Education

Money does grow on trees for Rwanda’s cassava producers

Although women in Rwanda do most of the work on family farms, there was a time when they had very little control over the sale of crops or any money made at market. In recent years, however, women are breaking new ground in farming and food production – and lifting themselves out of poverty in the process.
 
One of those women is mother-of-three Madeleine, who sometimes struggled to feed her children and send them to school. The 40-year-old single parent grew potatoes and beans which she used to feed her family and sold the rest at the market. But her crops were sometimes destroyed by pests, leaving her without enough money to buy the basics.  
 
Madeleine harvests cassava leaves from her farm. Photo: Eleanor Farmer
 
“When you are a single parent, it is hard to feed your children,” says Madeleine, whose husband was imprisoned in 1997 and never returned. “One child this side can ask for school materials, when you don’t have money you become anxious. It is hard for a single parent to provide everything.” 
 
Then she heard about SHEKINA Enterprises, an Oxfam-supported co-operative in northern Rwanda which dries cassava leaves for export to Belgium, Canada, Sweden, the US and the UK. Although Madeleine had cassava trees growing on her land, she never thought about harvesting the leaves and usually threw them away. When she heard that you could sell cassava as a business, she was surprised and a little skeptical.
 
Then Madeleine received her first payment from the co-op. “I felt like I was dreaming,” she says. “I took it and said to myself, ‘Let me buy a hen so that I can have some eggs to sell and buy salt (household items)’.” She also decided there and then to expand her cassava crop from just 20 trees to more than 500.
 
Madeleine and her children, 10-year-old Denyne* and five-year-old Mytoni* with their cousin Irakoze*, also aged five. Photo: Eleanor Farmer. *Names changed  
 
Madeleine’s life has been transformed since that first transaction with SHEKINA. “Within three months, I harvested and made money, and out of it I took 30,000 RWF (€30/£26) and saved it with SACCO (the Savings and Credit Co-operative),” she explains. “I continued saving that amount until I achieved the goal that I had set.
 
“Before my life was all about sitting, feeling lonely and worrying about the future. But since I started to sell cassava leaves, I am fine… The ambitions I have for my children are that my younger children could pursue their studies, have good marks and go to advanced level.”
 
Another woman who has benefitted from SHEKINA’s presence in Rulindo District is Uwera, who used to rely on her mother for financial support. She got a job with the co-op and now works on production three days a week and collects cassava leaves from the farmers on the other two days.
 
SHEKINA employee Uwera Gisele is saving money to study business agriculture. Photo: Eleanor Farmer
 
“I like dealing with the farmers – it’s social. I tell them all the good things about cassava leaves. That’s a big part of my job. I am happy with everything,” says Uwera, 22. However, the most important thing for her is earning a salary.
 
She recently bought a cow but plans to use the rest of the money she is saving to go to college. “I want to study business agriculture,” says Uwera. “After studying I would have enough skills to set up my own business. Even if I could only employ two people, I would be happy.”

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In 2018, 43 people owned the same wealth as half the world – this year, 26 do.

In 2018, 43 people owned the same wealth as half the world – this year, 26 do.

A report released by Oxfam this week highlights that our current global economy is rewarding those at the top - while hundreds of millions of people living in poverty are getting poorer. Last year, the 3.8 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw their wealth decline by 11 percent while billionaires’ fortunes rose by almost the same amount. 
 
One of the main drivers of inequality is the failure of governments to clamp down on tax dodging by big businesses and wealthy individuals and ensure everyone is paying their fair share. Tax dodging by corporations and the rich is costing poor countries $170 billion a year. This means less funds for vital public services like healthcare and education, which are key to reducing inequality and helping people to build better lives for themselves. 
 

This just doesn't make sense

 
This human cost of inequality can no longer be ignored. Every day, 262 million children will not go to school and almost 10,000 people will die because they cannot access healthcare.
 
 
Nellie Kumambala, a secondary school teacher from Lumbadzi, Malawi tells us her experience of fighting inequality. “My father inspired my sisters and me to become teachers. I’ve taught at the community secondary school for my area for 19 years. Our children come from very poor families. Many walk long distances to get here. Many come with empty stomachs. We have a problem of too few textbooks, dilapidated classrooms and teaching materials. 
 
"Over the years, I have seen so many girls and boys who score highly despite coming from poor backgrounds. I remember Chimwemwe Gabisa – she was brilliant at mathematics, the best I have taught. She finished secondary school but could not proceed to college for lack of funds." 
 
The private schools in the city, for children from rich families, have very good facilities. It does not seem right that it is so much harder for children in a government school to be educated. I pay tax every month on my little salary. I don’t understand why the people that have everything are failing to pay their taxes. 
 
