Proving it

World Humanitarian Day: Meet Michelle and Samson

This World Humanitarian Day, meet two inspirational aid workers, supporting people in need through our programmes in Nigeria.
 

Meet Michelle

Michelle Farrington is Oxfam’s specialist in public health during emergencies and is currently working in Rann in North-eastern Nigeria. Last year there was a cholera outbreak in Rann and so Michelle and the team are there helping to make sure that doesn’t happen again. 

Michelle writes: “For the last five months, I have been planning for a possible cholera outbreak in Rann, in North-eastern Nigeria.

Rann is particularly vulnerable to outbreaks: previously a town of approximately 35,000 people, it has now swollen to a population of over 70,000 because of people forced to flee their homes. Rann is already flooded which means people will be cut off from the rest of Nigeria with no access by road when the rainy season is in full swing. This means that NGOs like Oxfam will be unable to bring any supplies – of food, medicine, water treatment chemicals, construction materials for latrines and shelter – into Rann for at least four months.

Preparing for a cholera outbreak involves thinking through worst case scenarios and making a plan to ensure the items we would in case of an outbreak are present - safe water, sanitation and information for people affected. I have been working with colleagues to get supplies to Rann so that the items we need to respond are already in place before the town becomes inaccessible to trucks. We have built over 300 latrines (toilets) for people living in temporary settlements and we are starting to treat water at each water point as a precautionary measure.

It’s not only in Rann that we have been doing these kind of activities; preparing for cholera outbreaks has been happening in all of the places where Oxfam works in North-eastern Nigeria.

We have trained community volunteers in the signs and symptoms of cholera, and taught them how to work with their neighbours and communities to take preventative steps against spreading the disease. The same volunteers will help Oxfam mobilise communities in case an outbreak does happen, and will provide a vital source of communication between Oxfam and communities so we can adapt our response rapidly. 

It has been difficult, especially in Rann. Due to security concerns, Oxfam teams can only access Rann via helicopter three times a week, but everyone has been working hard to ensure we are prepared should a cholera outbreak occur. 

Meet Samson

Like Michelle, Samson is a fellow humanitarian aid worker in Nigeria. Samson works in the government-run Farm Centre camp in Maiduguri, Borno State, Nigeria. It is a camp established by displaced people themselves when they moved into empty unfinished buildings the government was building for government workers. There are also people living in makeshift shelters, especially those who have arrived more recently. Oxfam is providing water, latrines and sanitation in the camp. 

What is Oxfam doing in Nigeria?

With the help of people like Michelle and Samson, Oxfam has been working in north eastern Nigeria since 2015, and over the last year we have expanded our response so that now we are working in eight different locations across Borno and Adamawa states. Some of the areas that we work in – Madagali and Rann – suffered from cholera outbreaks last year, whereas others are already facing outbreaks of other water and sanitation diseases.

Oxfam is also responding to the hunger crisis in north-east Nigeria where over 4 million people are in desperate need of food. So far, Oxfam has helped about 300,000 people affected by the crisis by providing emergency food and cash as well as clean water, sanitation and building showers and toilets. 

Fatem and Khalil: One Syrian family’s journey to Europe

The majority of Syrian refugees who have reached Europe have had to take dangerous, sometimes fatal, journeys across land and sea. But this is a different story, one which shows that there are other ways of providing sanctuary to those fleeing the horrors of war.

Fatem recalls the fear she felt when war broke out in her hometown of Raqqa. “We were living in the heart of the conflict,” she says. “Every time we kissed each other goodnight we thought it could be the last time.” Her husband Khalil couldn’t work after the fighting started. Money became so tight that Fatem, who was expecting their first child, couldn’t even see a doctor. But the final straw came after the birth of their baby boy, Ahmed, and the couple realised that there was no milk in the shops to feed him. ”That was the moment when we clearly realised we couldn’t stay in Syria any more,” says Khalil. He decided to go to Lebanon to find a job and a home – his young family would then follow him. The most precious thing he took with him was a photo album showing happy memories – their wedding, their parents and their beautiful house. 

