Proving it

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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.”

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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.

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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. 

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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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Building back stronger in Nepal, one year on

Oxfam has provided water and sanitation in temporary schools in Gorkha, Nepal, after many were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

On 25 April 2015, Nepal was struck by the first of two major earthquakes that left nearly 9,000 people dead and destroyed or damaged more than 850,000 homes.

I was in Nepal in the immediate aftermath of the first quake and saw first-hand the difference your donation made as we were able to provide clean water, sanitation, emergency shelter materials, food and other vital relief.

Your donation has helped not only provide immediate aid like shelter, blankets and clean water but also now the hope of a return to normality.

Critically, your support also means that Oxfam can continue to support affected communities throughout what will be a long road to recovery.

Over the last year, Oxfam’s response has benefitted 481,900 people in seven of the worst-hit districts of Nepal with:

  • 49,978 emergency shelters
  • 13,097 winter kits including blankets and thermal mats to provide protection in freezing temperatures
  • 54,365 hygiene kits to enable people drink and wash safely Installation of more than 150 large clean water storage tanks
  • Over 7,000 toilets or latrines
  • 2,300 cash grants, tools and training to help families rebuild their livelihoods
  • Cash-for-work programmes for over 20,400 families

Bimala, Gana and Netra are just some of the thousands of people supported at the most challenging of times. Their stories are powerful examples of how your support has enabled Oxfam to rebuild communities, restore livelihoods and help people return to normality, stronger and better prepared than before. 

BIMALA’S STORY

Bimala Balami can piece her life back together after participating in an Oxfam cash-for-work programme in Kathmandu Valley. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Bimala Balami’s life was devastated by the earthquake, which destroyed her home in Dachi Nkali municipality, in the Kathmandu valley. Bimala recalls: “My mind went completely numb. I couldn’t think. I only cared about my baby. I just wanted to protect my child.

“After the earthquake people didn’t know what they would do or how they would earn. Oxfam came in and now the women in the village know they can provide for their families.”

On the hillside fields where her local community grow rice, wheat, mustard, peas, cucumber and other vegetables, the irrigation channel that provides water for the crops was badly damaged as a result of a landslide triggered by the earthquake.

Oxfam has responded with your support by paying groups of 30 women, including Bimala, to construct a new irrigation channel. This provides the women with an income and the community with prospects of a substantive harvest.

Bimala is part of the group working on the new channel. “I like the job that I am doing because I know it is for the welfare of my entire village. People do need proper irrigation for their fields and I know that. If I don’t do this work people won’t even be able to eat.”

For people like Bimala, trying to piece their lives back together after the earthquake, cash-for-work projects such as this make the critical difference between hope and despair. It creates opportunity to rebuild not only individual lives but also that of whole communities at the same time.

In all we have organised 25 similar cash for work programmes in the area where Bimala lives involving 600 people, including clearing debris and repairing roads damaged by the earthquakes and subsequent tremors. Across our response, over 20,000 households have benefitted from such schemes.

GANA'S STORY

Gana Butrai received livelihood support in the form of a small business grant from Oxfam. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

We have supported women across four districts with financial support in the form of cash grants to enable them to restart their businesses and get their livelihoods back on track, including shop-keeper Gana Butrai.

“The day the earthquake happened I was actually in my shop,” she recalls. “The only thing I was thinking was will I live or will I die. I didn’t look at my watch but it felt as though it went on for at least half an hour. The ground felt like it was shaking for almost an entire day.

“The building was damaged in the earthquake; it used to have a top floor but it fell down and the wall on the left fell down as well.

“I had to ask people to come and help me but I couldn’t retrieve all of the items and lots of them expired. So I had to start again, reconstructing the entire space. Things have become a lot easier since Oxfam has helped.

“The first help that Oxfam gave me was a grant of 4,000 rupees and since then they have helped me with material support. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.” 

NETRA’S STORY

Business is now booming for trader Netra Parajuli after Oxfam’s support. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam.

We are distributing vouchers so people can buy what they need to restart their farms, businesses and kitchen gardens – which is good news for traders like Netra Parajuli. Before the earthquake, Netra ran a thriving shop in Lamosanghu, but like thousands of others, his livelihood was destroyed in the disaster.

“Everything started moving and we all started running towards the door. Slabs of concrete were falling all around us. I thought they would kill me.

“I couldn’t breathe; there was dust everywhere. I tried to see someone around me but I couldn’t see anyone. I thought I was dead. Suddenly a wall broke and I saw light. I ran towards it.

“Everything was under the debris. We couldn’t even dig the dead people out. I started breaking the concrete so that we could pull people out. That day I pulled four people alive from the rubble. They were trapped and I could hear them crying. I had no idea how many people had died then.”

With the stock he salvaged, Netra has managed to set up a temporary shop, and thanks to Oxfam’s voucher scheme, business is now back on track.

“I’ve had almost 900 people come to my shop because of the vouchers being distributed. The most popular items have been the spade, then hoe and then the watering can. If people’s tools are damaged, I repair them. I make the hoes myself.”

Oxfam has distributed over 6,000 vouchers to help people buy agricultural tools and supplies, with each voucher worth 2,000 rupees (around €17/£13). The distribution supports not only the people receiving the vouchers, enabling them to restart their kitchen gardens and farms, they also support local traders and store owners like Netra and reignite the local economy.

A further distribution is planned to commence soon, supporting local communities with livestock and grain storage through cash grants. In addition to direct assistance, Oxfam is advocating with national and local authorities in Nepal for the roll-out of a recovery process and plan that ensures no-one is left behind – especially women and other marginalised communities with limited resources or opportunities even before this crisis and who are now only more vulnerable.

We are urging a reconstruction effort that builds back better, creating a fairer, more equal and inclusive society than before.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

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