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World Humanitarian Day: Meet Michelle and Samson

This World Humanitarian Day, meet two inspirational aid workers, supporting people in need through our programmes in Nigeria.
 

Meet Michelle

Michelle Farrington is Oxfam’s specialist in public health during emergencies and is currently working in Rann in North-eastern Nigeria. Last year there was a cholera outbreak in Rann and so Michelle and the team are there helping to make sure that doesn’t happen again. 

Michelle writes: “For the last five months, I have been planning for a possible cholera outbreak in Rann, in North-eastern Nigeria.

Rann is particularly vulnerable to outbreaks: previously a town of approximately 35,000 people, it has now swollen to a population of over 70,000 because of people forced to flee their homes. Rann is already flooded which means people will be cut off from the rest of Nigeria with no access by road when the rainy season is in full swing. This means that NGOs like Oxfam will be unable to bring any supplies – of food, medicine, water treatment chemicals, construction materials for latrines and shelter – into Rann for at least four months.

Preparing for a cholera outbreak involves thinking through worst case scenarios and making a plan to ensure the items we would in case of an outbreak are present - safe water, sanitation and information for people affected. I have been working with colleagues to get supplies to Rann so that the items we need to respond are already in place before the town becomes inaccessible to trucks. We have built over 300 latrines (toilets) for people living in temporary settlements and we are starting to treat water at each water point as a precautionary measure.

It’s not only in Rann that we have been doing these kind of activities; preparing for cholera outbreaks has been happening in all of the places where Oxfam works in North-eastern Nigeria.

We have trained community volunteers in the signs and symptoms of cholera, and taught them how to work with their neighbours and communities to take preventative steps against spreading the disease. The same volunteers will help Oxfam mobilise communities in case an outbreak does happen, and will provide a vital source of communication between Oxfam and communities so we can adapt our response rapidly. 

It has been difficult, especially in Rann. Due to security concerns, Oxfam teams can only access Rann via helicopter three times a week, but everyone has been working hard to ensure we are prepared should a cholera outbreak occur. 

Meet Samson

Like Michelle, Samson is a fellow humanitarian aid worker in Nigeria. Samson works in the government-run Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. It is a camp established by displaced people themselves when they moved into empty unfinished buildings the government was building for government workers. There are also people living in makeshift shelters, especially those who have arrived more recently. Oxfam is providing water, latrines and sanitation in the camp. 

What is Oxfam doing in Nigeria?

With the help of people like Michelle and Samson, Oxfam has been working in north eastern Nigeria since 2015, and over the last year we have expanded our response so that now we are working in eight different locations across Borno and Adamawa states. Some of the areas that we work in – Madagali and Rann – suffered from cholera outbreaks last year, whereas others are already facing outbreaks of other water and sanitation diseases.

Oxfam is also responding to the hunger crisis in north-east Nigeria where over 4 million people are in desperate need of food. So far, Oxfam has helped about 300,000 people affected by the crisis by providing emergency food and cash as well as clean water, sanitation and building showers and toilets. 

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Searching for safety: lessons from Syria's refugees

What is life like for Syrian refugees in Lebanon? Oxfam conducted research to find out how safe refugees feel and to understand the challenges they face. For Oxfam researcher Nour Shawaf, it was a humbling process.

I thought I knew it all, I thought I had seen it, I thought I had read about it, I thought I had heard all their stories… After all, I am Lebanese, I have Syrian and Palestinian friends, I have been interacting with refugees on a regular basis for the past four years, I speak their language and I follow the news closely! Why would I not know it all?

Well I was definitely wrong. I knew nothing at all.

“Every time we went to a place the war would follow us.” She personified war and it scared me. My imagination took me beyond the discussion. I dropped my papers and just listened to her. The young woman sitting in front of me was my age. She had experienced multiple displacements and the war was following her. This was not just another research exercise, and this young woman talking to me was not just another story.

While carrying out Participatory Protection Research for Oxfam in Lebanon to explore the perceptions and expectations of refugees from Syria over the past, present and future, my own perceptions and expectations were altered. The stories refugees from Syria told left me completely shocked.

Reality struck me hard, especially when people started describing their routes from Syria to Lebanon. I had heard about the “mountain.” It is the word all refugees from Syria use to indicate they have come into the country through unofficial borders. But never had it occurred to me that the ‘mountain’ was a “death plateau.” People talked about walking for hours and days, being left by smugglers in the middle of nowhere, walking in the snow or under the sweltering sun, and having to leave their belongings en route to carry children and elderly on their backs when they could no longer walk.

Bekaa Valley informal refugee settlement in winter. Credit: Sam Tarling/Oxfam 

They went through the “mountain” looking for safety from the bombings, the shelling and the airstrikes. There are neither bombings nor shelling nor airstrikes where they are now… but they have still not found safety!