Fatem, and her husband Khalil and their two children arrive in Rome. Photo: Pablo Tosco / Oxfam

Khalil had to sleep on the streets on his first night in Lebanon. It was a sign – nothing in this country would be easy. For four years the family struggled to make ends meet in their adopted home, a small country with the highest number of refugees per capita in the world, and a place where 70 percent of Syrian refugees live below the poverty line. For Khalil, finding work as an electrician, plumber and painter was difficult, so he still had to borrow money to feed his family, which had grown with the birth of baby Mohamed. Their home was a small, dark room in a town in Mount Lebanon, an hour from Beirut. It was cold and the children often got sick.

One day, Khalil learned from a neighbour that there was a way of travelling to Italy, safely and legally, with a humanitarian visa. After much research, the family met with the Italian organisations working on the “Humanitarian Corridors” programme, an initiative which aims to prevent both dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean and human trafficking. At first, Fatem was sceptical –she never thought they would be selected. But after a couple of interviews they got the good news.

Khalil and Fatem couldn’t sleep the night before their flight to Italy. They’d been counting down the days for months, their suitcases waiting in a corner of their tiny home. Torn by their situation, they shed tears of joy and sadness. They were leaving behind those with whom they had spent the past four years – their cousin’s family, who had welcomed them into their home during their first month in Lebanon, and their neighbours, most of whom were Syrian, and who’d also fled their homeland. Above all, they were moving further away from Syria.

The journey took 24 hours, starting in Beirut and ending in the Tuscan town of Cecina. When they arrived, two social workers from Oxfam brought them to their new temporary home – a flat with a garden. The family learned that they would get money for six months to buy food, medicine and other essentials. They would have WiFi in the apartment and get Italian language lessons. And they would receive help in applying for asylum and looking for work. At the end of the six months, the family would be considered self-sufficient.

“I never imagined we would end up living in Italy. I thought the war would only last for two or three years, but the situation just gets worse,” says Khalil, as he tunes into an Arabic television channel to get the latest news from Syria. “I hope people in Europe don’t think we are terrorists or extremists. We are here because we are running away from them, from the conflict.”

Fatem adds: “We want a future for our children. That is why we are willing to learn a new language and adapt to different customs.” When asked if they would like to go back to Syria when the war ends – if they would like this story to end where it began – Fatem replies: “Of course we will go back. But if a long time passes and my children feel established here, we will only go back to visit. The stability of our family comes first.”

How pineapples are lifting a community out of poverty in Rwanda

Initiatives like the Tazamurance co-operative in Rwanda give female farmers financial independence and optimism for the future.

There was a time when women in Rwanda reaped few rewards from farming – even though they did most of the work. Over the years, however, your support has lifted some of these women out of poverty and given them the incentive to keep growing.

One Rwandan success story is the Tuzamurane Co-operative, which specialises in pineapple farming. Tuzamurane, which means ‘lift up one another’, was set up ten years ago to give female farmers horticultural skills and access to markets and savings schemes.

Valerie Mukangerero’s life has turned around since she joined the co-operative six years ago. Before that, she couldn’t afford to buy a pineapple. Now, though, Valerie (53, pictured below), is earning enough to support her family.

“I had five children plus my husband and me,” says Valerie. “We had limited resources; it was difficult getting enough food.”

Valerie Mukangerero, Rwanda

Valerie Mukangerero walks to her pineapple farm in Rwamurema village in eastern Rwanda. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

All she could buy from the 1,000RWF (€1.15/£0.97) she used to make from selling her old crops (beans, cassava and sweet potatoes) was salt, and kerosene for her lamp. There was nothing left for her family.

“Then I would go back home feeling sad, regretful and saying, ‘I could have bought such and such’, but because of lack of resources, I did not buy it. I wanted to buy fabric, a skirt, shoes; the children at home also needed clothes.

