The loveliest letter you'll ever read

Video: Brian Malone/Oxfam

Thurs, October 8th, 2015

Dear Oxfam,
I have done a yard-sale to raise funds for Syrian people who are refugees.
It is not nice for anyone to live in tents in cold. I just don’t agree with it.
From Grace (10) and Nina (9),
Cabra, Dublin 7.

Sometimes the most powerful words come from children. The above letter to our Dublin office accompanied a cheque for €32.41 for our Syrian emergency response. This donation is most welcome – it will help provide safe drinking water and other aid to Syrian refugees living in camps and experiencing the most difficult of times. But the letter’s message – about what’s fair and what’s right – is just as powerful.

Forced to leave their homes and everything they know behind, Syrian refugees have had to put normal life on hold indefinitely, living in camps and informal settlements many miles from home where basics like a warm place to sleep, enough food to eat and a school to go to are difficult to come by if not impossible.

Hearing about the challenges faced by the Syrian relatives of a family friend and watching coverage of the crisis on the news made Dubliners and best friends Grace and Nina want to help.

Above: Grace and Nina's letter to Oxfam. Grace and Nina telling us their story. A picture from the  girls' yard sale for Syrian refugees. Grace's mum, Susan.

“It was really sad and kind of scary for me, so I didn’t really want to look at it,” explains Grace. “But I kind of do now because I want to find out more.”

Grace’s mother Susan spoke to them about the situation faced by Syrian refugees.

“We have a friend whose family are living in the refugee camps near Syria who had to flee their homes,” Susan says. “I had an image in my head of children in the camps not wearing shoes around the time of it being winter and it really kind of hit home. They were freezing cold and they didn’t have the comforts of home in addition to all the trauma they were going through.

“So [Grace and Nina] came back then and said, ‘Yes, we’d like to give the money to Oxfam and to the refugees in the camps’.”

But the yard sale and all the work involved was very much Grace and Nina’s doing. As Susan says, “They’re a pair who come up with ideas and they’re always on a project of some kind or other.”

There was lots to do including posters to make and rice crispie buns to bake. The pair also parted with some favourite toys and the event was a big success.

Nina explains: “I didn’t think it was going to be a big yard sale but then when we were getting everything ready, it was like, ‘Oh my God!’”

The girls have been inspired by what they’ve achieved (they raised a total of €64.82 and divided the funds between Dogs for the Disabled and Oxfam Ireland), so watch this space!

“We want to help refugees even more,” says Grace, while Nina adds: “And doing the yard sale was really fun.”

Out of a total of 22 million people living in Syria before the crisis, more than half the population has been forced to flee their homes, including more than 4 million who have fled to neighbouring countries.

Above: Syrian refugee Ahmad carries his daughter Nour as they walk towards a registration centre for migrants and refugees in Presevo, in southern Serbia. He and the group he's walking with had already travelled for 20 kilometres that day. We have begun a new emergency programme in Serbia to help the thousands like Ahmad and Nour who are fleeing to safety. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Along with providing Syrian refugees in Jordan and Lebanon with clean drinking water and relief supplies like blankets and stoves, we are also helping families get the information they need about their rights and connecting them to medical, legal and support services. Other work includes building shower and toilet blocks in camps. We are also providing clean water in Syria itself.

We have also begun an emergency programme in Serbia providing clean water and sanitation to help some of the thousands fleeing to safety, including many Syrians, who will soon face a harsh Balkans winter. Meanwhile in Italy we have programmes providing asylum seekers who have been saved from the Mediterranean Sea with housing, food, psychological support, legal assistance and language classes. We continue to campaign and advocate for an immediate ceasefire and a sustainable and inclusive political solution to the conflict in Syria.

We are also highlighting the individual stories of refugees to make them more visible through the EUsaveLIVES joint campaign with the European Commission.

When we shared Grace and Nina’s letter with colleagues working on the Syria crisis emergency response, the message of support made their day.

To know that people like Grace and Nina care about what’s happening to Syrian refugees and want to help, inspires us all.

By highlighting unfairness and how to do something about it, as they have, the future can be better place.


“Not in my name…”

Dr. Enida Friel is Oxfam Ireland’s Programme Quality Manager.

The images of three-year-old Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi’s body washed up on Turkish shores have shocked me to the core.

The images of asylum seekers walking along Hungarian railway lines to reach places of safety in Germany and parents holding scared children behind barbed wire across the Macedonian Greek border have brought back memories of refugee crises I worked in many years ago in Kosovo and West Africa.

As a medical doctor on the frontline, I saw malnourished and unvaccinated children dying of preventable diseases; their mothers holding them in their arms with incredible dignity. I saw fathers feeling hopeless that they could not protect their families from danger.