With more money a lot could be done at our school. We could provide students with breakfast. We could provide them with textbooks and basic necessities like school uniforms and exercise books. At least this would give them a better chance in life.”
 
Rising inequality is preventing us from beating poverty for good – but it doesn’t have to be this way. There is enough wealth in the world to provide everyone with a fair chance in life.
 
Dedicated teachers like Nellie are the lifeblood of great public services that benefit the poorest. Share her story to help fight inequality and beat poverty.
 
 

Five things I’ve learned being a humanitarian aid worker

This World Humanitarian Day, Iffat Tahmid Fatema, Oxfam public health worker, shares what it's like helping people in our Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh.

I started working for Oxfam last year at the height of the emergency when Rohingya refugees were arriving in huge numbers every day. At that time, I was toiling in a lab at the Asian University for Women in Chittagong pursuing my Master's degree in Bio-Technology, but I knew I wanted to work with real people, face-to-face. What's happened to the Rohingya people really upset me. I had never seen people living with so little. It really hurt me.

Now I teach Rohingya refugees living in the camp in Cox's Bazar about health and hygiene, to help them keep well and to prevent a major outbreak of disease. We discuss the importance of cleanliness and personal hygiene like washing your hands with soap after going to the toilet and before eating. We work with volunteers from the Rohingya community, training them so they can teach other refugees and spread good hygiene messages far and wide. The Oxfam team has reached more than 266,000 people in the camps so far.

1. Know what motivates you

In this job you need drive, good communication skills, and initiative.

When it's extremely hot, or raining heavily, or you’re tired, you might not feel like spending another long day in the camps. But then you think of the refugees and how you are working for them - that motivates you to keep going.

 

2. You have to build trust

Humanitarian work is also about building trust. You have to be sensitive to local culture and traditions.

You also have to be able to talk to different groups of people in different ways, from children to older people and Imams, the religious leaders. And you need to be a good observer so you can try to understand how people think.

 

3. Speak their language

Sometimes the refugees can be uncomfortable with someone who is not like them, so it helps that I can speak a similar language. But the language is also the biggest challenge as the regional language, Chittagonian, is only about 70 per cent the same as Rohingya.

Oxfam has worked with Translators Against Borders to develop a new translation app in English, Bangla and Rohingya, including specific vocabulary about health and hygiene, so this will be a big help.

 

4. Be prepared to face challenges

Working in the monsoons has been extremely hard and can be dangerous. When there is a heavy downpour of rain, conditions in the camps become very bad, very quickly. You can sink into the mud and lose your boots. When you climb the dirt steps there is the possibility the whole thing will collapse.

5. Patience is a virtue

The most important thing I have learnt is to be polite and be patient - even though I might be repeating the same thing hundreds of times, such as how to wash your hands. I am very impatient by nature, but working in the camps I have learned how to control my frustrations.

The most satisfying part of my job has been hearing from refugees what a difference Oxfam’s support has made to them.

We run regular listening groups where the community can give us constructive feedback. Recently a grandfather told me: "We are happy that you come and you listen to us. Thank you for the work you do."

That made me feel very happy.

This entry posted on 18 August 2018 by Iffat Tahmid Fatema, humanitarian public health worker for Oxfam’s Rohingya refugee response in Bangladesh, as part of our World Humanitarian Day program.

All photos: Iffat Tahimd Fatema, humanitarian public health promoter for Oxfam, in the Rohingya refugee camps, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh. Credit: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

A generation being deprived of education

Continuing with the second of a three part blog by Ibrahim Alwazir, Oxfam’s Social Media Officer in Yemen.

Part 2: A generation being deprived of education

Ahmed Saleh is 39 years old, is a father of 10 and lives in Al-Shanitifah village in Amran governorate. He works as a farmer during the rainy season in summer – he grows millet – and as a porter outside the village during the rest of the year. Despite the work, he is barely earning enough to feed his big family. He never had the opportunity to provide clean water to his family, because he was never able to afford the clean water from the water trucks that usually cost him 12,000 YER, which is more than what he makes.

In the village, men gather every morning outside their small houses to discuss rumours of available jobs, unavailable cash and the disappearing hope that they will have something for their families to eat by noon.

Left: Abdullah*, a fourth-grade student in Khamer district of Amran governorate, holds his notebooks. Photo: Ameen Al-Ghaberi/Gabreez. Right: Wadi Akhraf -Water source, in Habor Zulaimat, Amran governorate Wadea Al-Mekhlafi / Oxfam Yemen.

In these villages, men only have two main job opportunities: either farm or perform hard-labour tasks such as construction or carrying goods. Many lack proper education or vocational training, making it hard for them to perform other jobs or better serve their communities.

