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Andrew Trimble meets refugees in Tanzania: ‘They’re focusing on making each day count’

Just over a week after returning home from the Ireland rugby tour in South Africa in the summer I found myself heading back to the same continent but for very different reasons.
 
Most of the people on the flight to Tanzania were heading there to climb Mount Kilimanjaro or go on safari. I was travelling with Oxfam Ireland to meet people affected by a crisis that’s totally off the world’s radar.
 
In the past year, over 130,000 people have fled their homes in Burundi because of unrest and crossed into neighbouring Tanzania.
 
It was my first time in this kind of situation and naturally you feel a bit self conscious – a rugby player walking around a refugee camp.
 
You’re aware of how you stand out. The people in the camp were very welcoming, but probably wondering who this bloke was and why he was having his photo taken beside the water pumps and the sanitation facilities!
 
 
Oxfam Ireland ambassador Andrew Trimble at an Oxfam water treatment tank supported by Irish Aid at the Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Bill Marwa/Oxfam
 
Travelling through the camp, you’re very aware that everybody you see – the adults, the children, even the volunteers working with Oxfam – are refugees.
 
We heard stories of husbands and wives who got separated on the journey to safety, or ended up in different camps hours from each other and unable to reunite.
 
The two camps we visited – Nyarugusu and Nduta in the north west of Tanzania - were different to how I expected. Dry season means red dust was everywhere – and it’s still on my shoes some time later back home in Belfast.
 
There are rows and rows of tents, but there is also shade and vegetation thanks to the trees. Some people have started to plant vegetables near their tents. The trees offer important protection from the sun for the children who study at the camp’s outdoor school.
 
Others are in school buildings and we visited one where the kids seemed to be enjoying school a lot more than I used to! They were full of smiles. You got the sense that going to school was at least providing them with some normality; something familiar, even if just for a few hours each day. Their teachers are also refugees, trying to keep going; knowing that educating these children is key to their future.
 
 
Children enjoying a lesson on rugby by Oxfam Ireland ambassador Andrew Trimble at a school in the Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Bill Marwa/Oxfam Oxfam Ireland ambassador Andrew Trimble with Irakoze* and Zebunissa* during a rugby lesson by Andrew at a school in the Nduta refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Bill Marwa/Oxfam
 
With a few rugby balls brought from home, I tried to show them what rugby had to offer. It was a fun afternoon, and one brave girl put up her hand to volunteer to try to tackle me. You could almost forget that these children have witnessed harrowing things. In that moment the kids are like any other group of children – laughing, smiling and simply wanting to play.
 
But children have to grow up quickly here, like the five-year-old girl I saw carrying her baby brother, or the boy – no more than a year and a half – fetching water by himself. And that’s when it struck me, he’s the same age as my wee fella Jack, just out picking up water from the tap by himself. That’s the contrast.
 
This time last year the picture of the body of the Syrian child, Alan Kurdi who was aged three, washed up on a beach in Turkey was something that stuck with anybody who saw it. I became a father myself shortly before that so the impact was increased.
 
More recently we’ve been shocked by the photo of an injured five-year-old boy Omran Daqneesh sitting in an ambulance after an airstrike in Aleppo, Syria. It shows you the level of desperation for people coming from countries where they just need to get out of there.
 
We visited a children’s centre, a place where kids can come and play in safety. They were putting on a play about going to the toilet, as part of an Oxfam project to teach children about staying safe and healthy. It was very funny but with a serious message – diseases like cholera are a real threat in crowded camps so the children need to learn about washing their hands.
 
Their parents welcomed us into the humble tents they call home. They smiled too, but there was a sadness there too.
 
I try to picture what it would be like to leave my house and run for my life, and what I would need to do to keep my family safe.
 
