labourers and ensures everything goes to plan. Farah has written the word ‘rejected’ on this cement floor, which means the contractors will have to rebuild it to a higher standard. She carries out on-site inspections to ensure standards are met at every stage along the construction project. Photos: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam.
 
“I wanted to work with an NGO to help people here, to try to do something more for the community. For me, work shouldn’t just be about the money,” she says. 
 
But Farah admits her first visit to the camp was a bit of a shock. “It was the first time I have ever been to a refugee camp and, honestly, it was overwhelming”, she said. “I had only seen this on television, not first-hand. I realised this job was going to be totally different in terms of what it required of me than my previous work.   
“It’s been a life-changing experience for me. Helping to change people’s lives is not an easy thing to do. It’s also a difficult thing to realise that, as much as you want, you can’t help everyone everywhere.” 
 
In Zaatari camp, Farah is a woman on a mission: determined to show that women engineers are just as capable as their male counterparts and making sure she is up to date on all the latest reading and research to make sure that no-one can fault her. Her day-to-day work involves overseeing and inspecting the work of the (all-male) labourers and making sure everything goes to plan – or if it doesn’t, finding solutions to daily problems.   
 
“Every day is crazy and every day is really busy,” says Farah. 
 
When I visit, she points out wide cracks in the cement floor of a new block which will house toilets and showers. “Look, the cracks are so wide,” she says, pointing to the floor where she has marked in red ink the words “rejected”.   
 
“This will cause problems… the contractors will have to fix it,” she says, shaking her head.     
 
She’s firm but polite as she speaks to the contractors, pointing out the problem. But they accept what she says. “I’m very demanding and quite strict, but they respect me. They realise I am not here for a fashion show, but I’m an expert and know what I’m talking about.   
 
“Every day, big groups of women and children follow me as I work in the camp,” she says. “The girls say they see me as a kind of role model and say they’d like to do work like me when they are older. 
 
“The children in the camp love to see us work: they make sure they are awake and up and about when we arrive in the camp for our day’s work.” 
 
Farah had hoped to recruit an all-female team to work with her: but the first female junior engineer she hired quit after a few days into the job. “There are many women engineers in Jordan, but most chose not work on-site but stay working in offices. I’ve been working as an engineer for the last six years and I’m always the only female engineer on site.” 
 
Undaunted by some of the setbacks, Farah is full of plans and ideas. She’s hoping to pass on some basic engineering and plumbing skills to some people in the camp; and to get women there more involved with the work Oxfam is doing. 
 
Spending most of her days in the camp, she says, is a tiring but rewarding experience. 
 
“We’re surrounded by children for most of the day. We walk together, we eat together, we share stories and dreams. When the time comes to leave the camp, we get into our car, tired and exhausted with messy hair and dirty jeans, with our faces a bit more darkened by the sun than the day before.   
 
“We’re thinking about how lovely a bubbly shower will be, but before closing the doors, the kids come and say: ‘See you tomorrow’ and we close the doors with a big smile, forget about how dirty we are, or how lovely this bubbly shower will be and we start thinking about what can we do next for those kids.”
 
Mar 6, 2013

Mar Voice of female farmers loud and clear this International Women’s Day

6
2013

TV talent show The Voice is attracting a huge audience here at home but none quite so big as our Female Food Heroes competition, as Voice judge and Oxfam ambassador Sharon Corr discovered on her recent trip to Tanzania. 

Using reality TV, radio, newspapers and text voting, the initiative has reached 25 million people – more than half of Tanzania’s population – and plays a vital role in strengthening the status of female farmers.

The 2012 competition – which Sharon Corr helped to launch – partnered with popular show Maisha Plus and saw 14 finalists selected from thousands of entries.

Clockwise from top:  Previous winner Ester Jerome Mtegule and Oxfam Ireland’s Mwanahamis Salimu present our ambassador Sharon Corr with a traditional African headscarf at the launch of last year’s Female Food Heroes competition in Tanzania. Barry McCall/Oxfam. The Female Food Hero 2012 competition tours a village in the Lushoto Mountains region in northeastern Tanzania. Thousands of female farmers entered. Oxfam/MaishaPlus. 2012 winner Sister Martha Waziri transformed unwanted wasteland into a successful farm that feeds her local community, including 12 orphaned children. Oxfam/MaishaPlus.

