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My Mum, my hero

From an early age my Mum gave me a taste for adventure and exploration, of the world beyond my doorstep but also the world within – my own potential and my spirituality, to wonder, ignite curiosity, to question, to move from the heart. She gave me courage and taught me that grit goes hand in hand with grace, especially as a woman. Where grit means determination, fearlessness and courage and grace is beauty in action, being impeccable with your word, being kind to yourself and others.

We both share a love for the ocean. My Mum was a surfer when she was in her teens, at a time when surfing wasn’t trendy, cool or mainstream and she was one of very few women doing it in Ireland. A pioneer and rebel going against her parent’s wishes and using all her savings to buy her first surfboard, hiding her first surf injury under a hat for an entire summer because she didn’t want her parents to stop her doing what she loved. Luckily for me, I was actively encouraged to pursue my love for the sea and surf.

I travelled the world with her from an early age. Mum believes in the importance of marking rites of passage in life, the great turning points in our life, on the ‘hero’s journey’. Experiencing new places, people and cultures from such a young age had a huge impact on my life and my worldview. When I was 11, before I finished primary school and began secondary school I went on an adventure with my Mum to Nepal. I say adventure because a part from booking the return flights everything else was an unknown and we lived one day at a time, each day full of possibility, and the unexpected was always to be expected.

Above: Easkey and her mum's return journey to Nepal & Bhutan in 2012. Photos: Easkey Britton / NC Britton.

Nepal opened me to the light and dark of the world – a place where life and death co-existed and were celebrated – milk was used to cleanse the dead and blood was used to cleanse the living. I met lepers and a living goddess, monks and thieves, holy men and con artists, Tibetan refugees and Nepalese Royalty. It was something that both my parents never hide from me – the rawness of life in all its colour. The memories remain the most of vivid of any trip, still. I’ve always been a writer. I find it goes hand in hand with travel and I’ve kept a journal since I was a child. I dug out my journal that I kept when I was in Nepal that first time. Here is an excerpt from my 11 year old self that best captures the essence of that journey with Mum;

Pokhara, November 1997

In the boat on the lake as the sun rises over the Himalayas, burning away the cloud and illuminating the snowy peaks in a blaze of pink and gold. Mammy and I dash back across the lake, pulling hard on the owers, quickly find a taxi driver who is willing to take us up the nearby mountain, up the hair-pin bends. We stop when the road stops and begin our climb.

We climb through the mountain village to the top of the mountain where a mix of souls have gathered in the dawn light to stand in awe before the mighty Himalaya mountains. The pink and golden peak of Macchupichari rising the highest before us, the Annapurnas in the distance. It is a vision that is forever burned into my memory, a sight so beautiful and humbling it would move any being to tears.

Bodhunath, November 1997

Walking around Bodhnath stupa turning prayer wheels, Buddhist monks prostrating, young monks with arms around each other. Drink a lassi on the roof top in the morning mist. Visit a Tibetan tailor and buy little monks clothes for me. This is where they filmed Little Buddha. A poor Nepalese man sat with us on the whitewashed steps telling us his sad story of his dying sister and no medicine or money for doctors. I read in the guidebook to be wary of such scams. He could be lying or telling the truth, it didn’t matter. He was so desperate and we had more than him so Mum gave him the money she had. I don’t think it was enough to fix his problems. It’s like trying to stop a flood by building a dam of pebbles...but I think it is much worse to do nothing at all...

Clockwise from top: Tika Dalarmi at home in Nepal. Tika is recognised everywhere in the village and says her life has been transformed, thanks to Oxfam's Raising her Voice project and the extraordinary efforts of local women themselvesRaising Her Voice is a global project being implemented in 17 countries to try to overcome the widespread marginalisation of women. Oxfam works with partner organisations to promote the rights and ability of poor women to increase their influence and ensure their voices are heard so that those in power, from village leaders to politicians and law-makers, become more accountable to them. Over five years (2007-2012), more than a million women have seen life-changing benefits as a result of the project that changes attitudes towards women and the role they play.Tika holds photos of her husband, who is away working elsewhere in Nepal to earn money for the family during the lean season. Photos: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam. 

These stories show the gifts Mum gave me then - the wonder and beauty of nature, to be in awe at a power greater than ourselves and the importance of gratitude and giving, how even a small act of kindness matters.