 
Burundian refugees Belange Mugisha* with her one-year-old son Remy Habonimana and husband Habonimana Christophe* meet Oxfam Ireland ambassador Andrew Trimble outside the tent they now call home in the Nduta camp in Tanzania. Asked why they fled Burundi, Habonimana* says: “I was hunted.” The life they had hoped for has not come to pass and it seems like everything is on hold. “Sometimes I feel bad, like crying, when I think of how I couldn’t complete my education,” he says. Yet despite the challenges, they are trying to make the most of their situation. Habonimana* is really passionate about making things better for everyone living in the camp, and has been voted as a community leader for one of the zones. He also works with Oxfam as a community hygiene promoter, while Belange* has a job in one of the camp’s schools.” Photo: Bill Marwa/Oxfam
 
One of the refugees I met was Habonimana Christophe*. He’s 31 like me, and is also married and the proud dad of a one-year-old boy called Remy Habonimana. He showed us inside his tent. He opened up to me about his journey from Burundi and why he had to leave. “I was hunted,” he told me.
 
This is actually his second time living the in the Nduta camp. He arrived here as a child in 1993 with his family and lived there until 2008. Habonimana found himself back in the Nduta camp this time with his wife and child in November 2015.
 
“This is the first time for my wife to be a refugee,” he says. “It wasn’t easy for her.”
 
Habonimana is really passionate about making things better for everyone living in the camp, and has been voted as a community leader for one of the zones, volunteering his time. He also works with Oxfam as a community hygiene promoter, while his wife has a job in one of the camp’s schools.
 
Both Habonimana and his wife have diplomas in language studies. He was planning on graduating with a degree at university in Burundi before life changed so radically. 
 
The life he hoped for has not come to pass. Everything is on hold.
 
“Sometimes I feel bad, like crying, when I think of how I couldn’t complete my education,” he says. Inside his tent are his certificates.
 
“Whenever I chat with relatives and friends that are in other countries and in universities, I feel bad as my life has already bust as I have my certificate that allows me to go to university. But I will live here for the rest of my life.”
 
Yet he’s focusing on making each day count – and I am in awe of how he and his wife have managed – coming here under pressure and raising a child.
 
That spirit and determination to keep going despite the odds was something I felt throughout the camp.
 
I met a group of men and women who had been tailors in Burundi. They got together in the camp with the idea of starting a business together. Oxfam provided them with machinery, equipment and a building.
 
 
Rugby player and Oxfam Ireland ambassador Andrew Trimble tries on a handmade jacket which fits his shoulders but not quite his arms during a visit to a tailors’ workshop set up by Burundian refugees with the support of Oxfam at the Nyarugusu refugee camp in Tanzania. Photo: Mary Mndeme/Oxfam
 
With the old school Singer sowing machines and fabrics in almost every colour under the sun, they were so passionate about their work. The tailors told me that they are hoping lights can be installed in their workshop so as they can work even longer hours.
 
They hadn’t heard of rugby – but they all knew about football. One of the tailors asked if I was wealthy like David Beckham, perhaps hoping I might be in the market for a wardrobe like his!
 
Listening to how people’s lives changed so utterly because of the war made me think about the choices ahead of me when the time comes to retire from rugby. I’m so fortunate to have options. I can’t imagine what it must be like to be stuck on pause, with no idea of if or when your life will begin again.
 
I’m well used to training for the physical strength and stamina needed for rugby, but that’s surpassed by the mental fortitude and resilience shown by the people I met –people just like you and me, but thrown into an extraordinary situation, not of their own making.
 
People with hopes and dreams just like ours, looking for safety and security for their families and kids, a job, a home, a future.
 
It also made me think about our responsibilities towards helping refugees. The one greeting I heard over and over again wherever we went was ‘karibu’, which means welcome. This attitude towards welcoming strangers helps explain why Tanzania has become a safe haven for refugees fleeing Burundi.
 
It’s incredible to think that this developing country, where there is still widespread poverty, has opened its doors to refugees.
 
This is despite the challenges it faces. During the long journey on dirt roads, I saw children walk barefoot, women walking for miles to fetch water and men pushing bicycles up hills laden with heavy loads. Despite this, Tanzania has welcomed refugees for decades – many of the people I met were actually refugees twice over.
 
You hear it time and again, but it’s truly an eye-opening experience to do a trip like this. When you come back home, you think about everything you take for granted. Simple things, like being able to turn on a tap to get clean water or have electricity and heat at the flick of a switch. Also the freedom to move about, to have a home, to work and to be with your loved ones.
 