Farming usually is seasonal and that is due to the lack of agricultural training, research and funding, as many farmers are unaware of the best practices to enhance their crops or to make use of the land all year long. There is also no storage capacity for the crops to be sold during the entire year. Most fruits and vegetables are available only during certain seasons, while their prices change based on supply and demand throughout the year.

I remember the beauty of many farms we had passed by and it seems that Yemenis pay as much attention to their farms as they do to their children and houses. One can see that the farms are neat, well-built and have enough supplies of water and fertilizers that nourish plants and satisfy viewers' eyes. No matter how isolated the farms were, water is regularly delivered to them through pipes or water-trucks to the extent that plants started to believe they are growing somewhere near the equator.

Yemenis are known to be the first to build agricultural terraces over mountains, to make use of rain to water the lands. They unfortunately never managed to come up with an idea to make water continuously available to their houses and save their wives and children the troubles of fetching water from faraway and sometimes dangerous locations.

For thousands of children in Yemen, walking every day with heavy jerrycans filled with water is more common than attending school. Some rural communities in Yemen do not see school as mandatory or necessary for children as they sometimes believe that men don't need an education to work and women don't need schooling to get married and have children. Many cannot afford either the fees or the supplies needed to attend school.

If the school is nearby and there are no chores to be done, then children can go but only until sixth grade, when they will then be old enough to help their families inside or outside the house. Girls help their mothers with house chores and take care of younger siblings, while boys help their fathers with farming, livestock or just hang around with their friends when their parents are busy.

The war has strongly exacerbated this situation – schools have been bombed, destroyed or occupied, and an entire generation is now being deprived of education.

One of the world's gravest humanitarian crises.

More than 14,600 civilians have been killed or injured during three years of devastating conflict in Yemen and over 2,200 others have died of cholera, mostly children and the elderly. Over three million people have been forced to flee their homes due to the bombing and fighting. The country is on the brink of famine and is also now suffering the largest ever outbreak of cholera since records began, as nearly 1 million cases have been reported. 22 million people in Yemen are in dire need of immediate humanitarian assistance, the greatest number in any country in the world.

Oxfam is there

Since July 2015, Oxfam has reached more than 2.8 million people with humanitarian assistance, with the help of our local partners in Yemen. Help includes water and sanitation services, cash assistance and food vouchers.

We are delivering emergency aid but we urgently need your help to do more.

Make a donation to support our work

 

*Name changed to protect identity

Water is Life

The Oxfam training putting women on the right track

Knowledge is power – just ask these women from Nairobi. They are all members of the Oxfam project, Wezesha Jamii – Swahili for ‘empowering communities’ – which, among others, provides training, supports job opportunities and promotes equality.

The majority of these vulnerable women, who live in informal settlements across the Kenyan capital, are either domestic workers or small-scale traders. Before getting involved in the project, many of them knew nothing about their rights or entitlements – and were often exploited by their employers.

Left: Sheillah Achieng and her baby in their apartment in Mathare, Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam Right: Doreen styles a woman's hair in her salon in Mukuru. Photo: Katie G. Nelson/Oxfam

Sheillah Achieng (28), who left school with few qualifications, says domestic work is the only job she can do. She describes how a former employer once threatened her with a knife when she asked for her wages. But since becoming a member of Wezesha Jamii, she understands that she can go somewhere for help.

“Now I am enlightened and if something similar happened,” says the mother of three. “I would go to the police station. I know there are some offices we can go to.”

The project also taught Sheillah about her rights around maternity leave. Before her youngest child was born, she asked her employer if she could have some time off. “They told me I could have three months… I understood that if you are pregnant you are due some leave. I didn’t know that before."

“I am very happy that I learned my rights about maternity leave. I didn’t know before that three months is my right. Normally you would get two weeks and then find someone in your job.”

The advice she’s received through Wezesha Jamii (WJ) has made Sheillah realise that she wants better treatment at work: “What I want is for more employers to treat us as human beings. I feel very bad to see employers not treating us well. “I feel more confident and I have more energy. I feel encouraged that I know my rights.”

Elsewhere, Doreen Muththoni has tried to make a go of various business ideas down through the years. But from selling bread, to cooking and selling goat meat, she has struggled to earn enough money. After becoming a member of Wezesha Jamii, she was trained in how to develop a good business idea, how to budget and how to manage her money.

Now running a thriving beauty and hair salon, Doreen says: “The project helped me choose the business I could do and one that could bring me more income than the meat business. What I do now is sell hair products and also do women’s hair.

“Through the training they showed me how to save, I didn’t save before… I can save more than 10,000 KSh through my business.”

These days Doreen has no problem paying school fees for her three children – not only that, she has opened savings accounts for them too.

“We enjoy many things now we don’t have so many problems,” she says. “We feel free and happy now. I am filled with joy. The things we are doing, WJ has been able to help me so much and now I know more than what I used to know.”

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