Selected by public vote for the ways they’ve helped their communities, the finalists moved into a reality TV village and shared  their skills with young people from urban areas on the show, which also helps to highlight the struggle women can face surrounding the ownership of land.

With International Women’s Day taking place this week and lots of our amazing supporters getting ready to host Get Together events to celebrate, we’d like to introduce  the eventual winner, Sister Martha Waziri (45) from Dodoma.

As a 17-year-old she found some barren unused land that none of the local men wanted. But when she asked the local authorities if she could use it, they laughed at her. “I became an object of ridicule,” she recalls. 

Eventually, she fought and got her way. She has since turned 18 acres of unwanted wasteland into a thriving farm, growing sugarcane, sweet potatoes, bananas and more. 

In doing so she has become a beacon of change for other local women, many of whom have now followed her example. The profits from her farm have allowed Sister Martha to support 12 local orphaned children, providing them with food and shelter. 

Thanks to your support, we can help incredible women like Sister Waziri to overcome the challenges they face and continue to feed their families and their communities.

Clockwise from top left: As 2011 finalist Mwandiwe Makame won a solar panel which she shares with other women in her community; 2011 winner Ester Jerome Mtegule shows others how to replicate her innovative farming techniques and (top left) 2011 finalist Anna Oloshiro is a fellow trailblazer for women’s rights: “I believe that providing women with access to information will empower them more, make them aware of their rights and, in the process, they will change or improve their lives.” All photos by Barry McCall/Oxfam

Last year’s winner was Esther Jerome Mtegule from Iyenge in central Tanzania. She was one of the inspirational women who our Ending Poverty Starts with Women campaign ambassador Sharon Corr met in Tanzania.

Ester had managed to increase the yield of one of her crops from five to 75 bags a year by growing a drought-resistant variety instead of using the traditional one favoured by most farmers. This helped feed her whole village.

Her achievement received mass-media coverage and led to her travelling internationally to talk about the vital role of small-scale women farmers.

"I will do everything to support women food producers. They bring peace and harmony in their families and a nation at large," Ester explains. "And they bring freedom. I assure you that a food insecure family is not a free family."

Your support is helping women to empower themselves and become decision-makers in their communities. Thank you.

Feb 5, 2013

Feb Share the love this Valentine’s with Chicks & Chocolates

5
2013

We can do without the wilting roses, overpriced menus and cheesy rhymes on St. Valentine’s Day.

But chocolate is always welcome, especially when it comes in the form of Fair Trade milk chocolate hearts by Divine made with the finest cocoa, smooth cocoa butter and real vanilla.

And it’s even sweeter when coupled with our gift of life-changing chicks to make the perfect Valentine's Day gift - straight from the Oxfam Unwrapped range!

A Clutch of Chicks and Chocolates (€20/£16) funds projects in Zimbabwe – helping to provide nutritious eggs and other support for families living in poverty –  while you get a card and a lovely box of Divine chocolates to give to your special someone on February 14th.
 
 
CAPTIONS: Left: Janak and Sundari Singh stand next to the water pump Oxfam helped to build in their village in India. Once an arid yellow, their field is now green with crops all year round. “We would like our children to stay in our village when they are grown up. We don’t think they will have to move away now.” Rajendra Shaw/Oxfam. Right: Masumbuko and Grace have been through a lot. They live in the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo, where Oxfam is helping people forced to flee their homes because of the fighting. “I fell in love with my wife the first time I saw her. There was just something about her – the way she was talking, the way she was walking, her nose and her ears. When I saw her I thought she was very, very beautiful. I can’t explain it. Some people may not think she is beautiful, but to me she is perfect.” Rankin/Oxfam
 
So to get your gift of Chicks & Chocs in time for Valentine's Day, simply order before Tuesday February 12th online.  Prefer to order by phone? Call 1850 30 40 55 (Republic of Ireland) or 0800 0 30 40 55 (Northern Ireland) between 9am - 5pm  Monday to Friday.
 
If you’re looking for other lovely gifts, choose from our extensive Oxfam Unwrapped range. Say ‘I love you’ by supporting women’s rights with Girl Power (€14/£11), sharing a passion for reading with School Books (€18/15), swapping the bubbly for Drinking Water for 3 Families (€25/£20) or making the future brighter with a Solar Panel (€32/£26).
 
Whichever gift you choose from our incredible Oxfam Unwrapped range, you’ll be helping to share the love this Valentine’s Day. Order by 3pm, Tuesday February 12th to guarantee delivery.
 

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