The work I saw by Oxfam is genuinely saving and changing lives. It is a strange feeling to be temporarily planted into a world so alien; to have strangers who have lost everything smile at you and tell their life story, and young children whose futures are so uncertain put on an incredible performance of song and dance to welcome us visitors from Oxfam Ireland.
 
But perhaps the strangest feeling of all was to stand in a place of such sadness and find myself so inspired.
 
Andrew Trimble is an Oxfam Ireland ambassador.  

 

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6 tips for a charitable wedding day

Your wedding day is a time to celebrate love, happiness and good fortune. For many couples, incorporating some ethical elements or charitable giving into their special day is a great way to spread the love even further by helping those who need it most.
 
Here are our top tips for a wedding day that gives back:
 

1. Visit Oxfam Bridal

 
Buying your dress at one of Oxfam Ireland’s bridal shops makes a real and lasting difference by raising vital funds for our work worldwide, from making sure communities have clean, safe water when disaster strikes, to helping female farmers grow more crops or getting more girls into school.
 
Our Oxfam Bridal boutiques on George’s St in Dublin and on Main St in Bangor offer a wide range of mostly brand-new dresses and accessories for your big day. You can browse the rails and try on dresses – accessories and shoes too! – in private and in comfort with the undivided attention of our staff.
 
Contact our Oxfam Bridal boutiques to make an appointment.
 
 
Photo: Darren Fitzpatrick / Oxfam
 

2. Wedding Favours

 
Wedding favours are now available from Oxfam Ireland! The money raised through the sale of wedding favours supports our work worldwide, from saving lives in emergencies and helping people build better lives through long-term development work to speaking out on the issues that keep people poor.
 
Why not gift “calorie-free Chocolate” to your guests? This favour comes in packs of 10 and can be placed at table settings during dinner. Inside each card a blank space allows you to add your own personal message to your guests. Our wedding favour cards can be ordered online and cost €50 / £40 per pack – order yours today!
 

3. Wedding Donation Certificates (in lieu of favours)

 
If you would prefer to make a donation to Oxfam Ireland in lieu of wedding favours, you will receive a certificate which you can print off and place on tables or in a frame at your reception.
 
 

4. Create a Charity Gift Register

 
This is a very popular way to give back. As many couples already live together and have all the household items they need, instead of creating a wedding list, they suggest guests make a donation to Oxfam Ireland. It’s easy! You create an online gift register page and share the link with your guests so they can give the gift that gives back on your behalf.
 

5. Donate to our shops

 
When the big day is over, why not make space for Oxfam by donating your wedding dress to Oxfam Bridal? Our shops also take bridesmaid dresses and other accessories too, including those decorations you no longer know what to do with! Donating your pre-loved dresses and other items lessens manufacturing demands and keeps more items out of the landfill. Simply drop your items into your local Oxfam shop or into your nearest donation bank.
 

6. Wedding Vendors

 
Several vendors donate all or a portion of their proceeds to charity. If you’re shopping online, a great way of finding out which retailers give a percentage of your purchase back to charity (at no additional cost to you) is by using services such as HelpFreely. By installing the Helpfreely App on your browser, you can raise funds for Oxfam Ireland simply by signing up and creating a HelpFreely account – get started here!
 
Don’t forget to download our latest free eBook, “10 Tips for the Perfect Ethical Weddings” for more great ideas on how to give back while you plan your special day.
 
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Let Me In - Alicia Keys' powerful tribute to the refugee crisis

What would you do if you were forced to flee your home?

Where would you go?

Alicia Keys recently teamed up with Oxfam and other partners to shine a spotlight on the refugee crisis from a unique viewpoint. Let Me In, a short film which features the moving song ‘Hallelujah’ from Alicia’s upcoming album, re-imagines the refugee crisis on American soil, displacing thousands in the Los Angeles area and forcing them to seek refuge by crossing the border into Mexico.

The campaign is in support of Oxfam, Care and War Child’s ongoing work with refugees and people forced to flee their homes as part of the We Are Here campaign.

