From the field

Jul 24, 2013

Jul The joy of clean water in DRC

24
2013

“There is no way we can thank you other than through song and dance,” says Victorine, a representative of the local water committee as we are welcomed in the remote village of Mambingi in the north eastern region of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Up until June of this year, the community could only get water, the most basic of all human rights, from an unprotected local spring. They had to pass through thick forest vegetation where women felt vulnerable to get there and were often bitten by snakes attracted to the surrounding palm oil trees.

Today, thanks to our supporters at home and our local partners Hyfro, Mambingi has some 16 water points spread throughout the village managed proudly by local committees.

Importantly, the water is clean and safe. This reduces the risk of spread of preventable diseases such as cholera and dysentery, which regularly plague communities forced to drink whatever water may flow nearby.

Clockwise from top: Oxfam Humanitarian Coordinator Michael O’Riordan measures the flow rate from a new water point constructed in DRC with the support of Irish Aid. Women in DRC often have to travel huge distances to collect water for drinking, cooking and washing. A young girl collects clean filtered water from the newly constructed water points in the village of Kahamba in DRC. A young boy demonstrates the use of simple innovative hand washing facilities made from locally available materials and a simple plastic container located next to a latrine. By pressing on the stick with his foot, the boy tilts the plastic container which causes water to flow shower like from holes made in the side. Good hygiene practice such as this greatly reduces the risk of spread of preventable communicable disease.  Photos: Colm Byrne / Oxfam.

Victorine laughs at me when we ask how long she now has to travel to get to water. Leaning across and stretching out her hand, she says: “No time at all. It is right beside us.”

Mambingi is just one of 12 villages in the region which have benefitted this year from new water distribution systems with the support of Oxfam.

In the process, community members have learned the skills needed to build and care for not only these new facilities but also 577 newly constructed latrines which ensure the safe disposal of human waste without infection of local water sources. Critically, such new skills ensure community well-being not only now but their capacity and independence in doing so well into the future.

Unfortunately, not all communities in DRC are so fortunate. Twenty years of conflict in the country have claimed the lives of millions and resulted in repeated mass movements of people within the country and across its borders.

The conflict, a product of complex international, national, local, ethnic and tribal interests frequently related to competition for the country’s particular mineral wealth, has undermined growth and development. In turn, this has created a fragile political, social and economic context where most people fail to benefit from the country’s rich natural resources and where the reach of state services such as water, health and agriculture is limited if present at all.

Not long after meeting Victorine, as we prepare to leave the region, word reaches us that still more fighting has broken out and that tens of thousands of people only a few hours’ drive away have been forced to flee across the border to Uganda. Yet another tragic event in the history of DRC where life, like the water that sustains it, remains as precious as ever.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

Jul 18, 2013

Jul Shroom to grow: Helping women in Rwanda to thrive

18
2013

The ancient Romans believed mushrooms provided their warriors with extra strength and today in Rwanda they are helping modern superwomen like Mediatrice Mukantwari to thrive.

She has learned new farming skills thanks to Oxfam’s partner G7 Enterprises in Kirehe, Rwanda.

Clockwise from top: Mediatrice Mukantwari, mother, mushroom producer and community facilitator, sitting with her son, Kevin. As a result of growing, harvesting and selling mushrooms, women mushrom producers like Mediatrice have been able to dramatically increase their incomes and improve their status and independence. Mediatrice feeding the family's rabbits at home. Photos: Simon Rawles / Oxfam.
 

The company makes mushroom tubes which are then bought by local women who grow them close to their homes.

As a result of growing, harvesting and selling their mushrooms, women producers like Mediatrice have dramatically increased their income.

They either sell the mushrooms to neighbours or sell them back to G7 Enterprises, who can sell in bulk to restaurants and hotels or further afield.

Mediatrice says: “It’s really important for us as women to be independent in life… I know if I need something for myself I can just sell mushrooms and be independent".

 
Clockwise from top: Mediatrice selecting leaves from her vegetable patch. Mediatrice preparing a meal using mushrooms for her family. Mushrooms are a new crop for many in Rwanda but growing in popularity. Photos: Simon Rawles / Oxfam.

In 2012, 1,513 small-holder women farmers in Rwanda were supported to make a sustainable way of living through greater access to credit, training on new agricultural techniques and new business partnerships between the women and medium–sized enterprises engaged in horticulture.

This project is one of many changing lives for the better around the world.

