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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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Talking tax – it’s anything but boring

Above: L-R Volunteer campaigners Lynsey Burrows, Grace De Bláca and Oxfam's Mary Quinn join activists in Amsterdam to call for action on tax-dodging and inequality.

Last month over 80 activists from Europe and across the world came together for a two day conference in the Netherlands with one shared goal: to change the way tax works. 

Lynsey Burrows from Northern Ireland travelled to Amsterdam along with fellow volunteer campaigner Grace De Bláca and Oxfam Ireland's Campaigns and Public Outreach Executive Mary Quinn. They joined the group working to tackle issues like tax dodging which robs countries of vital funds needed for essential services like health and education.

Lynsey shares her thoughts on the difficulty of communicating such an important but complex issue: 

In March, I was extremely excited to be able to attend the Tax Justice Together conference in Amsterdam with Oxfam Ireland. The tax justice movement is one of the largest social justice movements of the past few years and it is gaining momentum all the time. The conference was an opportunity for activists from all around the world to meet and discuss how best we can continue to work together to campaign for change to the global tax system. 

Within hours of arriving at the conference it became clear that there was one common problem we all faced when campaigning on tax justice in our communities: tax justice sounds boring. Unless you work in the financial industry or are a ‘tax justice nerd’ (the sort who is extremely excited to attend tax justice conferences...) anything to do with tax sounds dreary, dull and complicated. 

And it can be all of those things. Phrases like ‘tax treaties’, ‘capital gains’ and ‘bilateral investments’ are not the most easy to relate to when trying to talk to people about why tax matters. But there was also a very clear and urgent issue that any Oxfam supporter can relate to: 

Tax injustice sustains poverty – as long as there is an unfair tax system, there will be poverty. 

Without any jargon or financial knowledge needed, we can all understand that anything that maintains poverty or makes it worse is something we need to fight against. 

Developing countries are losing billions every year because of tax injustice. Tax injustice has many aspects to it and I am going to focus on just one of those. One of the main culprits is multinational companies avoiding paying tax – tax dodging. They do this through schemes such as tax treaties. Put very simply (because I don’t want to bore you but mainly because I’m not an expert either) tax treaties are an agreement between two countries to avoid paying double tax. 

So, if one multinational company (let’s call them WeLoveMoney) is registered in two countries that have a tax treaty, they will only have to pay tax in one of those counties. WeLoveMoney operates and makes an awful lot of money (which they love, hence the name) in one of those countries, the country that is developed and wealthy. But they are also registered in the developing country, where they don’t make much money but source or create their product. Can you guess which country they choose to pay their taxes in?

So because of perfectly legal loopholes, WeLoveMoney pays a very small amount of tax in the developing country where it is also generating profit and that country's government does not get its fair share of tax - money that is needed to help pay for healthcare, education and essential public services. Without the money they’re rightfully owed, poverty continues. 

The rights and welfare of the some of the poorest people in the world are being harmed by the current global tax system.  So if you hear me and other activists talking about tax, we’re really talking about poverty, about injustice and about inequality. 

And that’s not boring. 

#MakeTaxFair

Tax activists on tour | #MakeTaxFair

We've got four very special guests coming to Ireland next week - tax campaigners from Malawi, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia. These activists work tirelessly to change the policies and structures that allow rich individuals and multinational companies to avoid paying the tax they owe. You can meet them in person in Dublin and Belfast (details below).- Dublin (April 16): http://bit.ly/1USs2Me- Belfast (April 19): http://bit.ly/23u29DX

Posted by Oxfam Ireland on Sunday, April 10, 2016

 
#MakeTaxFair tour with Tax Justice Together: We've got four very special guests coming to Ireland this April - tax campaigners from Malawi, Kenya, Nigeria and Zambia. These activists work tirelessly to change the policies and structures that allow rich individuals and multinational companies to avoid paying the tax they owe. You can meet them in person in Dublin (April 16) and Belfast (April 19).