But I also saw failure of governments to act and vested interests – political and economic – taking precedence over humanity.

All of this eventually became too much to bear, so after six years of this kind of work, I decided to move to Ireland and help in a different way: I joined Oxfam Ireland.

As a non-Irish national, I experienced the warmest welcome by Irish people. Over the ten years I have been living here, I have learned about the plight of Irish immigrants throughout the decades and the wonderful Irish tradition of solidarity with people in need, like the people I’d served overseas.

I became a proud Irish citizen seven years ago.
It is therefore with regret, as an Irish citizen, that I observed our government’s reluctance at first to take on more refugees in Ireland following the crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean.

Each time confusing messages were being given by our Taoiseach, Tánaiste and other ministers, I kept thinking, “this is not the Irish people I know, and not what the Irish people want: this is not in my name…”

However, today, when I spoke to Oxfam colleagues in Italy who are on the frontline providing life-saving support to refugees like the children, women and men that have flooded our screens and newspapers, I was proud to say that Oxfam Ireland and its Irish supporters are here to help.

During my time in the field, I sometimes had the chance to chat with children coming to our clinics and I would ask them what they would like to become when they grow up. I remember the very first time I asked this question and the little boy, the same age then as my own son is now, said a doctor.

I flattered myself thinking that I was his inspiration. But with time I realised that, despite circumstances, they were people with the same hope and dreams as me. Mothers and fathers who wanted the same things that I want for my children.

Ireland can and must help. Irish people, the people who are donating to Oxfam Ireland and signing our petition, want to see an end to this unnecessary and yet preventable human suffering. They don’t want what’s happening now – in the Mediterranean shores, across Europe, in Syria or beyond.

This is not in their name. This is not in my name.

If you can, please help by donating to Oxfam Ireland’s Refugee Crisis Appeal.

If you live in the Republic of Ireland, please sign Oxfam Ireland’s petition and send an email to An Taoiseach Enda Kenny demanding that Ireland increases the number of refugees we accept and leads by example at the upcoming emergency EU Ministerial meeting on September 14th.

This will send a strong message to our government that this is not in in our name.

Posted In:

Allowing children to drown in our seas is an affront to the humanity of the European people

The tragic and profoundly inhumane situation faced by refugees across Europe must end. The Irish and UK Governments must act immediately to meet our obligations under international law and demonstrate humanitarian leadership in Europe. Accepting 600 people into Ireland and only 216 Syrian refugees into the UK while children’s bodies wash up on the shores of the Mediterranean is an absolute affront to the decency and kindness of the public. We cannot stand by and watch this crisis unfold while pictures of such incredible suffering flood our screens. Saving lives must be the first priority for Irish, UK and EU migration policy.

Resettling refugees will not solve this crisis but it could save thousands of lives. We cannot pretend this is not our responsibility – this challenge has to be taken on by everybody, and we can’t wait for Europe – which has abjectly failed to decide on an appropriate, human rights-based response. The governments’ efforts must be increased with urgency. An Taoiseach must immediately convene an emergency meeting of the Dáíl to decide on Ireland’s response. This is a clear time for Ireland to lead by example and not shirk behind excuses such as we have heard from leading politicians across Europe over the last month. We must act now to show our solidarity with people desperately fleeing for their lives – in the same way that solidarity was shown to people from Ireland, north and south, when we fled death and devastation in our own country.”

In Italy, Oxfam is responding to the needs of vulnerable refugees who have been rescued from the waters of the Mediterranean. We also provide immediate and life-saving assistance to those affected by the conflict within Syria and the surrounding region. We have seen first-hand the terrible circumstances which force people to risk their own lives, and the lives of their children, by getting into the water on unsafe boats. The only solution to this appalling situation is political. World leaders, particularly the members of the UN Security Council, must immediately take action to secure peace and end the mass violations of international humanitarian law.”

The consequences of inaction in the face of this crisis will be far reaching and tragic. Europe absolutely has the ability to absorb refugees beyond current levels. This must be the starting point which guides the decisions which will be made at the EU ministerial meeting on September 14th. Europe has a responsibility to protect the vulnerable and respect the rights and human dignity of refugees arriving at its borders. There’s an urgent need for a unified position in Europe, where each member state makes the effort required to provide safe haven. We call on the Irish and UK Governments to increase the numbers of refugees we are accepting, and to join the Common European Asylum Policy as the first step in a credible response to this unprecedented humanitarian emergency.

Europe must offer safe and legal routes for refugees to seek protection rather than fortify our borders, and our governments’ roles will be crucial in ensuring safe passage for desperate people.