“Then came Mutuelle (health insurance). It was difficult for me to pay for the health insurance. To get treated at the hospital, every child has to pay 3,000 RWF (€3.45/£2.92).”

Paying for healthcare meant Valerie was forced to cut her food bills: “There was a time when they [her family] were hungry. They did not have breakfast and I had to look hard to get lunch for them. I felt sad because when you see a hungry child in your eyes, how can you be happy?”

As soon as she joined the co-operative, however, Valerie realised that things would improve.

“At the first harvest, I earned a little money and I bought small pieces of land. Each time I got 10,000 RWF (€11.45/£9.71), I could buy a few metres and so on. All of my land is a result of the co-operative.”

“I have also built my house. I used to have a small house. After getting money, I added extra rooms and extended it,” says Valerie, who also bought a cow from her earnings.

These days, when Valerie wants to buy something, she does just that: “What makes me proud in life is when I buy clothes or food when my children need it and when I can afford school uniforms without worrying.”

But Valerie’s ambition doesn’t end there – she wants to buy even more land and keep her children in school. With your continued support, she says, life will get even better.

Tuzamurane Co-operative memebers, Rwanda

Theresie Nyirantozi, Valerie Mukangerero, Christine Bangiwiha, Josepha Ayinkamiye and Mukeshimana Leocadie from the Tuzamurane Co-operative. Photo: Aurelie Marrier d'Unienville/Oxfam

Thank you for helping initiatives like the Tuzamurane Co-operative which give female farmers like Valerie financial independence and optimism for the future.

Fighting famine in East Africa, Nigeria and Yemen. Join us.

Across the world, millions of children, women and men are starving due to a devastating food crisis. A catastrophic combination of conflict and drought has left them facing terrifying food shortages – and there is no end in sight.

In Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia in East Africa, more than 19 million people are on the brink of starvation, while war in South Sudan has forced more than 3 million from their homes, and left millions more desperate for food. In February of this year, South Sudan became the first country in the world to declare famine since 2011.  

Photo: Tina Hillier/Oxfam

In the Somali region of Ethiopia, Fadumo lost three of her children – her triplets – to malnutrition when they were less than a month old. 

The 32-year-old farmer said: “They died because of a lack of food – they were malnourished. They were less than one month old. First one child died, then two more. I was afraid.

“How can anyone be happy when they have lost three children?”

Meanwhile, the drought has claimed two-thirds of her livestock.

“I had shoats and camels,” she explained. “Before, I used to have 60 animals, now I just have 20. I have one camel which is still alive.”

Now she fears for the lives of her remaining children and said: “What will they eat? We are getting some help – have some food and water.”

But she added: “We need many things. We need food which is nourishing. Food is our biggest need.”

Elsewhere, parts of Nigeria – where at least 4.4 million people are experiencing crisis levels of hunger – are also thought to be in the grip of famine. However, the situation in the country is so volatile due to conflict that it has been almost impossible to confirm that famine has taken hold.

And in Yemen, ongoing fighting between pro-government and rebel forces has left more than 17 million people on the brink of starvation. Without a massive humanitarian response, it will be impossible to avert famine.

Millions of people – in different parts of the world – have one thing in common: they are all experiencing the devastating impact of severe hunger on a daily basis.

Oxfam is supporting communities facing famine and hunger by distributing emergency food supplies and providing clean water and sanitation as well as providing cash or cash vouchers so people can buy what they need locally, supporting local business. We are working to prevent fatal diseases such as cholera by getting clean water to the most vulnerable, and to support them get their crops growing once again so that they can feed themselves and their families.

We are already helping over one million people in Yemen, more than 600,000 in South Sudan, over 300,000 in Nigeria, 255,000 people in the Southern Somali region of Ethiopia and plan to begin a response to the drought in Somalia.