I promised I would return the gift by taking my Mum on an adventure when I was old enough to treat her. We left with this knowing deep down that we would return. In 2012, after 15 years of saving and submitting my PhD I took Mum back to Nepal and across the Himalayas into the Buddhist mountain kingdom of Bhutan, the land of Gross National Happiness. When we travel together and share experiences like that it doesn’t feel like we are mother and daughter, more like best friends – sharing and challenging the best in each other be it scaling mountains 10,000ft high to a ‘tiger’s nest’ or receiving blessings from reincarnated lamas, braving the local chilli dish or learning how to shoot arrows. We find where our strengths are and how we can support each other, for example, when Mum goes shopping I do the bargaining or when I want to get up close and personal to a wild rhino, Mum (tries) to hold me back.

On International Women’s Day I had the opportunity to collaborate with my Mum on a health and wellbeing course she is running with a local community group. It was such a special and powerful thing to share, to be in my Mum’s work space and to see her in her element. How she makes the space so welcoming and sacred, with such care and attention, the love and gratitude shared by the participants. I was there to share my story and to talk about ‘exploring our true potential,’ a path Mum and I have been on all our lives and will continue to travel on together. 

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547,000 thank yous from the Philippines

Three months on since Typhoon Haiyan wreaked devastation across the Philippines on November 8th, we'd like to share this video with you as a thank you for your generosity during our emergency appeal. Across the island of Ireland, we raised more than €300,000/£250,000 and 100% of every donation has gone to our specific response.

Oxfam has reached 547,000 people with life-saving aid. We couldn't do any of this without your incredible support.  

Our response

Our immediate response focused on Northern Cebu, Leyte and Eastern Samar. Our teams faced huge logistical challenges - roads were blocked, airports closed, and electricity and water supplies cut off. But, by the end of the first week, people devastated by the typhoon were already receiving essential supplies of water, food and shelter. 

We're now focusing on longer term support, helping people get their livelihoods back, for example by repairing fishing boats or distributing rice seeds.

Thank you for standing in solidarity with the people of the Philippines during this most of difficult of times.

Once again, a massive thanks to everyone who supported this appeal. Once you've watched the video please share on Facebook and Twitter to show your friends why you support Oxfam Ireland.

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On the ground in the Philippines

Those left homeless by the devastating super typhoon Haiyan are being empowered to choose the best type of assistance for their families. 

Filipino communities are working with Oxfam to carry out vital repair work to their homes. Oxfam is helping the communities to feed their families and purchase essential items, enabling the individuals to focus on rebuilding their lives.

Oxfam humanitarian manager Colm Byrne (pictured below right) is on the ground in Brgy Baigad on the island of Bantayan where he can see first-hand how this approach is transforming communities.

Colm said: “What is different about this form of response is it gives people a choice to determine what sort of assistance they need because every family, every individual, has different needs and priorities. If we treat everyone as a homogenous group then everybody would get the same form of assistance. But the assistance Oxfam is providing recognises everyone’s needs are different – just the same as families in Ireland."

Photos: Sorcha Nic Mhathúna, Oxfam Ireland

Above right:

  1. Oxfam Ireland Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne with hygiene kits, water tanks and water bladders, just some of the ways Oxfam is supporting hard-hit families on Bantayan Island.
  2. Jonalyn Batayola (25) with her two daughters and niece. She will use the voucher she received to buy nails and wood to rebuild her house.
  3. Clearing the debris in Brgy Baigan on Bantayan island.

Above left:

  1. Young children play amidst the debris in the village of Brgy Baigad.
  2. School children at Mojon Elementary School on Bantayan Island.
  3. Family members stand outside their damaged home on the island of Bantayan.
  4. Community members in Brgy Baigad clear debris.

Latest figures show 5,680 people were killed when Haiyan – known locally as Yolanda – swept through the Philippines on November 8. More than 11 million people were affected with around four million of these losing their homes.

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Christmas gifts that will help change lives

Here at Oxfam Ireland, we are already getting excited for Christmas. It’s the time of year when we unveil our latest Oxfam Unwrapped gift range, and show off our great Christmas gifts!  

We have 14 unique gift ideas that will help you get Christmas "in the bag" early this year! The new  Oxfam Unwrapped catalogue is bursting with fantastic gifts like our cute goats, cheerful chicks or knowledge-filled school books.

Unwrapped gifts help change lives. Take our bestselling Clutch of Chicks.  No-one expects to buy a little chick and help local families in Tanzania to feed, thrive and survive. But that’s what makes our unwrapped gifts so special!