Posted In:

Seven in 10 Irish support overseas humanitarian support

Seven out of 10 Irish people are proud of the country’s generosity in supporting humanitarian relief efforts, according to a recent survey by Oxfam Ireland released as part of World Humanitarian Day, the 19th of August.

To mark this, Oxfam’s Colm Byrne reflects on his trip to CAR and the effect of humanitarian crisis there. 

Where is that?” almost everyone replied when I told them I was going to the Central African Republic (CAR). The clue in the name not being enough, they then searched the web to learn more and if truth be known, so too had I once. Information, at least in the western media, is sparse. It is clearly not without reason that this landlocked country bordered by some of the African continents most conflict affected states - Chad to the north, Sudan to the north east, South Sudan to the east, DRC and Congo to the south – was once referred to as “the Phantom State”. 

In 2012, the country experienced its fifth coup d’état since independence in 1960 sparking extreme violence as Christian self-defense groups (anti-Balaka) fought with the fractured Muslim rebel alliance (Séléka) that had brought a new President to power. The humanitarian consequences were devastating as 6,000 people died and almost a million were displaced within the country and to the surrounding states with only French and UN intervention preventing still greater catastrophe. 

Today CAR is again largely out of sight and out of mind as Communities struggle to recover and reports suggest dangerous food shortages in many parts of the capital Bangui. This is in no small part because the local markets, the lifeline of commercial activity providing both access to food for the city’s inhabitants and a means to earn an income for traders, have been disrupted. Territorial lines drawn between once neighbourly Communities limit the movement of both traders and consumers for fear of violence both within the city and beyond. Trapped, local traders told me “we were like slaves”. Maqil, who buys and sells oxen told me he cannot now travel safely to the countryside to buy them. Even aid convoys are being attacked in CAR as banditry is common. 

Some traders too were robbed or beaten during the fighting and to add to their woes are now left without capital with which to resume or sustain trade and so provide for their families. I met Anna, a member of one of over a hundred local trade groups who are receiving training and cash grants from Oxfam to restart their businesses, who invited me to take a short walk to her stall. It’s meagre stock of just 5 pieces of cloth and 3 handbags said everything. And there are no social protection mechanisms in the form of social welfare or insurance schemes to fall back on here. 

But for Anna and other traders like her, the talk is not now of handouts or more aid as trade group names such Sara Agayé (Do anything to become something) and Wali Guida Loudo (Women of Guida Get Up) serve to prove. These are proud and resilient Communities who despite living in the most difficult of circumstances ask no more than a step back up on the ladder. And the traders, working together as united communities regardless of religious identity, plan to return better than before too. Ali, another trader, tells me that “now we have learnt about marketing, know how to use and save our money effectively and understand better now the importance of quality”. “Before we didn’t save or plan” said Anna “but the training has provided us with habits, taught us how to sell and engage with our customers”. The Sara Agayé group plans to buy tools and higher quality seed e.g. Japanese and Italian cabbage, which will allow them to sell higher quality produce at a higher price. 

Beneath the optimism however, there exists a very real fear of being forgotten again. Conflict affected Communities in the Central African Community have been promised much by the international Community before and remain cautious about whether even committed support might ever materialise. As I leave the city, the market is flooded ….. not with consumers but with seasonal rains. The traders remain steadfast by their stalls and from the comfort of my passing car I try to take a photograph of a committed phone card salesmen standing knee deep in water. These traders will not give up….but they do ask for a step up. 

EU and Oxfam work together to help refugees and other vulnerable groups in humanitarian and conflict situations around the world. Your continued support makes this possible. Read more at

Posted In:

Drop and Shop style tips: How to edit your wardrobe

I’ve worked with Oxfam Ireland many times over the years and was thrilled when they asked me to support the new Drop and Shop campaign – which is also a great scheme for you to get involved with.

I’ve always found Oxfam to be a great organisation to work with on shows and shoots – the staff and volunteers really know their stuff about fashion, both current and vintage, and have a great eye for merchandising. These events are the most fun for me to style because you never know what you might find when trawling through the stock.

Working with Oxfam on fashion shows, such as Belfast Fashion Week’s Charity Shop Challenge, always causes quite a stir. Over the years there have been near-riots backstage on more than a few occasions when models spy one-off desirable pieces that they wanted to buy – while at the same time members of the audience mobbed the Oxfam shop manager to buy the pieces straight off the catwalk.


I recently realised how many clothes I have (a lot), yet I tend to wear so few of them. You know how it is – you throw on whatever is handy, you rely on a certain style formula, a colour palette, a silhouette, a trademark. And there is nothing wrong with that, it’s important to have a personal style that suits you and your lifestyle. Honestly though, it’s easy to go from personal style straight into a style rut. I verge on this sometimes and I’m a stylist! I live and breathe this stuff.