The rampant fear and the deteriorating living conditions are obstacles that prevent them from feeling safe. Their inability to meet their basic needs, obtain legal statuses and avoid arrests, deprive them from the sense of safety they are longing for.

Though this came as no surprise to me, experiencing it along with the refugees who volunteered to participate in the research shifted my perspective. They explained to me the range of factors they had to worry about. If they leave home, they have to worry about the checkpoints. If they stay home they have to worry about raids. If they find a job they have to worry about inspectors along with different forms of exploitation. If they don’t find a job they have to worry about meeting their families’ basic needs.

In their own words, their quest to find safety is costing them their dignity: “When you are displaced you start ignoring your dignity to find safety”. When an older Lebanese woman made the aforementioned statement, she summarised everything the refugees were trying to tell me in one sentence. The times may have changed, but the experience of displacement remains the same.

A portrait of Jemaa Al Halayal and his two-year-old daughter, Lebanon. Credit: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Despite the dire conditions and the lack of better prospects, Ahmad told me: “We won’t lose hope”. Ahmad is a 22-year-old Syrian refugee from Homs. He fled his hometown at the very beginning of the war. He had always dreamt of becoming a Computer Engineer. Although his dreams have not unfolded so far, he is striving to achieve the best given the current circumstances. He says: “Even if you are a refugee, you must have a message, a mission. I want to serve my country, my people. I hope I can spread a positive message.”

As part of our research we invited participants to take photos. The above photo was taken by Ahmad (of his former home), as it reminds him of his past. I sometimes tend to forget that Ahmad was not a refugee before 2013 and that he led a different life. This photo is my constant reminder.

People like Ahmad are what keeps me going, that much I know!

Posted by Nour Shawaf, Protection Research and Policy Advisor for Oxfam in Lebanon

 

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Oxfam shows 'We Care' in Zimbabwe

For families in many parts of the world household tasks such as laundry, cooking, cleaning, collecting water and caring for dependents take a huge amount of time and energy. Limited access to time-saving equipment, public infrastructure and services exacerbates this situation.

For women, domestic and care work is often heavy, inefficient and unequally distributed. Women globally spend, on average, more than twice as long as men on unpaid work – that can mean as much as five hours per day on household tasks like laundry and cooking, and on caring for children and family. It can mean less time spent learning new skills, earning money or taking an active role in the community. This limits women’s choices and undermines efforts to achieve gender equality and overcome poverty. Oxfam’s We Care initiative aims to change this.

Why Oxfam cares about care

Care has long been considered the responsibility of women. As a result, providing care falls disproportionately on their shoulders – limiting women’s time to learn, to earn or to take part in political and social activities of their choice. This is an issue in every country; however, the effects of unequal care are more extreme in poor communities. Tasks such as laundry and cooking can take most of the day when there is limited access to water and fuel, let alone washing machines or stoves. Drivers of poverty, such as lack of services and exposure to disasters, increase the demand for care work – preventing women’s empowerment and trapping families in poverty.

Ulita Mutambo said: “We started the ‘We Care’ programme in 2014, that’s when things changed for the better. At first my husband did not help me at all. I would do all the work on my own, carrying firewood from the mountains, fetching water from the borehole which is far from here. Things got better when he accepted to join the programme and started helping me. Now the work is lighter. 

“The chores that have to be done are laundry, fetching water, cooking, bathing the children, as well as working in the fields. When I had just got married I would do all the work, my husband would only help now and then. Now we help each other. While I do the washing, cooking or sweeping, my husband goes to fetch water. After that we go together to collect firewood. Getting help is good because now I get time to rest. Before we joined the programme I would never have time to rest.

“Now that I have free time, I can help my children with their homework. Before the We Care programme, I never had time to help my children with school work, so I am happy. I am also able to spend time with my children, getting closer to them. The programme has changed life a lot within this family. We now live together in harmony as a family.”

(Top) Ulita Mutambo (26) stands with her husband Muchineripi Sibanda (36), her son Blessing, 9, and Sandra, 6, outside their home in Ture Village, Zvishevane region, Zimbabwe. (Bottom left) Ulita with her daughter Sandra. (Bottom right) Ulita with her young nephew outside her home. Photos: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

(Top) Ulita and her husband Muchineripi walk to collect water from an Oxfam-built water pump just over 1km from their home. (Bottom left) Ulita and Muchineripi take a break from farming together in their corn field close to where they live. (Bottom right) Muchineripi helps Ulita with the laundry in a nearby river . Photos: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

(Top-Left) Ulita’s husband Muchineripi helps her hang up laundry outside their home. (Top right) Muchineripi with Sandra outside their home. (Bottom left) Ulita with her daughter Sandra. (Bottom right) Sandra relaxes in a wheelbarrow. Photos: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

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Yemen’s man-made catastrophe is forcing people to make stark live-or-die choices, warns new Oxfam report

Yemenis, already at tipping point after more than two years of war, are now being forced to choose between treating cholera and putting food on the table, said Oxfam in a new report published today, entitled Yemen: Catastrophic Cholera Crisis.

