From the field

May 16, 2015

May ‘A yes vote in Ireland will give us hope for LGBT rights in Zimbabwe’

16
2015

Oxfam Ireland is supporting a ‘Yes’ vote in Republic of Ireland’s marriage referendum on May 22nd because we believe that equality and human rights belong to us all, regardless of sexual orientation. These rights include the right to marry the person you love. We work with civil society organisations and citizen activists to build a social movement for justice and equality on a broad range of issues, including gay rights.

Brian Malone, Oxfam Ireland’s Digital Coordinator, recently visited Zimbabwe and met with an Oxfam supported, feminist collective of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women called Voice of the Voiceless (VOVO). 

The LGBT community in Zimbabwe are denounced by their aggressively homophobic government. Homosexuality is a crime under Zimbabwean law with a one-year prison sentence for sexual relations between men. Hate speech, beatings, arbitrary arrests and even ‘corrective’ rape are rife.

Supported by Oxfam, VOVO provides a safe space for LBT women to connect, share stories and raise the visibility of women’s issues within the broader LGBT community. Sian Masuko, Oxfam Women’s Rights Programme Manager in Zimbabwe, explains that, for many of them, VOVO meetings are the only time these women feel safe enough to be who they really are.

Some are private, invite only gatherings where members feel safe to share their stories openly. Other events are more public like last year’s courageous feminist ‘transect’ walk around Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, highlighting the areas where LBT women don’t feel safe.

“We went to the Central Police Station and a trans woman spoke because she had been arrested. She spoke about how difficult it is to be free and to be who you are and how you are constantly attacked on the basis of your identity. That was a bit of a risky one so we had to stand at a slight distance.”

Carol and Sku, bravely agree to share their experiences of being gay in Zimbabwe. Sku is wearing a purple t-shirt with, ‘Women Who Are Not Afraid to Use the F-word – Feminism’, written on it. Carol makes a joke about not wanting to be on camera – not for personal, security reasons but because she thinks she “looks like a pirate” today. 

“I think Zimbabwe would have a lot of ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’,” Carol says. “You’re always in character. It takes a toll on the mind. Sometimes it’s just making it through the day and saying ok I didn’t get arrested. I got home after sunset and no-one mugged me. No one spiked my drink at the bar. No one sent me threatening messages.”

In the middle of all this oppression, Sian tells me there’s also a lot of laughter and celebration.

“I think for VOVO this year there was a shift to say, ‘You know what? We’re actually not going to apologise for who we are anymore. We’re going to start to celebrate’. Because what we see as a good, positive, democratic society is a celebration of diversity and not a society where you have to apologise for who you are, and are always having to cut corners or trying to pretend.” 

Above: VOVO members dance in the streets of Bulawayo, t-shirts emblazoned with the message: 'Women who are not afraid to use the F-word - FEMINISM'. Photos: Sian Masuko/Oxfam.

Irish Marriage Equality Referendum

I told Carol and Sku about the gay rights movement in Ireland and we watched Panti's Noble Call. Then I told them how, on May 22nd, voters in the Republic of Ireland will take part in a national referendum on legalising same-sex marriage, i.e. allowing gay and lesbian couples the right to civil marriage. As it currently stands, lesbian and gay couples cannot get married and do not have equal status under the Irish Constitution.

I was curious to know how they feel when they see LGBT communities in other countries taking strides towards equality – left behind or hopeful?

For Sku, it’s the latter. “It shows us that, yeah, you can fight for something and something can actually come out of it,” she explains. “So it’s a good thing, it’s showing us that as time goes on maybe things can change here in Zim too.”

“It’s very inspiring that you’re actually at that stage in Ireland,” Carol adds. “I’m actually looking forward to hearing how that I goes. If I were Irish I would definitely say yes!... I hope the desired outcome becomes the actual outcome.”

A Yes vote in the referendum won’t just be a leap forward for human rights in Ireland. It will send a message of hope to members of the LGBT community all over the world that inequality can be challenged, that positive change can happen.

Use your voice for equality – Vote YES on May 22nd.

May 12, 2015

May Nepal now facing a double disaster

12
2015

Just over two weeks since a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, there has been a second major quake.

Our teams there are rapidly assessing the situation. They include Dubliner Colm Byrne, who experienced the quake in Chautara (approx. 40km from the epicentre). 

Chautara is in the Sindhupalchowk province, the region worst affected by the first earthquake on April 25. Colm says people were afraid of the aftershocks and landslides that could follow.

“It was very powerful,” Colm says. “The ground was shaking and buildings were collapsing. I’ve also seen people being carried on stretchers.”