The Romans believed mushrooms made them strong. At Oxfam, we know what our real strength is – supporters like you who are making amazing things happen every single day.

Thank you.

Jul 9, 2013

Jul Reema’s story - a 12 Year old Syrian refugee in Lebanon

9
2013

Reema (12) lives on the first floor of a house still under construction in Lebanon. There are piles of rubble and concrete all around. There are no windows, no comfort. She sleeps in a small ‘room’ with her parents and four siblings. Rats are frequent visitors.

A year ago her home in Syria was destroyed by the bombings. In the time that followed she moved with her family from place to place, one of the 1.6 million Syrians who have no fled their war torn country in search of refuge in Lebanon, Jordan and further afield.

By the end of the year, close to 3.5 million Syrians are expected to have fled.

“I used to enjoy writing before but since coming here, after this tragedy” says Reema. “I wake up in the morning and I see children going to school and I cry why don’t I have the right to go to school and I sit here and I remember our home back in Syria before the fighting.”

Clockwise from top: ‘I don’t want my photograph to be taken because I’m afraid that when we go back something might happen to us.’ Reema (not her real name) has been writing moving poetry about her situation and desire to return to Syria. This stark, un-plumbed room serves as a toilet and bathroom for Reema, 12, and her family in Tripoli, Lebanon. Remma shares her story with Oxfam Communications Officer, Jane Beesley. Photos: Sam Tarling / Oxfam.
 

A year ago it was destroyed by the bombings. Now she is one of 750,000 young Syrian refugees.

“I miss my friends,” she says, “I miss my teachers. I miss my classes, my English classes, my Arabic classes, my music classes. Now I’m just sitting here every day.”

She spends her spare time writing poetry, remembering her home and longing to go back to it. 

This is part of one of them:

When I take my pencil and notebook,
What shall I write about?

Shall I write about my school,
my house or my land of which I was deprived?

My school, when will I visit you again
take my bag and run to you?

My school is no longer there
Now, destruction is everywhere
No more students
No more ringing bells
My school has turned into stones scattered here and there

Shall I write about my house that I no longer see
where I can no longer be,
Shall I write about flowers which now smell destruction?
Syria, my beloved country
Will I ever return back to you?
I had so many dreams
None of them will come true
 

Clockwise from top: Reema's shoes, the only items other than her clothes she took with her from Syria. Reema's sketchbook. Reema's notebook. Photos: Sam Tarling / Oxfam.

Reema’s family will receive two payments of $150 dollars as part of Oxfam’s cash transfer programme. This money is intended to help families like Reema’s pay their rent over the next two months.

Families like hers are in desperate need of shelter, food, water and medical care. We're scaling up our response to help families through the coming months.

Please give what you can today.

May 28, 2013

May First impressions mask difficult reality of life in a Syrian refugee camp

28
2013

Before I arrived in Jordan, Zaatari Refugee Camp in my mind had taken on almost mythical proportions. I had heard that it was initially constructed to accommodate a population of 35,000 but was now rumoured to have a registered population of more than 130,000. And frighteningly, not the largest refugee camp in the world.

As I approached by car, it seems strange to say but I was disappointed by first impressions. Zaatari refugee camp sits atop a relatively flat landscape not far from the Syrian border and without an aerial view the sense of scale I had imagined was impossible to view.

 

Above: The Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan is a sprawling city with rows of tents as far as the eye can see. Anastasia Taylor-Lind/Oxfam

Surrounded by a high wire fence for security, it appears orderly with its seemingly evenly spaced rows of regulation refugee tents. It is solid underfoot too with crushed stone to prevent muddying caused by vehicles and human traffic in winter rain. And either side of the road that leads from the main entrance is a remarkable array of market stalls selling everything from fruit, vegetables and cooked food to clothes and toys and household basics sourced from local traders outside the camp. The refugees from Syria have proven themselves to be remarkably self-reliant and resourceful.

“It doesn’t seem that bad,” a companion commented. Indeed there is much about Zaatari that on first appearances “doesn’t seem that bad”…if the alternative is to be trapped in a bitter conflict that has left an estimated 70,000 dead and forced another 6 million (yes, million) people to flee their homes.

First impressions too of course can be deceptive and as the morning and hours passed, the realities of life in the refugee camp became more apparent…more than anything else the sense of confinement, the restricted space, the lack of opportunity to escape even for just a short time from the heaving bustling hive of activity. 