A wardrobe fit to bursting sounds like the ideal scenario for any fashion-conscious person (or in my case, a room overflowing to another room, overflowing to the floor…) but the reality is that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. This means the majority of our clothes are sitting there, doing nothing. Getting in our way, occasionally sneaking into the laundry. It makes getting ready in the morning more taxing, as you wade through rails of ex-favourites to find the one thing you are looking for.

But these clothes could be doing something. A big something. Did you know that a high quality/one-off piece like a designer dress or a piece of furniture can raise vital funds and make a big impact on Oxfam’s work worldwide? For example, a jumper sold for £6/€8 at your local Oxfam Ireland shop could help purify around 2,000 litres of water, making it safe to drink for families living in makeshift camps in Nepal.

Take a few hours to go through your wardrobe. I bet you have loads of things you’ve only worn once or twice, or maybe never worn? Try them on. Why did you buy them in the first place? What do they work well with? Do you still like these pieces? Decide what to keep and what to ditch. Get rid of anything you haven’t worn for over 18 months (except occasion clothing and items with sentimental value), anything that no longer fits and anything with the labels still attached.

Bag these items up and drop then to your local Oxfam shop. I now do this regularly and it feels great. The relief of having a nice organised, clear wardrobe is fab. The feel-good factor, knowing that you are doing your bit to help Oxfam fight poverty and save lives in emergencies, is priceless.

There’s an extra pressure in these days of social media and the ever-present camera. With every event and night out charted on our Facebook and Instagram, people are feeling the pressure previously reserved for celebrities – being photographed in the same outfit over and over. It sounds silly but I bet it’s gone through your mind before. What better reason to bag up those old favourites and donate so that someone else has the chance to have a night out in that gorgeous dress and hopefully you can pick up something just as stunning when you #dropandshop – you get 15% discount on the day you drop. Share your experience on social media to be in with the chance of winning a refurbished iPad 2.


I’ve been a trawler of charity shops since I was a little kid – first of all spending my pocket money on old Enid Blyton books and Judy annuals, then on slip dresses and grandad cardigans during the grunge years of the ’90s. Here are my top tips.

- Don’t take vintage/second-hand items at face value – body shapes have changed over the last century, so clothing may need alterations. Long skirts can be cut short, necklines altered, garments restyled. You should find a good dressmaker or learn how to use a sewing machine.

- Imagine a piece out of context. On a crowded shelf of scary figurines, or a rail of sad-looking frocks, you must try to see each item as an individual. Pick up every piece and imagine it out of context: in Urban Outfitters or Topshop, say or a cool boutique. Things which look tatty and unloved sometimes just need a bit of styling. Stand back, squint, and imagine how it would look somewhere really chic.

Charity shopping does take a certain amount of commitment. You can’t just waltz in twice a year and hope to strike gold. Little and often is the best way, dash around your locals on your lunch break at least once a week. Get to know the volunteers so you can ask about stock that hasn’t been put on the floor yet.

Find out what day your local charity shops receive their deliveries, so you can get first dibs on the good stuff.

Check for any stains or damages to the garment and be sure it can be repaired.

With proper vintage clothing, do try things on, and don’t trust the labels – ‘standard’ sizing has varied greatly since it was introduced in the 1950s – so a modern size 10 may find that a size 14 vintage garment is a perfect fit. On that note, different decades’ styles flatter different body shapes – the fit and flare silhouette and strong shoulders of the 1940s flatters pear shapes. The full skirts and cinched waists of the 1950s were designed for the hourglass figures, while apple shapes suit the empire line and shorter hemlines of the sixties. Slender figures can carry off the bias-cut of the 1930s and the long, lean looks of the ’70s.

- Wearing top-to-toe vintage can create a theatrical, fancy dress look – mix vintage with high-street and designer to create your own style and keep hair and make-up clean and simple.

Don’t forget men’s clothing – the androgynous ‘boy meets girl’ look great. Look for oversized jackets and shirts to wear with slim cropped trousers. Shoulder pads can be removed and shoulders nipped in.

It is more environmentally sound to buy second-hand – it is the most stylish form of recycling.

The ’70s is a big trend this season and next, with suede coats and jackets being one of the key pieces so keep an eye out for those. Leather pieces are also great investments with the bonus of already been worn in. Try something a bit different, charity shopping is a great time to take a risk and nab a bargain.

When you take your new finds home, see where they fit with your newly edited wardrobe. Mix and match to create new outfits and create a new personal and ethical style.


Top fashion stylist and designer Sara O’Neill is supporting the Oxfam Ireland Drop and Shop campaign.


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