Please take a moment to view the film, reflect, and then take action with us via the link below.  We don’t have to be silent on this issue. In fact, we can’t be.

No one is illegal

We all deserve to live in safety. And we all have the right to refuge when our safety and dignity is threatened.

MEET NOUR AND ELIAS

Photo: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam

Nour (28) and Elias* (7) from Syria now live in Kara Tepe camp with the rest of their family – Nour’s husband Fayez and Elias’ three siblings, Zeinah*, Firas* and Rasha*.

The family left Syria because of the war. Fayez explained: “It was really bad, on the day we left it was like hell. We didn't have time to pack anything, we left with just the clothes we were wearing.”

Nour said: “The journey was very hard. After we finally reached the coast in Turkey, we had to make the journey by boat at night. It was wooden and leaking water, all of the children were crying. The coastguard rescued us and brought us here.

“We don't have any laughter anymore. Every happiness or joy has disappeared. Our hope for the future is to just be in a safe environment.”

*Names have been changed to protect the person’s identity

MEET FADEH

Photo: Moayed Al-Shaybani / Oxfam

Faedah (35) from Yemen fled with her four children from Taiz city to another village a year ago due to the ongoing conflict in her country. Her husband used to work in a car maintenance workshop. He could not bear the feeling of helplessness so in desperation returned to Taiz to find work. Faedah has not heard from him since.

She explains: “I do not know what happened to my husband and also have no idea what to do. Throughout this period, we have been relying on aid provided from villagers and Oxfam.”

Suffering from hemolytic anemia, Faedah struggles to feed her family and also pay for medicine. She walks for 90 minutes three times a day to bring water from a remote well.

"I hope my kids will lead a secure and easy life. I keep thinking about my four kids and do my best to be strong for their sake."

MEET IRAKUNDA

Photo: Mary Mndeme / Oxfam

Irakunda* is from Burundi and came to Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania with her husband and child last September after seeing someone killed in front of them.

For one month they lived in a mass shelter before receiving the tent that is now their home. This is not the first time Irakunda and her family fled to Tanzania – in 1999 they fled to another camp before returning home.

“Things have changed since I came here,” Irakunda said. “In this camp we receive aid, compared to other camps that we have lived in, but it was difficult living in the mass shelter. In our family tent at least we have more space.”

*Names have been changed to protect the person’s identity

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Be part of the festival crew – volunteer as an Oxfam steward

Summer at Oxfam Ireland means festivals and each year at events across Ireland, a dedicated crew of volunteers generously give their time to help raise awareness and funds for Oxfam’s work worldwide.

STEWARDING

Oxfam stewards in action!

Our volunteers act as stewards at some of Ireland’s biggest music events and festivals, helping festival staff and security teams ensure that everyone has a fun and safe experience. In return, Oxfam Ireland receives a donation from the event organisers towards our work worldwide.

Volunteering as a steward at festivals, events and gigs is a fantastic way to learn about music event management and gain valuable work experience too.

As a steward, you can soak up the atmosphere, watch your favourite artist or band play for free and raise vital funds, from saving lives in emergencies like the current refugee crisis and helping people build better lives through long-term development work to speaking out on the issues that keep people poor. 

Sound too good to be true? Just ask our volunteers about their experience.

SIOBHAN SCURRY, FESTIVAL INTERN AND STEWARD

Siobhan Scurry works the entrance at Longitude, Marlay Park in 2015. 

Stewarding with Oxfam Ireland is the best way I can imagine spending my summer. I have worked at a heap of festivals/concerts for Oxfam including Paul Weller at Royal Hospital Kilmainham and Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, Macklemore and Longitude at Marlay Park and I highly recommend it."

“Stewarding with Oxfam Ireland gives you the opportunity see amazing acts live and meet new people, all while giving you experience in the production of some of Ireland’s biggest summer events and experience working with the people who make them happen." 

“Every year, I have an amazing time! My highlight so far would be catching The Pixies performs ‘Hey’ on my break at Arcade Fire at Marlay Park in summer 2014!” 

RACHEL STOOPS, STEWARD

Rachel Stoops (right) and Molly Stevenson brave the rain at Croke Park for One Direction’s gig in summer 2014. 