Sixty percent of the population in Yemen is in need of food, including 6.8 million people who are facing starvation. People who are then hit by cholera can only afford the costs of transportation, medicine and doctors’ fees by further reducing the amount of food they buy. Oxfam spoke to many families who have to rely on selling their personal belongings and going into debt in order to buy food and pay for cholera treatment. Seeking medical treatment is often the last resort, and many only do so when it is already too late.

Shane Stevenson, Oxfam’s Country Director in Yemen, said: “Each day that passes brings more suffering to the unbearable lives of the Yemeni people. The world is shamefully failing them. A new disaster after another is leading thousands of people to face stark live-or-die choices every day. What more needs to happen in Yemen for the international community to properly respond?”

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager, said: “This is no accidental disaster, it is a man-made catastrophe driven by national and international politics. The ongoing conflict has ruined Yemen’s economy, destroying people’s ability to make a living and devastating the health sector, which now is unable to properly respond to the cholera outbreak. Hunger, resulting directly from the effects of war, has made malnourished men, women and children even more vulnerable to the deadly disease.”

The war in Yemen has resulted in over 5,000 civilians being killed,  nearly half a million children becoming malnourished and now the world’s worst outbreak of cholera recorded in a single year, with a staggering half a million suspected cases since April 2017. Amidst this outbreak, which has affected all but one governorate in Yemen, nearly 2,000 people have died.

Oxfam’s report published describes how one family had to spend 15,000 Yemeni riyals (€50/£46), just to travel to the nearest cholera treatment centre – a fortune for many struggling families and that’s before doctors’ fees and medication.

Since July 2015 Oxfam has reached more than 1.2 million people in eight governorates of Yemen with water and sanitation services, cash assistance and food vouchers, including 430,000 people as part of its cholera response.

Oxfam Ireland is appealing to the public to donate to its hunger crisis appeal and support people facing famine in Yemen, as well as in East Africa, South Sudan and Nigeria: oxfamireland.org/hunger

ENDS

Contact:

Oxfam spokespeople in Ireland and in-country are available. To arrange an interview or request more information contact:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

Notes to Editors:

1.     Link to Oxfam’s report: Yemen: Catastrophic Cholera Crisis” 

2.     Photos and stories are available.

3.     The revised 2017 Yemen Humanitarian Response Plan requires $2.3 billion to target 12 million people, but is only 39% funded as 15 August 2017. 

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Oxfam providing clean water and hygiene kits to survivors of Sierra Leone mud slide

·         Oxfam spokespeople on the ground available for interview

Flooding and mudslides have killed more than 300 and left an estimated 3,000 people homeless on the outskirts of Sierra Leone’s capital, Freetown.

Although affected residents are being relocated to accessible sites, it is thought that flooding in Freetown and elsewhere may make it difficult to reach others.

Oxfam is on the ground, providing clean water and hygiene kits to survivors. The aid agency initially plans to help almost 2,000 households amid concerns that continued heavy rains, overcrowding and inadequate water and sanitation systems will leave people extremely vulnerable to outbreaks of cholera and other diseases.  

Daniel Byrne, part of the Oxfam team that visited the worst affected areas, said: “We saw mass destruction – people were pulling bodies out with their bare hands. We didn’t see any survivors from the homes that had been submerged. Neighbours have been taking in people who have lost their homes. We spoke to one person who has taken 30 people into their home which has just three rooms.

“These are some of the poorest areas in Freetown. Water and sanitation in homes is at best very basic, but at worst non-existent. Overcrowding is a serious health risk and a potential breeding ground for the spread of disease.”

Oxfam’s Sierra Leone Country Director, Thynn Thynn Hlaing, said: “The disaster has left thousands of extremely poor people without a home. The city experiences floods every year but not on this scale. Oxfam is working with its partners in Freetown to help survivors and prevent any outbreaks of diseases."

ENDS

Oxfam spokespeople, including Oxfam’s Sierra Leone Country Director Thynn Thynn Hlaing and local staff member Daniel Byrne, are available for interview.

To arrange an interview or for more information, please contact:

REPUBLIC OF IRELAND: Alice Dawson on 00353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawson@oxfamireland.org

NORTHERN IRELAND: Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

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