From the field


South Sudan photo exhibit highlights stories behind stats

A new photo exhibition – Make Them Visible – opens this month in Belfast to highlight the situation faced by people displaced by conflict in South Sudan. 

World Press Photo award-winner Kieran Doherty, whose family is originally from Belfast, travelled last year with Oxfam to South Sudan. Kieran’s striking photos from the trip now form a new exhibition in Belfast’s Linen Hall Library, where Kieran will also deliver an illustrated lunchtime talk, to share his impressions of South Sudan and the human stories behind his images.

There is an acute humanitarian crisis in South Sudan, after what began as a localised conflict on 15 December 2013 quickly spread across many parts of the country. Over 1.5 million people have since been internally displaced as a result of the conflict. 

Above-left: 35-year-old Richard Corodo lives in St Mary, where he was treated for cholera. Oxfam has distributed chlorine sachets and clean buckets for people to treat their own drinking water, as well as rehydration salts to be used in emergencies. Latrines and hand washing stations have also been constructed to help prevent the spread of disease.

Above-right: 1. Nyanror Derwer Reeng (62) is widowed and is living with her daughter’s family in Mingkaman: “All I think about is being free again. I’m blind but I can hear the fighting and I wish for peace in my country so I can go home again.” 2. A woman hangs her washing out to dry between two shelters in Juba. Many leave behind their precious livestock and find themselves destitute, without belongings or a means of making money. Many families arrive in host communities which are already stretched.  3. Both government forces and an alliance of rebels have been accused of committing atrocities. Many families around the country have taken refuge at camps protected by UN peacekeepers. A camp in Bor, where people from the Nuer community were staying was attacked by armed youths. This ten-year-old boy was shot three times in the head and miraculously survived the ordeal. Photos: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

The fighting which has forced them from their lands has also prevented them from planting crops. Almost 4 million people are estimated to be severely hungry, with 30,000 people experiencing extreme and dangerous hunger levels in war-ravaged Unity state. 

Oxfam is currently supporting 690,000 people with humanitarian assistance in South Sudan, including clean water, hygiene facilities, direct food aid, fuel and livelihoods support. Oxfam has also helped over 100,000 South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia and 145,000 in Uganda.

Doherty said: “I met ordinary people forced into an extraordinary situation – vulnerable people in a forgotten crisis. 

“Behind each photo is an individual human being – just like you and me – who has had to flee, leaving behind belongings, a home, friends and often family. 

“Hopefully this photo exhibition can then help make these ‘invisible people’ visible by highlighting the situation of South Sudanese refugees and their families.” 

Above-left: 1. Following an  attack in their camp, women were not allowed to venture outside to gather wood, which meant there was no fuel to cook the food that was being distributed. Six weeks later, the gates were opened for an hour to allow women to fetch as much wood as possible from designated areas. 2. Pooch Mangyak with his fish on the River Nile. With so many people away from their homes and unable to plant their crops again this year, the food crisis is worsening. The River Nile is a source of food for both locals and those who have newly arrived in Mingkaman. Oxfam is distributing fishing equipment to displaced families to help supplement their diet. Above-right: Portrait of Kieran Doherty by Simon Kreitem. All other photos: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam


The Make Them Visible exhibition runs in Belfast’s Linen Hall Library from Tuesday 10th to Saturday 28th November, with a free lunchtime talk on 12th November at 1.30pm. The exhibition is part of EUsaveLIVES, an Oxfam campaign in partnership with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), to raise awareness about the situation of refugees and displaced people



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:

There’s no place like home: keeping hope alive for the children of Syria

Above: Oxfam’s Helena O’Donnell with Syrian refugee children in Lebanon. 1 million Syrians have left their home country for Lebanon since the war began.

“Bubbles my dog and my Xbox” was the emphatic response of one young Cork schoolboy when asked what he would miss most from home. 

“Minecraft… my bedroom… my trampoline” and “my football” were the other homely comforts for the boys of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh in Bishopstown, Cork.

I was speaking to the boys about their homes, what they loved most about being at home and what it must feel like for the Syrian children who have had to leave their homes due to war and conflict.  

It’s a very sad story to speak to young children about. The war in Syria is in its fifth year and much of the country is now in ruins.

Almost 4 million Syrians have had to flee their country, with over 1 million of these moving to live in refugee camps in neighbouring Lebanon.

On an unusually stormy day in May I was welcomed to Cork by the pupils of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh, who were eager to hear about the Syrian children they had heard about on the news. The heavy hailstones and rushing wind in the deserted school yard set the mood for the sombre discussion ahead of me. 