Oxfam is helping over 60,000 people over seven districts in Nepal, delivering clean water, emergency toilets, shelter, food assistance and hygiene kits. Reaching communities in the country’s rural districts has been challenging and initial reports suggest fresh landslides have cut off some areas.

Colm and his colleagues were fortunate not to have been beside buildings when the earthquake struck at around 12:35 Nepali time (approx. 07:50 Irish time). They were very shaken but immediately got back to work. Their concern is for those thousands of families who must now cope with what is a double disaster.

It was already a race against time to reach people before the monsoon season arrived at the beginning of June. It’s now more vital than ever for us to be able to reach as many people as possible.

“People are shocked and scared by what’s happened. They are too afraid to sleep in their homes so one of things Oxfam is trying to do is to provide spaces for people to sleep outdoors,” Colm says.

“One of the big challenges is that this is a hugely mountainous country with very few large, flat open air spaces where people can gather safely. We’ve just done an assessment this afternoon to find alternative locations.

“Whilst we don’t yet know the full extent of this second major earthquake, we do know that the people of Nepal will need much more support to help them put their lives back together.”

Thousands of you have already generously donated to this crisis and your money is helping to provide immediate aid to those in desperate need. If you haven't done so already, you can donate here, in your local Oxfam shop or by calling 1850 30 40 55.

Apr 26, 2015

Apr Horror not over yet for the people of Nepal

26
2015

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager, travels to Nepal to help people affected by the devastating earthquake, he describes the horror people are going through and knows what to expect when he gets there.

People trapped under the rubble of collapsed buildings. Hospitals overwhelmed, with nowhere to put the dead bodies and forced to treat huge number of injuries outside. Homes reduced to a pile of rubble.

Roads and bridges damaged, with tons of rubble blocking the streets and alleys of Kathmandu and roads out of the capital practically impassable. Water supply pipes, electricity generating sub-stations, treatment plants – all these things vital for life are affected – and food, water, fuel and medicines in short-supply.

This what it is like to be on the ground in Nepal right now.

People are scared. Not only for missing loved ones, or their child’s next meal, or at what point in the future they might begin to recover the life they once knew, but also because of the threats that remain.

Scores of aftershocks hitting level 4 on the Richter scale following Saturday’s 7.9 magnitude earthquake means that most survivors are afraid to go into their homes because they fear more aftershocks or even another major tremor.

They have been gathering in open spaces and on roadsides, with one Oxfam colleague telling us how she saw families trying to bed down for the night on a football field.

The weather is bad and predicted to become worse. An Oxfam colleague says from now onwards people will start skipping meals and to rely on friends and relatives for support.

Some will be moving to areas they consider safer, where they will set up camps. Others will choose to stay close to their belongings and shattered homes, perhaps waiting for missing relatives. They will start selling assets in "distress sales".

They will use what food, cash and property they have just to get by. They will start borrowing. Many poor Nepalese will already be in debt.

The earthquake has struck a country that was already vulnerable. Half of Nepal’s 28m population don’t have access to proper sanitation and live below the poverty line, with around one-in-three of them in severe poverty.

Their ability to cope with a major disaster is crippled by the lack of economic and social infrastructure that people in richer nations take for granted. Many thousands of Nepalese are going to need a great deal of help. Following the earthquake, the government of Nepal has called for international assistance.

Oxfam’s team in Nepal is assessing the humanitarian needs following the devastating earthquake. We’ve already been flying in supplies. I will be there for the next month to lead the response, working with our local partners in Nepal and the Nepalese government.

We have already been working in Nepal for a number of years which means our team there are able to respond quickly, with your help. The need for donations is urgent. Providing shelter, safe drinking water and sanitation is critical.

Oxfam hopes to provide water for people from deep bore wells – most Nepalese got their water from tankers that delivered water to their homes but they can’t get through because of the destruction and rubble blocking roads.

Other urgent needs will be medicines, food supplies and restoring the power and communications infrastructure. Roads must be cleared so that vital aid can get through.

Please support the people of Nepal in their darkest hours.

Thank you.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager. To support our emergency appeal, donate here or your local Oxfam shop.

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Apr 25, 2015

Apr Oxfam ready to respond following massive earthquake in Nepal

25
2015

A powerful 7.9 magnitude earthquake has devastated Nepal. Oxfam is there. We are urgently assessing the situation and planning our response.

An Oxfam team of technical experts is also preparing to fly to Nepal with supplies to provide clean water, shelter, sanitation and emergency food.

The full scale of the destruction is not yet know. Many old buildings have collapsed with people trapped inside. Hospitals are overwhelmed and trying to cope with the wounded. People are scared, worried about their families and trying to contact their loved ones.

The scene is one of utter devastation, according to colleagues on the ground.