In situations where hunger and malnutrition are rife, it is usually the children who suffer the most. Even if they manage to survive prolonged periods of extreme hunger, they often pay the price in the long term as they lose their immunity and their ability to fight disease.

Like countless other infants and children in South Sudan, Tabitha’s baby daughter is in danger of becoming severely malnourished. 

Photo: Bruno Bierrenbach Feder/Oxfam

Tabitha’s daughter is sucking on a dry “Tuok” – a dry seed from a type of palm tree which is eaten when there is nothing else left.

Tabitha fled with her baby to seek refuge in Garbek, a small community in Unity State, after they were chased out of their home when violence broke out.

Now, with food so scarce, Tabitha is desperate – and resorts to eating whatever she can get her hands on.

“We feed on water lilies, fish and anything we could find in the river,” said Tabitha, who also lost most of her animals during her journey.

“What we currently need is food [and] medication. The more time it takes the worse it shall be for us.”

We’re determined to act quickly to ensure that mothers like Fadumo and Tabitha do not see their children go hungry. We have already reached many thousands of people with food, water, sanitation and support – but we are most concerned about the people we have yet to reach. 

World Humanitarian Day: The people behind emergency responses

"World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate the suffering. It is also an occasion to honour the humanitarian workers and volunteers toiling on the frontlines of crises. I pay tribute to these dedicated women and men who brave danger to help others at far greater risk." — UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

On this World Humanitarian Day, we recognise the people who work tirelessly to deliver crucial humanitarian support to families and communities around the world. Each year more than 30 million people flee their homes as a result of conflict and natural disaster and over 500,000 people are killed in war. Oxfam is currently working in emergencies in over 30 countries. Some are in the public eye; some are forgotten and out of the spotlight. Thanks to the continued dedication of humanitarian workers such as those featured below, we’re able to respond to wherever we’re needed.

Sara Zehl (29) from Germany volunteers as a team leader with Oxfam, managing the distribution in the Kara Tepe camp on the island of Lesvos.

Speaking about her decision to come to Greece, Sara says: “I was at home literally sat on the couch watching the news. And I just wanted to come over and help, both the people arriving and the Greek population too, to support everyone. So I left my job working in hotel management and flew over. I have been here for six months now and whilst it is hard seeing families in this situation, I am passionate about helping and trying to make a difference."

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland's Humanitarian Manager, is pictured here during a monitoring visit to Malakal, South Sudan. This region was the first place where Colm was deployed as a humanitarian worker and so when the opportunity arose to return with Oxfam, Colm says he “couldn’t say no”.

Colm’s motivation to engage in humanitarian work stems from a moment many will remember - the 1984 famine in East Africa which inspired Band Aid and subsequently Live Aid.  Speaking about how his perspective on aid work has changed over time, Colm says: “I’ve learnt that being a humanitarian is broader than I originally thought. It’s not just about people on the front line. There are lots of ways of being a humanitarian – whether you’re an urban planner creating safe spaces for people to live or local fundraiser who generates vital income.” 

Marianna Kapelle is a member of Oxfam's gender and protection team in the Filippiada camp, Epirus Region, northwest Greece. Speaking about her work, Marianna says: “As a Protection Officer with Oxfam I spend most of my time in the camps, talking with the refugees mostly in Arabic, which is my passion and helps people to share their thoughts and feel more comfortable. Part of my role is to provide as much information as possible so people are able to make the best choices for themselves and their families. I am so grateful to be able to support people who are so resilient and brave, despite everything they have been through. Everyone has so much hope still and open-hearted smiles. This is something that inspires me every day."

Vincent Malasador was part of Oxfam’s rapid assessment team that responded in the immediate aftermath to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Vincent’s dedication to the cause is clear when he describes a typical work day: “We would wake up very early, take our lunch at sundown and take our sleep hours past midnight; this was the life we had to live so that we could provide the support that the struggling communities needed to survive.”

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