Loaded with large colour photographs of Syrian children and stories of the families I had met when visiting refugee camps in Lebanon earlier this year, I struggled to think of how I might explain to primary school children the impact of war on boys and girls the same age as themselves.

I shouldn’t have worried. From the moment I arrived, I was greeted with cheers, energy and positivity from the 1st to 6th class boys who were delighted to have the chance to leave their classrooms and convene in their sports hall to talk about soccer, how much they love it, how much Syrian children love soccer and how their pre-loved jerseys would be put to good use by an emerging football team in Lebanon’s Beqaa Valley.

Above: Oxfam’s Helena O’Donnell with some of the pupils of Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh in Bishopstown, Cork, who organised a shipment of sports gear for Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon after hearing news reports about them.

Earlier this year, the big-hearted pupils had been inspired by news reports about Syrian refugee children living in Lebanon and decided to come together and collect all their pre-loved and unused sports jerseys and soccer boots and send them over on a sponsored shipment to the boys and girls of the Al Jalil children’s centre in Beqaa Valley. 

When I visited the centre in March, the bright-eyed Syrian children I met told me, through a translator, that they were very happy there and loved to play soccer, play group games like musical chairs and take turns in the arts and crafts room. As I laughed and joked with them it had struck me how much they had seen in their short lives and reflected on how serious a conflict it was to have driven them this huge distance from their homes in Syria.

The Oxfam-funded centre tries to give refugee children, frequently homeless, a space to enjoy the pastimes they loved so much back home. It helps Syrian children, traumatised by what they have seen, to restore some normality and fun to their lives. 

Above: Refugee children at the Oxfam-supported Al Jalil children’s centre in Beqaa Valley in Lebanon where activities like soccer and art provide a respite from the day-to-day challenges of being so far from home.

The centre has had huge success forming a mixed gender soccer team. As you can see from my pictures, the boys from Bishopstown, Co Cork are delighted to have the chance to help bring a sense of hope and fun for the refugee children.  

As we mark World Refugee Day this Saturday (July 20th), we would like to say a huge well done to everyone at Scoil an Spioraid Naoimh. They have raised vital awareness in their own community about the situation facing Syrian refugees and shown solidarity with displaced communities who have escaped the violence in Syria.

*Thank you to the EU which funded the media trip to Lebanon which generated the news reports mentioned in this article, part of the EUsaveLives campaign. For more information on the project, click here  and visit


The spirit of Vanuatu

Vanuatu-Efate-Pang Pang Village-Mark, Oxfam staff, hands voucher to cyclone survivor. Photo: Groovy Banana/OxfamAUS

About three months ago, on the morning of 14 March 2015, I opened the door of my home in Port Vila slowly, not sure what I would see outside after Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam had screeched its way across our beautiful Vanuatu. At the time I thought, and wrote, that our world would be quite different out there. And it was. My first impression was of the physical devastation. My second (just a few minutes later) was that somehow we now had a cat in our garden! The phrase “raining cats and dogs” came to mind. We named it “Cat Five” and took care of it, but that’s another story for another day.

None of us in Vanuatu could imagine what a Category 5 cyclone would do to Vanuatu. Our Oxfam team tried to. We had to prepare and work with our partner organisations to prepare for something, the impact of which we were really not sure of as the country had little experience of a cyclone of this magnitude. None of us were too sure about how we and the whole of Vanuatu would respond to whatever Pam did to our country and people.


Only a few minutes out of my home’s door, I had a good sense of both. Large parts of Vanuatu had been devastated. It was, quite simply, bad. Pam had been cruel to our country in many ways. She had ripped large pieces of it to shreds leaving it looking naked and fragile; and leaving many of us feeling that way too. Pam had killed mercifully few for the magnitude of her force. But the people of Vanuatu were already out there, taking control of their own fate, making sure that Pam’s “control” was not allowed to settle over us or hold us back for a moment longer than it could.

In the early days after Pam, we only had ourselves to rely on. The outside world was cut away; and most of the many beautiful islands that make up Vanuatu were isolated from each other too. This didn’t stop families, friends, communities, organisations, government departments and our amazing team of Oxfamers just getting down to work and starting to make things better in whatever way possible. It was amazing to watch and an incredible privilege to be part of. Like the rest of Vanuatu, our Oxfam team emerged safely, a little dazed and tired, but ready to get on with whatever needed to be done.