Cecilia Keizer, Oxfam country director in Nepal said: “The number of people killed is continuing to rise. Many of the old houses have been destroyed and at least one large apartment block has come down in Kathmandu. People are gathered in their thousands in open spaces and are scared as there have been several aftershocks."

“Communication is currently very difficult. Telephone lines are down and the electricity has been cut off making charging mobile phones difficult. The water is also cut off.”

Oxfam has worked in Nepal for a number of years and we are now preparing for a potentially massive response to one of the worst natural disasters to hit the region in years.

The most urgent needs will be medicines, food supplies, safe drinking water and adequate shelter. It is likely to be a race against time to save lives and to get help to the communities overwhelmed by tragedy on a massive scale.

You can help

  • A donation of €25/£20 could supply 12 Oxfam buckets to help provide clean, safe water for drinking and cooking for families in need
  • A donation of €60/£40could cover the cost of emergency health kits to help prevent the spread of diseases
  • A donation of €125/£90 could help give a family a roof over their heads for a month  
Posted In:
Apr 13, 2015

Apr Thousands still homeless in Gaza: ‘Our children are paying the price’

13
2015

For the past six months, Sawsan al Najjar and her family have lived crowded together in a small room with cracked walls and a fragile roof. “I fear the walls will fall on us while we sleep,” she says.

The rest of the house lies in rubble, destroyed by Israeli bombing during last summer's 51 days of conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups.

International donors pledged $3.5 billion towards Gaza's reconstruction, yet six months later people like Sawsan are still living in desperate conditions. A new report by Oxfam and other aid agencies including ActionAid, Christian Aid and Save the Children found that not a single one of the 19,000 destroyed homes has yet been rebuilt and promises of lasting political change have not materialised. The eight-year old Israeli blockade of Gaza remains in place, severely restricting the movement of people and goods.

Top: Dr Ihab Dabour checks Sawsan's son Ameer (2) at a mobile clinic in Gaza.  The clinic - run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and funded by Oxfam - treats illnesses in the devastated neighbourhood of Khuza'a. "Many families are living in extremely unhealthy and overcrowded conditions, in caravans and damaged houses," says Dr Dabour. "There is a shortage of clean water and a lack of heating, which was badly needed during the harsh winter. All this causes frequent illnesses such as scabies and respiratory problems. As long as people live in these conditions, they will continue to have these health problems. I just wish I could help more." "Winter was very tough. The rain leaked through the damaged roof and walls and my children are sick all the time here," says Sawsan. Bottom: Faraj Al Najjar at work. Photos: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam
 

Sawsan's two young children – Ameer (2) and Ahmed (16) – suffer from stunted growth and her husband, Faraj, works day and night to raise money for their special medical treatment.

“I used to have my own business, trading motorbikes,” says Faraj. “Business got worse after the blockade began [in 2007], but I made enough to at least feed my family. Then during the war I lost the motorbikes, which were worth $7,000. Now I work 12 hours a day fixing spare parts and I barely get 20 shekels [$5/€4.75/£3.40] a day. This is not enough to even buy food.”

Their current living conditions make life even more difficult. “Winter was very tough. The rain leaked through the damaged roof and walls and my children are sick all the time here,” says Sawsan.

Dr Ihab Dabour helped provide emergency health care to thousands of people during the height of the conflict, despite his own home being bombed. Every two weeks he brings a mobile health clinic, run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and funded by Oxfam, to treat illnesses in the devastated neighbourhood of Khuza'a where Sawsan lives.

“Many families are living in extremely unhealthy and overcrowded conditions, in caravans and damaged houses,” says Dr Dabour. “There is a shortage of clean water and a lack of heating, which was badly needed during the harsh winter. All this causes frequent illnesses such as scabies and respiratory problems. As long as people live in these conditions, they will continue to have these health problems. I just wish I could help more.”

At least 81 health clinics and hospitals across Gaza were damaged in the conflict – along with schools, water systems and other infrastructure – and most have not yet received funds for repairs. Under the blockade, even the few that have funds have not been able to get essential construction material to start rebuilding.

“The mobile clinic gives us the medicine we need to stop further health problems,” says Sawsan. But what the family needs most is to be able to rebuild their lives. For that to happen there needs to be a permanent ceasefire and an end to the blockade. Gaza needs reconstruction but also help to rebuild its once thriving economy that has been devastated by the blockade and recurrent conflict. 63 percent of young people are now unemployed and people are increasingly reliant on international aid.

“It is our children who are paying the price,” says Sawsan. “We used to have a happy life with a nice house and business – we were not rich, but we didn't need help from others. Now we seek any kind of assistance. We've started to lose hope that reconstruction will ever happen.”

Oxfam and our partners in Gaza are providing safe water, helping families to buy food, and supporting local health services.

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