From the field

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.
 
Jan 29, 2013

Jan Crisis in Syria

29
2013

The Syrian refugee crisis is accelerating with a dramatic increase in the numbers of people flowing across its borders.

Over one million refugees have now fled into neighbouring countries since the onset of the crisis in March 2011.

In Jordan alone there has been a three-fold increase in the daily rate of people escaping the war ravaged country in the last week. Now extreme winter weather is compounding misery for refugees, with an increase in respiratory infections and pneumonia recorded in clinics in Lebanon and Jordan.

 

 

CAPTIONS: Top: A woman and her child take shelter as a syrian air force jet bombs the streets surrounding her house in the  neighbourhood of Ahadarea, Aleppo, Syria. Photo: Sam Tarling / Oxfam. Middle: Refugees are flooding into camps in The Bekaa valley, trying to survive a harsh winter. Luca Sola/Oxfam. Bottom-left: Hanin Handan, 20, her husband Rasmi, 26, and their son. After their home was burned down during the fighting they fled Syria with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. Luca Sola/Oxfam. Bottom-right: Samira arrived from Syria 3 days ago. She is living in a self made shelter with just one room, which she shares with 12 other people. She has no food, barely any blankets and is living in squalid conditions. Luca Sola/Oxfam.

Living in a self made shelter with just one room, Samira’s story encapsulates the challenges faced by many. A 45 year old widow (pictured above, right), she shares a home made from one wall of breezeblocks and plastic sheeting with 12 other people, including 7 of her eight children. 

The floor is wet and icy cold, outside snow melts into the ground creating icy mud. 

“It has been eight months since I left my home, I have no idea what happened to it we just had to leave it behind and escaped because of the fighting.” 

Like her, an estimated 670,000 people have fled violence in Syria to neighbouring countries since the onset of the crisis in March 2011.

Families have arrived exhausted and traumatised.  Some have faced bombs and bullets to get to refugee camps like Al Jaleel in the Beqaa Valley, which was originally built for Palestinians. 

Nestled between snow-covered mountains and shrouded in a thick blanket of fog, it is a safe haven for thousands fleeing the escalating conflict. 

Now, they are trying to get through one of the most brutal winters in the last two decades with almost nothing. 

One of them is Hanin Handan, who fled to Lebanon with her husband and son.

“All of our food is from food distributions, we have no money for food as we lost everything when our house burned down. We used to have a good life, my husband had a good job rearing chickens and we were happy. Now we have nothing left.”

Oxfam Ireland is launching a crisis appeal to help the tens of thousands affected by the continuing crisis in Syria.

Their homes destroyed and lives shattered, these ordinary people are eking out an existence, in camps with no heating or furniture during one of the most brutal winters in the last two decades.

We cannot put an end to the fighting. But with the right determination and resources, we can help make things better for the many Syrian families who have lost almost everything.

Jan 15, 2013

Jan How you’re supporting people living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi.

15
2013

What value can you put on a human life: A million? A billion? Perhaps priceless?

How about €0.28/£0.23? That’s what it costs to provide a Malawian living with HIV with life-saving anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs.

But for two-thirds of Malawians with HIV that price is too high.

This is a country poor even by African standards, and one which is ravaged by HIV. One million people – 1 in 12 – of the population are living with the virus.

On a recent visit to Malawi, Oxfam ambassador and actor Bill Nighy met with some of the people who have had their lives transformed by ARVs.

CAPTIONS: TOP-LEFT: Enoch, a Malawian farmer in his 60s, says anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs have kept him alive. Gus Gregory/Oxfam.  RIGHT: AIDS orphan Fanny Jeofry (16) in the Kayera District, Malawi. Your donations are helping to provide holistic care for orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS. Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam. BOTTOM-LEFT: Actor and Oxfam ambassador Bill Nighy meets Mara Banda and some of her helpers. Mara runs a support programme for people with HIV near Malawi's capital Lilongwe. Gus Gregory/Oxfam.

Take Enoch, a farmer in his 60s, who has been living with HIV for 10 years: “If you’d seen me three years ago you wouldn’t think I was the same person. “I was very, sick, I couldn’t stand up. I’m alive today because of the medication I receive.”

Donations from our amazing supporters across the island of Ireland are enabling people living with HIV and AIDS in Malawi to know their rights to access HIV prevention, treatment and care services, and advocate for these rights locally and nationally.

We believe that the best people to assert these rights are community members themselves. That’s why we help local organisations get the resources and develop the skills needed to ensure the voices of those living with HIV and AIDS are heard. This means they’re helping to influence health policy and calling for increase in the allocation for people living with HIV and AIDS in national health budgets.

Your support is also helping to tackle the stigma that can surround people living with HIV and AIDS in their own communities, along with addressing harmful social practices that put women at risk of infection.

It’s also helping to provide a holistic package of care for orphans and vulnerable children affected by HIV and AIDS, including psycho-social support and ensuring access to education. 

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