“I got into Oxfam Ireland stewarding when a friend recommended it and after hearing how much fun it was I couldn't resist. I went on to the Oxfam Ireland website and put in my details and eagerly waited for an email. 

“I got asked to do various concerts and festivals but my favourite was One Direction at Croke Park, not only was I volunteering with my friend but we were seeing an awesome band. 

“We were selling ponchos for two reasons, the Irish rain and to #TurnCrokerGreen. We ended up raising a good bit of money for Oxfam Ireland’s work worldwide whilst having a great time. 

I couldn't urge people enough to become an Oxfam steward, it is exciting and so worthwhile.”

NATHANAELLA CORNET, STEWARD 

Nathanaella gets ready with the team of Oxfam Stewards at Longitude, Marlay Park in 2014.

“Volunteering with Oxfam Ireland made my summer magical! I did some stewarding and campaigning too. Stewarding was an amazing experience. The security crew working at gigs and festivals welcome you into their family with open arms. Most of them have amazing stories, like Brian who had a cigarette with Faithless’ singer, and so much more!

“All the volunteers are united together by the love of music and the will to change things. Laura O’Leary, Oxfam Ireland’s Public Engagement Executive, and the rest of the Oxfam crew take very good care of us, bringing crisps, water and sun cream (it was needed at one point…).

“I really did not realise I was doing anything except having fun! I had a free ticket to the last day of Longitude but I decided to volunteer instead. Just because I could and because it's so much more fun! Each gigs I attended gave me an incredible smile and energy, even the rain would only make me happier! 

“In two words: DO IT! I know I'll do it again! “

get involved

Applying to be a steward is simple. Just fill in the application form on our website to get started and fill your summer with festivals today.

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“I never thought I’d be a refugee”: From Aleppo to Belfast

“I never thought I’d be a refugee.”
 
So says Ahmad Alissa, a Syrian refugee now living in Belfast who volunteers at Oxfam’s shop on Botanic Avenue. 
 
Born in Aleppo, Ahmad is from a family of four brothers and five sisters who had a comfortable life thanks to their large olive grove farm and also from a business producing materials for the construction industry. 
 
“We had to leave Syria quickly, it took a short time,” he says. Now Syria is empty.” 
 
“When I first left Syria, I thought I’d be a refugee for a maximum of one year… maybe two years,” Ahmad continues. “But that dream is gone now. Now it seems Belfast and Northern Ireland is my home.
 
“When I was first a refugee, I had to learn Turkish, so I learnt Turkish. Then I had to learn Greek. Now I hope English is the last language I will have to learn.” 
 
Ahmad was speaking after the screening of a documentary called District Zero at the Belfast Film Festival’s Better World Fringe section organised by the Coalition of Aid and Development Agencies (CADA NI), an umbrella group of large and small charities based in Northern Ireland, working to tackle poverty and its root causes around the world. 
 
 
 
The story of a Syrian refugee who begins a new life in Jordan’s Zaatari camp is the focus of District Zero, a documentary film co-produced by Oxfam and the European Commission. The film focuses on Maamun Al-Wadi – one of almost 60 million refugees and displaced people worldwide – who runs a mobile phone shop in Jordan’s Zaatari camp. Maamun fixes mobile phones and helps fellow refugees print off photos of happier times. Photos by Pablo Tosco/Oxfam
 
District Zero – a film co-produced by Oxfam and the European Commission – tells the story of Maamun, a Syrian refugee who begins a new life in fixing mobile phones and helps fellow refugees print off photos of happier times.
 
In almost five years Syria has become the epicentre of a massive humanitarian catastrophe, causing 4.6 million people to flee the country for their lives and 6.8 million more to be displaced internally.
 
While each refugee’s story is different – for example, unlike the film’s protagonist, Ahmad left Syria before the conflict because of political persecution, and was never in a refugee camp – the documentary does reflect some heart-breaking universal truths behind the refugee experience. 
 
“No-one wants to be a refugee,” says Colm Byrne, who as Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager has visited refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. “How desperate do you have to be to get into one of those boats looking to cross the Mediterranean? People want to thrive. In Zaatari camp, the people revert to doing what they do at home. They want to move forward, they want to grow.”
 