Much has been said of the amazing Vanuatu response across all forms of media and in early pieces of research. Resilience was what people called it as soon as they could give it a name. That label, for me, quickly became too commonly used — taking away the “something special” that I felt and saw happening in Vanuatu. But what else could it have been? I searched my (very tired) brain for other ways to describe it, to give it a title which had a deeper sense of specialness for me. No luck. And then I looked at synonyms for resilience and there hidden among terms such as elasticity, buoyancy, hardiness and toughness was a word that fitted better: spirit. A simple term, but one which captured the essence of what I was seeing and feeling among our Oxfam team and the general population — a spirit that was strong, positive, realistic, practical under stress and located somewhere deep in the fabric of the people of Vanuatu, deep in their culture and traditions, deep in their hearts and minds.

Three months on and this spirit has done, and keeps doing, amazing things. And it is everywhere. Thanks to the amazing support of people across the world, we were able to launch a solid response to Cyclone Pam. Our team has grown, as has our work at Oxfam. While the initial “surge” needed us to bring in specialist skills from across the world, we have also been able to tap into the amazing spirit and talent of the people of Vanuatu.

I have worked with and watched young Ni-Vanuatu people new to Oxfam absorb the Oxfam values — that are so central to what we do — with ease and enthusiasm. Likewise, I am experiencing Oxfam learn and grow from the spirit of these young people — a deeply valuable and rewarding exchange and a privilege; an unanticipated gift from Pam.

Alice at Vanuatu-Efate-Matarisu village. Evelyn signs list to get emergency voucher. Philemon, community leader. Sandi and three sons, Wilkins, William and Philip n front of their house damaged by cycline Pam. Photos: Groovy Banana/OxfamAUS

We have done much. Our Oxfam teams provided life-saving emergency water to communities directly after Pam struck. We have built new longer-term relationships in our recovery work, some with remote communities on small islands. On Epi Island, Oxfam teams were the first to arrive in some communities and provided much needed emergency supplies, and, importantly, a sense that the world out there cared for them. We have continued our work there and on Efate Island. Our expert skills in technical water system restoration have done amazing things, as has our pioneering work in emergency food security, livelihoods and public health and hygiene education. Our partners too have worked hard with us to engage in all of this work. Always making sure that gender, protection of vulnerable community members and sound monitoring, evaluation, learning and accountability mechanisms are core to whatever we do. Together with this, the incredible work that has gone into our coordination role of the Vanuatu Humanitarian Team has been recognised as significant in the response to Cyclone Pam.

Today I look out over Port Vila, from our offices on the hill above the bay, and it is clear that the land is responding to the spirit — healing itself and sharing this with the rest of the world. The green is returning, plants are growing, flowers are dotting the place with tentative colour, markets are reopening, homes are being rebuilt, smiles are getting bigger and children are at school again. Gone are the constant sounds of chain saws cutting away at the trees that fell across our roads and buildings. Gone too are the clouds and smells of heavy smoke that hung across the city when people could only dispose of the debris by burning it. The warped and crushed metal of roofs have been cleared, signs are back up and shattered windows replaced. The harbor is no longer silent, and likewise the airport — we hear the horns of the boats and ships, see their twinkling lights again at night, and hear the flights come in and out of the airport almost as they used to. Somehow, these have become good sounds. Businesses are rebuilding and customers and tourists are returning to enjoy our special place on the planet. Lessons are being learnt and shared, government is working to respond in ways they consider best, and donors, local not-for-profit agencies and international agencies such as Oxfam are doing whatever they can to support. It is an amazing journey.

Of course, all of this will be documented in copious research and evaluation reports. Pages of paper. Some of the work will be critiqued and some applauded depending on the time and audience. This is all normal in the cycle of events after a cyclone of this magnitude. But through these formal processes we should never lose sight of that special spirit, the simple (but, at the same time complex and often elusive) “something special” that has carried us to the point we are at, and will carry Vanuatu beyond this point too.

As the anniversaries of Cyclone Pam come and go we need to continue to embrace the spirit we have experienced; the sprit that has always and will always be at the core of what makes Vanuatu and her people get up, dust themselves off and get on with life in such amazing ways. I said in the early days that there were lessons for the world in this — there have been and will be. Watch this space!

Colin Collett van Rooyen is Oxfam Vanuatu's Country Director. 


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

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.


Join US

Nearly one out of three of us lives in poverty. But we see a future in which no one does. Sign up to learn how you can help people to lift themselves out of poverty.