Why tax matters?

The impact of an unfair tax system should not be measured in numbers and facts – but in its shocking human impact. 

When countries don't receive the money they are owed in tax, people suffer. Children can't go to school, parents work hard but it doesn't pay so their families still go to bed hungry at night, communities living in poverty don't have a say in the decisions that affect them. Inequality grows and poverty is made worse.

Clockwise from left: 1. Munni stands beside an open drain in Horijon Polli, the slum where she lives with her family. 2. Munni at work – despite working hard every day, Munni dreams of work that really pays. 3. Munni cooks breakfast with her two-year old son.  Photos: Adrian Lloyd/Oxfam

Munni Basfur lives with her husband and four children in one room in Horijon Polli, a densely-populated slum in Bangladesh that is home to approximately 6,000 people. Oxfam is working with partners there to improve public health facilities, rebuilding toilets and sanitation systems as well as building new bathing blocks. 

For people like Munni, the effects of inequality are felt on a daily basis. Munni works incredibly hard every day to make ends meet – as a cleaner in a company and then again in a local government office.

And yet still she dreams of job security: “I call my job a “one/two job”. One: today I have it. Two: tomorrow I don’t.”

Help make change happen for people like Munni. Take action today.

Oxfam Ireland's tax justice project is funded by the European Union

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Support women worldwide this International Women’s Day

Above: With your support, we can invest in more life-changing programmes for women like Irene. Once a struggling farm labourer, she has joined a group of women to set up a successful banana farming enterprise supported by Oxfam. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam

If you are born a girl, you’re more likely to be living in poverty, be worst affected when emergency strikes and have fewer resources, rights and opportunities than men.

That is why our programmes support women to claim their rights and make decisions that affect their lives. We also work with communities to break down the long-held prejudices behind domestic violence, e.g. through the ‘We Can’ campaign in Tanzania which has seen over 350,000 men and women pledge to end domestic violence in their communities.

We also address the lack of education and opportunities with loans, seeds, tools, better farming techniques and business training, helping thousands of women in countries like Rwanda to grow more food, set up businesses and make goods that they can market themselves.

This International Women’s Day (Tuesday, March 8th), join Oxfam in celebrating women everywhere. 

Ending poverty starts with women – because their strength, resilience, tenacity and vision are the key to creating lasting change in their communities. For example, if women were given equal access to agricultural resources they could grow enough extra food to feed more than 100 million of the world’s hungriest people.

Yet every day, women’s efforts to escape poverty are blocked by discrimination and inequality. Women routinely face violence, abuse and unequal treatment at home, at work and in their wider communities.

That’s why we need your help to continue to give girls and women greater opportunities so that they can shape their own futures. By supporting our work worldwide, you will enable us to continue to help women and girls fight discrimination and overcome poverty.

IRENE’S STORY

By helping a woman through Oxfam, you help her immediate family and her community, generation after generation.

Irene Muzukira (42), once a struggling farm labourer in Zambia, has turned her life around. An Oxfam training programme gave her and other members of the Kabwadu Women’s Farming Group a life-changing opportunity to grow their own bananas.

Investment in a hydro-powered pump, solar-powered fencing and training means that their banana plantation is thriving in this hot climate.

The days when Irene and her two children went to sleep hungry are gone and, unlike Irene’s own parents, she can invest in their education. And the project’s success is felt in the wider community; 80 women and their families reap the benefits of this fruitful initiative.

“I feel it’s changing my life,” Irene says. “But I am mindful of others who don’t have what they need. I think change is possible but we need to invest in our children.”

Female heroes like Irene are working tirelessly every day to care for their families and improve their communities.

Please support them to change their world by lifting them out of extreme poverty.

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A Guide to Fundraising for Oxfam Ireland

From bake sales and ‘zumba-thons’ to 50km hikes, people all over Ireland – north and south - generously give their time and talent to fundraise for Oxfam Ireland.
 