Ahmad agreed: “Nobody is happy to leave their home. When I was living in a peaceful Syria, I never imagined I would be a refugee. It’s a reminder that, in the wrong circumstances, anyone could end up as a refugee.
 
“Many of the people shown in the film come from lives not dissimilar to people I have met here in Northern Ireland – with families and friends, jobs and homes,” added Ahmad.
 
While Colm agreed with one of the audience members who suggested that the film depicted the best possible refugee experience – with good conditions and economic opportunities – he said: “District Zero shows the heart-breaking reality of refugees in the world. This is as good as it gets for refugees in terms of facilities. You can meet people’s material needs, but in a crisis people want a human connection and a connection to home.
 
“But this fascinating film does take us into the often invisible world of refugees: a world of chaos and uprootedness. It shows us the complex human realities of people who have been driven to extremes, but who, against many odds, still have hope.” 
 
The film gives a face to the daily drama of millions of people and shows that behind every number and every statistic, there is a story to be told. The title of the film evokes the idea of the lives of Zaatari’s inhabitants being suspended or stuck at a ‘Point Zero’ because of the ongoing war in Syria. 
 
“Conflict has forced people to live in these camps with an uncertain future. They remain stuck in limbo, unsure when they will be able to reunite with their families, or go back to their homeland,” Colm added.
 
Also on the panel discussion, chaired by blogger Alan Meban, was Monica McWilliams, a Professor of Women's Studies at Ulster University of Ulster and a renowned expert on women in conflict. Monica has been involved in capacity building of Syrian women's groups in Geneva to bring women's voices into the negotiation process. 
 
Monica told the audience: “When in conflict woman are thrown into extraordinary circumstances and they do extraordinary things. The courage, resilience and coping skills shown in the film touches your heart.
 
“When I saw the baby in the film I wondered, what life it will have in the next four years or the next eight years? Will it have a better life than its mother? Is its father still alive?”
 
 
Clockwise from top: From left: Blogger and panel chair Alan Meban; Ahmad Alissa, with his daughter Sara; Oxfam Ireland Campaigns and Advocacy Executive Christine McCartney, co-organiser and Chair of CADA NI; Monica McWilliams, an expert on women in conflict; Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne. Photo by Kevin Doherty. Ahmad Alissa, a Syrian refugee now living in Belfast, spoke as part of the post-screening panel discussion. Photo by Conor Meikleham. Colm Byrne spoke as part of the panel discussion following the film premiere. Photo by Kevin Doherty 
 
 
To wrap up the event each panellist was asked to recommend a course of action for the international community on Syria and what we here in Ireland, north and south, need to do.
 
Colm Byrne said: “The concept of humanitarianism is one we hold dear yet we’re not responding to the crisis correctly. Europe’s response to the refugee crisis does not reflect a focus based on humanity, it’s a security response. The deal between the EU and Turkey deal is ill-thought through and illegal, contrary to the spirit of international and humanitarian law.
 
“Wealthy states only accommodate 10% of refugees. We have to accept our fair share. We need to directly engage with our politicians to find solutions, to physically open our arms. As communities, rights holders and voters we need to put pressure on our leaders to do our fair share.
 
“And we need to build on our experience of conflict here in Ireland and what we’ve learnt from that.”
 
Monica McWilliams added: “In the future my grandchildren may ask me, ‘Where were you when they were using chemical weapons in Syria? What did the world stand up and say?’
 
“So we need to keep working on a humanitarian and political response using the 1325 National Consultative Group implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions on women, peace and security. And we need to keep Syria high up on the media’s agenda.”
 
Addressing the audience, Ahmad said: “All of you here have seen now what’s happening in Syria. You need to tell your friends and family, everybody must know.”
 
Phillip Graham is a Media and Communications Executive with Oxfam Ireland.
 
The District Zero film is part of the ‘EUsaveLIVES – You Save Lives’ campaign by Oxfam and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), which aims to raise awareness on the lives of almost 60 million refugees and displaced people worldwide.
 
 

District Zero trailer

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