Clockwise from top:  Clothes drying on a high-wire fence in the camp. Caroline Gluck/Oxfam. Oxfam public health staff put the finishing touches to 95,000 litre water tanks that will considerably increase the water storage capacity in the refugee camp. Karl Schembri/Oxfam. A woman and child gather water in the camp where Oxfam has installed tap stands and towers, latrines, bathing areas, laundry areas, water collection points and wash blocks. Caroline Gluck/Oxfam. Syrian children in the camp share a smile. Karl Schembri/Oxfam. Syrian refugees arrive at the camp, originally built for 35,000 but now accommodating more than 130,000. Caroline Gluck/Oxfam.

And as we moved beyond the road that once formed the main axis of the camp, it is with regret that I say my expectations of scale were finally met. Row upon row upon row of tents dominated the horizon as far as the eye could see. This was no camp. This was a sprawling city, ironically the significance of which is only best understood when you see the enormity of the blank canvas of land that has been cleared to accommodate still more tents and, more recently, prefabs.

Later, faces pressed against the fence outside a health clinic where lines of mothers and young children queued served only again to re-enforce the sense of claustrophobia and suggesting that, despite best efforts, supply of services had outstripped demand. It could hardly be otherwise. 

Organisations like Oxfam are working closely with the refugee population to provide access to the most basic of human needs such as clean water and washing facilities but the scale of need is frankly overwhelming…1,500 people arrive on average each day. I wondered how we in Ireland would cope with such an influx. More importantly still, how do the Syrian refugees cope?

Refugee camps are rarely constructed as homes but places of temporary refuge until it is safe to go home or some alternative option is found. Almost as though lives can be put on hold while diplomats, like economists, trade options...and futures...of those whose recent past, and perhaps even lives, have been comprised of choices few of us could ever even conceive.

As I write now amidst a flurry of international activity to bring about a resolution to the conflict, I hear that the influx of refugees across the border into Jordan has almost ceased. And then the question, why? And quickly the realisation that those in Zaatari are the lucky ones...they were able to flee. And it is then you understand the true meaning of “it doesn’t seem that bad”.

Apr 23, 2013

Apr World’s biggest chocolate companies melt under consumer pressure

23
2013

More sweet news today for chocolate lovers: the biggest chocolate maker in the world, Mondelez International, has agreed to take steps to address inequality facing women in their cocoa supply chains — thanks to pressure from consumers like you.

More than 100,000 people around the world joined our Behind the Brands campaign, signing petitions and taking action to urge Mondelez (which owns Cadbury’s) and its competitors to tackle the hunger, poverty and unequal pay facing many women cocoa farmers and workers. You also made your voices heard by sending messages to the companies on Facebook and Twitter.

 

Today’s announcement by Mondelez follows commitments last month by Mars and Nestlé to address these issues. Together, Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé buy more than 30 per cent of the world’s cocoa — so changes in their policies could have huge effects for cocoa farmers and their families. 

Although they don’t employ or control them directly, they rely on farmers like Etchi Avla (43) in the Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer. She wants to be paid a fair price. “We do our best to do it well, but the price of cocoa is really low. And that makes it hard for us to take good care of our children and it is tiring.” 

 

Clockwise from top:  Etchi Avla on her cocoa farm in Botende, Ivory Coast. “As a woman I know that there are other women in other countries who would like to support us. As a woman when you see another woman is suffering you want to help.”  Portrait of Etchi Avla. The pulp is separated from cocoa. Photos: Peter DiCampo/Oxfam.
 
“Empowering women cocoa farmers has the potential to improve the lives of millions of people, some of whom are earning less than $2 a day,” said Oxfam Ireland’s Chief Executive Jim Clarken. “We hope that the steps taken by Mars, Mondelez and Nestle offer an example to the rest of the food and beverage industry that consumers are paying attention to how companies impact the communities they work in.”
 
Mars, Mondelez and Nestlé are now taking the first steps to commit to the empowerment of women and to find out how women are being treated in their supply chains. They have committed to work towards signing on to the UN Global Compact’s Women’s Empowerment Principles. And they have agreed to publish the data from first-stage impact assessments in one year’s time and to publish concrete action plans to address the issues. 
 
We’re looking forward to working with Mondelez, Mars and Nestle to ensure they stick to their promises to women. So we can all watch and make sure they stay on track, we have produced a Road Map to highlight all the promises they have made and the dates they have committed to.  
 
You can also stay informed through Oxfam’s Behind the Brands scorecard to see how the giant companies that make your favourite brands (chocolate and otherwise) measure up.
 

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