Why not join them? Here’s our guide to fundraising to help you get started.
 
1. Why take part in a fundraising event?  
 
Oxfam is a global movement of people who won’t live with the injustice of poverty. We believe it’s possible to live together in a fairer world. One in which everyone has enough food to eat, easy access to clean water and can provide for their families. One in which people are safer and better able to recover from crises and disasters and can influence the decisions that affect their lives, exercising their rights as full citizens of the world. 
 
By fundraising for Oxfam Ireland, you are joining that movement, becoming the local link in a global network of people building a brighter future now. Your vital support will save lives in emergencies, help people build better lives through our long-term development projects and transform communities through our campaigns for lasting change.
 
Taking part in a sponsored challenge or organising your own fundraising event is easy and anything goes – walk, run, cycle, hike, climb, make music, make cakes or make coffee – just enjoy getting together!  
 
 
2. Choosing an event
 
From sponsored coffee mornings to a fundraising music gig, there are lots of fundraising ideas to choose from. To give you some inspiration, here's our A to Z of fantastic fundraising ideas if you’d like to organise your own event. If you would prefer to take part in an already organised event and would like to raise funds for Oxfam via sponsorship, check out our full list of organised upcoming events
 
Remember to choose something you’ll enjoy, and that will be popular with others! It is also worth bearing in mind that simple raffles at one-off events usually don’t require a licence, however, if you are selling tickets in advance of the event you may need one so it’s best to check at your local Garda or police station. 
 
If you've any questions or need any support in your efforts, please get in touch here.
 
3. Organising or registering for the event
 
If organising your own event make sure you allow enough time to prepare before setting the date. Making a checklist of everything you need to pull off the event, including people to help,  is a good way of ensuring you don’t miss anything and that everything gets done!
 
If taking part in an established event, such as the One World Run in Belfast, the Dublin Marathon or the VHI Ladies Mini Marathon, make sure to register for the event in advance, you will find links to do so on our upcoming events page
 
Once you have organised or registered for your event, the next step is to create an online fundraising page so people can donate easily online. Your page can be personalised so you can tell people exactly what you are doing and why! Friends and family can easily share the page to their social media networks and by email to help you raise awareness of your event. We can also send you sponsorship forms if you would like to raise funds offline as well.
 
4. Promoting your event and raising awareness
 
Add a title, image, fundraising goal and description to your online fundraising page. 
 
 
Get sharing! Ask friends, family, colleagues and even acquaintances to pass on news about your fundraising and share your online fundraising page - word of mouth is a powerful tool (especially with the help of online social networks such as Facebook and Twitter!).
 
Get in touch – let us know what your fundraising plans are and we’ll help you in whatever way we can with additional fundraising resources! We can provide you with a complete fundraising pack that includes posters, t-shirt(s) and other materials to help you build awareness for your event.
 
Take lots of pictures or ask your family or friends to take photos of you. If you send them to us we may be able to help you promote the event.
 
Just before the event, why not send a quick reminder text that may help raise last minute funds!
 
 
5. Have fun!
 
Whatever you decide to do to raise vital funds for us, we hope you have lots of fun!
 
6. Lodging your money
 
If you have decided to fundraise offline as well as online, there are several ways you can lodge the funds. You can lodge the funds raised to your bank account and then make a transaction:
 
Online - add donations to your online fundraising page so as offline funds are included in your total and count towards your goal or you can simply make a single donation on our website.
 
By phone - Call +353 (0) 1 672 7662 to get through to our Dublin office or you can call +44 (0) 28 9023 0220 to get through to our Belfast office.
 
By post – send a cheque to our Dublin office:
Oxfam Ireland, 2nd Floor, Portview House, Thorncastle Street, Ringsend, Dublin 4 
Or to our Belfast office: Oxfam Ireland, 115 North Street, Belfast BT1 1ND, Northern Ireland.
 