Clockwise from top: The gift of a Clutch of Chicks will help people like Liku Simon (36), Maheda Gwisu (42) and their children who live in the Maswa district in Tanzania.After joining an Oxfam-supported project, they learnt about good farming practices including disease control. The family have now managed to increase their number of chickens from five to 70 and have also expanded their crops and livestock, allowing them to diversify the family’s source of income. Photo: Oxfam The gift of Care for a Baby will help families like Adoaga Ousmane and her children. A widow aged 45, the mum of six (pictured) was caught up in the West Africa food crisis that struck Chad in 2012. providing what’s needed most in emergency situations around the world, including water, sanitation, shelter and food. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam The gift of Support for a Woman in Business you could help women like Godelive Nyirabakobwa (58) and 800 others like her in Rwanda who have set themselves up as successful pineapple sucker growers and sellers thanks to an Oxfam-supported project. Photo: Simon Rawles/Oxfam

You see, giving your  loved one the Clutch of chicks gift will help raise money for Oxfam’s Livelihoods fund. This fund supports a wide range of life-changing programmes that help vulnerable communities who depend on healthy animals for their livelihoods.

Your gift could help families like Liku Simon (36) and Maheda Gwisu (42) in Tanzania who can make a living and support their children thanks to the Unwrapped appeal. Liku and Maheda rely on chicken farming for their livelihood and often lost some of their flock to various diseases. 

After joining an Oxfam-supported project, they learnt about good farming practices including disease control. The family have now managed to increase their number of chickens from five to 70 and have also expanded their crops and livestock, allowing them to diversify the family’s source of income.

So now we’re asking you to consider us again this Christmas, to unlock the potential of little chicks or any of our other Oxfam Unwrapped gifts and help a family like Liku’s and Maheda’s thrive. Whatever gift you choose, we guarantee you'll be making your friends and family smile and giving people across the world a happier, brighter future.

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Aid now getting through in the Philippines but challenges remain

I am this morning in Cebu City, readying to move out mid-morning with an aid distribution of hygiene kits (toothbrushes, soap, blankets) and water kits (storage containers, water treatment solution) to Daanbantayan, northern Cebu. 

Even though access is now improving, health concerns continue to increase, with urgent need for safe drinking water and medical assistance, especially in Leyte and Samar.

 

Our teams have returned from four days of assessment and say that what they have seen is deeply troubling. Two teams are left there as the chopper could not land due to the torrential rains. Their food rations are short but they are fortunate to have the option of leaving soon. 

Clockwise from top: Life-saving aid being loaded onto lorries from Oxfam's distribution centre. These hygiene kits include items such as toothbrushes, blankets, underwear and soap. The Oxfam bucket has been used in our emergency response around the world. It has a built-in cap and spigot (part of the tap) to keep water clean. These amazing 'life saver' boxes are a new addition to Oxfam's emergency kit. When the handle is pumped, the built-in filter turns dirty water into water that is safe to drink.

People are lined up in Tacloban we are told, waiting for emergency food distribution, in the torrential rains. There are reports of security problems and looting, but also that people are ‘getting stuff because they need it – they are sharing stuff around.’ 

As the days grow and basic requirements are held up, inevitably and understandably people’s capacity to cope will erode. Clean water, food and shelter – the absolute basics are critical.

Above: Oxfam Eastern Samar Rapid Assessment Team covering the areas of Barangay Batang for emergency drinking water distribution and an assessment of Guiuan Poblacion. Photos: Jire Carreon

There are always stories that are heartening and give you hope out of this horror. Oxfam is bringing in many items of aid, including hygiene kits, water kits, clean up tools and other things. 

Local people active in relief efforts

Cebu resident Mani Osmena and her family have donated their Cebu warehouse to Oxfam to help get aid speedily dispatched to typhoon-affected areas.

She said: “Everybody needs help, and this is the least we could do. Why does a charity need to pay [for warehouse space] when they are only giving to help the needy?”

Her family is also identifying volunteers to go out with the workers to help with the disbursement of emergency hygiene kits. 

They are keen to help with logistics where they can. The aid community is in town, but we should not forget the strong civil society groups and the many amazing people directly and indirectly affected themselves who also are rising to the challenge of this disaster.

You can help by donating here, calling 1850 30 40 55 (Republic of Ireland) or 0800 0 30 40 55 (Northern Ireland) or making a donation at your local Oxfam shop.

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