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Smart phones open up a new world in remote Tanzania

It’s 3am. My alarm goes off. I’m tempted to hit snooze but the feeling that I might miss a flight hits me. I quickly jump out of bed. I get ready and grab a taxi to the airport. I will be away from my house for three weeks…

Hi, nice to meet you. I’m Bill Marwa, a digital media coordinator with Oxfam in Tanzania. Pardon me – I should have started with the introductions. I will be writing about my work with Oxfam and how that is helping change people’s lives. I travel a lot so there’s always going to be something new. I want to show you my beautiful country, the people, our culture, and our foods.

Me - nice to meet you!

Me and a colleague of mine, Kefar, are heading to Kahama in northwestern Tanzania. We are going to train 22 activists to use smart phones to interview other residents in their villages about what information is important to them, how they can access it and how local government can be more transparent. After three days of training, they will go back to their wards and interview at least 60 people each. Their responses are automatically sent to us, which makes this a very quick and easy way to gather responses from more than 1,200 people. It’s going to be interesting.

We land in Mwanza and spend a night there before driving to Kahama. This is about a five-hour drive. We are chatting in the car and listening to loads of Bongo Flava – Tanzanian music.

Kefar will train the activists on an initiative to make local government more transparent called the Open Government Partnerships. I will train them on how to use smart phones and particularly how to collect data using an app called Mobenzi.

My colleague Kefar asking how many people had used a smart phone before

Kefar asks how many of the activists have used a smart phone before. Only four people out of the 22 participants raise their hands. This hits me, but equally motivates me. I will have to change my strategy to start with basic things like how to scroll through pages, search, etc before we move on to the Mobenzi tool itself. It’s going to be fine, I say to myself.

We do a quick Google search for ‘Mbogwe’ district, and the activists are excited with the results. Realising that they can do a lot with search, most of them will be glued to their phones for the next hour doing different searches. I walk out for a cup of coffee. When I get back to the room one of the activists, Gabriel, is playing a speech by one of the prominent members of parliament to the rest of the room. I say to myself, what have I got these people into?

After three days, everyone is confident to use the phones and they all have understood the questions. We distribute the smart phones and the activists go back to their villages to begin the data collection.

Me and Kefar are hopeful that the activists will get on with the new technology and that responses will start flowing in soon. In my next post I’ll let you know how they get on…

Cheers,

Bill

This blog was originally published on Broad Street. To read other blog posts by Bill Marwa and go behind-the-scenes with other Oxfam staff around the world, please visit: http://oxfamblogs.org/broadstreet/
 

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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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West Africa Crisis: food shortages threaten millions

The devastating conflict in West Africa is continuing to cause severe food shortages, plunging the region into a serious humanitarian crisis, and leaving nearly 11 million people in need of emergency aid.

Violent acts by militant insurgency group Boko Haram over the last seven years, along with military operations to counter them, have displaced around 2.6 million people in the Lake Chad Basin region, which is made up of Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. This is Africa’s fastest growing displacement crisis.

The number of displaced people in the most affected areas has tripled over the last two years. Most of the displaced families are sheltered by communities that count among the world’s poorest and most vulnerable.

Food insecurity and malnutrition in the affected region have reached alarming levels. Thousands of people are estimated to have died already, many of these young children. There is a strong likelihood that at least 400,000 people could currently be experiencing famine in North East Nigeria.

FORCED TO FLEE

Since Boko Haram kidnapped Kadija* and forced her to marry a fighter to whom she bore a child, Kadija* faces stigma from her community, as does her child who is seen to carry ‘bad blood’. She currently lives in a camp for people displaced by the conflict with Boko Haram because her father disowned her. Kadija* was taken to the bush where she gave birth with no medical facilities. Once she deemed the baby strong enough she made her escape.

After fleeing from Boko Haram she was detained by the Nigerian military. She said: “I was kept with other women who had been forcibly married. We were tortured and dehumanised by the military. We were called wives of Boko Haram and we spent one month in detention. It was a harrowing experience. Then they released me.”

Kadija*, 18, holds her baby at a house in Maiduguri, Nigeria. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

Kadija and her baby aren’t the only ones struggling in north-eastern Nigeria right now. Brothers Digma* and Omar* (pictured below) are helping their father Hassan* in a field he rents on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Nigeria, as it’s the school holidays. Their father Hassan* was a prosperous farmer before fear of violence from Boko Haram forced him to flee his village.

Hassan* said: “We were so afraid, even if we had food we couldn’t eat what was put on the table. It was terrible. We couldn’t even come to the farm. If we came to the farm Boko Haram would come on motorcycles and kill or abduct you. We had to leave our farm and our livestock and run to the city. Before Boko Haram attacked I had a bigger farm but now I am too scared to farm it – maybe next year.”

While Hassan’s* old farm previously left him with surplus to sell, he now has to work as a labourer in order to make up the shortfall in food for his family. He said: “I have to feed my six children, my wife, my grandmother and two grandsons. How many days will [this food] last us? It’s just not going to be enough. The government have not supported us. We have to do things ourselves.

“This land has been worked on for so many years. At the other farm we had millet, sorghum, groundnuts and beans and the harvest was great. The fields there are much denser and much richer compared to this farm. The soil at the other farm is loamy. This is just sandy.”

Brothers Digma* (aged 8, and Omar* (10) stand in a field their father rents on the outskirts of Maiduguri, Nigeria. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

The conflict between Boko Haram and governments in this region has affected some of the world’s poorest people. Most of them in rural areas are farmers, and many like Hassan* have not been able to grow any crops for three years. They are in urgent need of food, water, and medical care. They are living in camps for displaced people and among host communities and are struggling to survive.

WHAT OXFAM IS DOING

The situation is dire across this region. People are in urgent need of food, water, medical care, shelter and safety.

Oxfam has helped more than 250,000 people in Nigeria, Niger and Chad since it began responding to the crisis two years ago.

In Nigeria Oxfam is distributing emergency food support food and cooking equipment, providing people with clean water and better sanitation, as well as seeds and tools to help traders and farmers. We have also set up community protection groups for women to give them information about access to support facilities if they have suffered from sexual violence and exploitation.

In Niger, Oxfam is rehabilitating and constructing boreholes to provide safe, clean water to people who have fled their homes and communities, and we are delivering life-saving food assistance to families severely affected by the crisis.

In Chad, Oxfam is distributing cash and tarpaulins for shelter, and providing clean water to help prevent the spread of diseases.

We are ramping up our programmes and are seeking funds to expand our response to help 1.5 million people in the next 15 months.

HOW YOU CAN HELP

Oxfam is urgently seeking funds to help where it’s needed most.

Please help the people of West Africa – give what you can and get food and clean drinking water to people who urgently need it.

* All names have been changed to protect identities.

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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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