7. Say thank you
 
Afterwards, thank everyone who helped with you fundraise and those that donated. 
 
We wish you the every success with your fundraising activities – and remember, we’ll help you every step of the way!
 
 
Local school children from Amankwatia village, Ghana. Photo: Cam Cope/Oxfam
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#GE16: Rising inequality is a key election issue for 8 out of 10 people in Ireland

As voters in the Republic of Ireland prepare to go to the polls on Friday February 26th, a new survey by Oxfam Ireland has found that 8 out of 10 (81%) people want politicians to make inequality a key issue in the general election. 
 
82% agree that the next Taoiseach should prioritise tackling inequality in the new programme for government, specifically addressing tax dodging, equal pay and access to healthcare. 
 
Above left: Back row from left - Bríd Smith (Anti Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit), John Lyons (Labour), Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken, Lorraine Clifford-Lee (Fianna Fáil) and Eoin Ó Broin (Sinn Féin). Front row - Carol Hunt (Independent Alliance) and Director of National Women’s Council of Ireland Orla O'Connor. Above right: Jim Clarken and Orla O’Connor with economist David McWilliams who hosted the Make Equality #1 event focusing on economic and gender equality. Photos: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
 
This widespread opinion stems from the broader concern that Ireland is becoming a more unequal place – the survey revealed almost 8 out 10 (79%) of Irish people believe the gap between the richest and the rest of society is widening. 
 
The Empathy Research nationwide survey was launched today at the Make Equality #1 pre-election event hosted by Oxfam Ireland and the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) and was chaired by economist David McWilliams with general election candidates Lorraine Clifford-Lee (Fianna Fáil), Carol Hunt (Independent Alliance), John Lyons (Labour), Eoin Ó Broin (Sinn Féin) and Bríd Smith (Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit) debating economic and gender inequality.

You can listen to the full 'Make Equality 1' debate below.

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken says: “This survey confirms that rising inequality is clearly at the forefront of Irish people’s minds as they prepare to go the polls. We live in a world where the richest 1% own more wealth than everyone else put together. Ordinary working families are up against odds that are impossible to beat and poorer people are paying the biggest price for rapidly increasing inequality.
 
“Every day Oxfam works to close the inequality gap from the bottom up by helping people to lift themselves out of poverty. Today, along with the people of Ireland, we demand more action in closing the gap from the top down too, tackling a toxic tax system, ensuring quality services for all and closing the gender pay gap. 
 
“Inequality is not inevitable – it is the result of policy choices. The upcoming general election offers an important opportunity to shape a recovery that includes everyone.”
 
Director of National Women’s Council of Ireland Orla O'Connor says: “NWCI are calling on the next Government to prioritise equality budgeting and serious investment in public services. Tackling violence against women, delivery of quality health and maternity services, and providing a universal pension are all essential for women’s equality and all dependent on the resources being invested. There is a real danger that parties which focus on short-term tax cuts will not be in a position to deliver that investment.  
 
 
“Equal pay is a major concern highlighted in the survey and in Ireland the gender pay gap has actually risen. A majority of those on low pay or insecure part-time contracts are women with 50% now earning €20,000 or less. This negative spiral must be halted and reversed. Whichever parties form the next Government they must legislate against precarious work, support a living wage and attach strong employment, equality and environmental standards to public spending while also promoting gender balance in senior roles.”
 
84% of Irish adults believe that women in Ireland being paid over 14% less than men is unfair – with women stronger in this belief than men (92% vs. 74%).
 
The NWCI is calling for an end to the gender pay gap to be named as a goal within the new programme for government.
 
The survey also shows growing concern about large-scale tax dodging with more than 8 out of 10 (86%) of Irish people believing that big companies and wealthy individuals are using tax loopholes to dodge paying their fair share of taxes. 83% agreed that tax dodging means vital public services like schools and hospitals in Ireland and across the world are suffering.

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