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Two wheels good: The bikes bringing Malawi’s girls to school

For some young people, the road to education can be long and arduous – quite literally. In Balaka District, southern Malawi, where many schoolgirls live up to 25km from the classroom, getting there used to be a struggle. There were no buses or cars to transport them to school – they had to walk.

The two-hour journeys on foot were exhausting. Many of the students couldn’t concentrate when they eventually arrived at school; others simply stayed at home despite being desperate to learn. Some would eventually drop out altogether.

It was a vicious cycle – one that Oxfam decided to tackle by distributing bikes to schoolgirls in the region. Esnat*, one of 30 students to receive a bicycle, used to make a five-hour roundtrip to school on foot. “The journey was hard,” says the 15-year-old pupil, who lives 25km from her school. “I would be tired and used to doze off in class.

Left: Esnat* with her Oxfam bike. Photo: Corinna Kern. Right: Zainab* was always late for school. Photo: Corinna Kern

“I would sleep when I got home, I didn’t study as I was too tried. My body and legs would ache; sometimes I would skip lessons. I was underperforming in my lessons because I was either absent or not concentrating.”

Since getting a bike, Esnat* no longer feels as tired and can study properly: “I am excited about my bike; I will be able to complete my education. Now it takes less than one hour to get to school. I start lessons with my friends so I feel equal to them.

“I want to be a nurse. I have had that passion ever since I was younger. I want to help the sick and my community because we don’t have many nurses. I want to earn money to help my family.”

Another schoolgirl who benefitted from Oxfam’s bike project is 14-year-old Alice*, who also wants to be a nurse. Describing her old commute to school as a “bad experience”, she says: “I would go to school on Monday but then on a Tuesday I would be absent as I was so sick and tired. I would miss one day a week and go in four days. I forced myself to go. I was arriving at school so tired. I couldn’t concentrate as had I no time to rest. I tried to work hard but I was just so tired.

Left: Girls from Chembera secondary school, Chembera village, Balaka District, with their bicycles. Photo: Corinna Kern. Right: Alice* used to get sick regularly. Photo: Corinna Kern

“We got the bikes two weeks ago. I felt excited and hoped that I would do better in class. Now I travel the same distance but I am not as tired. I still leave at 6am but now I get to school at 6.30am. I am hopeful that I will finish my education and get a good job.”

Before she got her bike, Zainab* – who lives 18km from school – was always late for class and often missed out on exams. “I was so tired, I would spend lots of time stopping on the way to rest my legs so I would be late for school,” says Zainab* (15). “I would miss out on exams and there was no way to make up classes. If you missed a lesson that lesson would be gone. Now I don’t miss any lessons.”

*Names changed

International Women's Day

Now more than a century old, International Women’s Day is as important as ever before. After all, it’s not just the one day of the year that we celebrate the social, cultural, economic and political achievements of women; it’s also a time to reflect on their ongoing struggle for gender equality.

On this International Women’s Day, we would like to introduce you to some of the awe-inspiring women we are proud to stand with and support through our work:

Top-Left: Jennifer with her mentor Tsungai Shonhai. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/Oxfam. Top-Right: Women’s group leader Kausar Rajput. Photo: Irina Werning/Oxfam. Bottom: Ghozlan is a Syrian refugee living in Za’atari Camp. Photo: Alixandra Buck/Oxfam

In Zimbabwe, Tsungai Shonhai works with young people living with and affected by HIV. The 64-year-old mentor works with the Oxfam Ireland-supported Bethany Project, which promotes the wellbeing of these vulnerable young people through support groups, HIV testing and counselling. Tsungai’s job isn’t easy, but her efforts are greatly appreciated by Jennifer.

The 15 year old, who was born HIV-positive, used to isolate herself from her community in case anyone found out about her condition. But her life has been transformed by the project and the work of women like Tsungai. “The support groups gave me courage, confidence and hope to manage my condition,” she says. “I am now confident, my self-esteem boosted, I now participate in the school netball team.”

Kausar Rajput is a women's group leader in Sindh province, Pakistan. Kausar (50), who also chairs the local health committee, helps women access small loans to start businesses in their homes. She does all of this as part of an Oxfam project called Raising Her Voice, which aims to help women in Pakistan overcome the barriers that keep them in poverty.

“I was a councillor before coming to this project and I was a housewife,” said Kausar. “My husband died, that was years ago and I have brought up my children by myself. By the grace of God I don't face problems now – I go out and solve other problems for other people.”


Ghozlan is one of around 45 Syrian women involved in Oxfam’s Greenhouse project in Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan. Many refugees in Jordan can’t find work and rely on limited aid. Finding work is even more challenging for these women who are encouraged to work in the home. When they do go out to work, they face harassment, rumours and discrimination. 

In response, Oxfam opened four greenhouses in Za’atari camp last year, and encouraged women to get involved. Ghozlan was one of those who joined the project, and quickly learned new horticultural skills. She is even making a little money from the produce she sells in local communities. For Ghozlan, however, it is the support from her new friends that is invaluable. “I met some women here,” she said. “When we talk together about our concerns we feel some relief.”

 

Rehema Mayuya is a change maker. Photo: BMF Production

Rehema Mayuya, from Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, lived with a violent husband until she became involved with the We Can campaign, which is part-funded by Oxfam Ireland. 

The campaign’s aim is to end violence against women, challenging the attitudes and behaviours that facilitate it. Rehema is now a change maker, someone who speaks out against domestic violence to make her community safer.
 
“I’m a totally different person now,” says Rehema. As a woman, I need to stand strong, fight for my rights and protect the rights of women who are subjected to violence.”

The protection project bringing hope to the DRC

Without peace, there can be no prosperity. In parts of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), conflict puts the safety of workers at risk. With insecurity stifling industry and the ability of communities to thrive, one Oxfam project is aimed at those whose lives and livelihoods are under threat.

Left: Henriette Namasale M’Makala, President of the Kashusha Women’s Forum. Photo: Ramon Sanchez Orense/Oxfam. Right: Children play with an old wheel in South Kivu, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where Oxfam is working with co-operatives and protection committees to ensure people can safely earn a living in conflict areas. Photo: Ramon Sanchez Orense/Oxfam

Kabare and Kalehe are two areas of South Kivu where the project – which combines livelihoods with the protection of residents – has been implemented. Furaha M’Maroyi, a widowed mother of four, has already seen the benefits. She does not own a farm, but she is a grower and member of the Kashusha Farming Co-operative, which is involved in the project.

Furaha explained that in the past, when the harvest was destroyed by gangs, she never asked the authorities for help. “Ever since I have lived alone with my children, we have lived in fear of the authorities,” she said. “We have been afraid of soldiers and their leader.”

However, the project recently got the growers and the authorities in the same room. “I sat down before a commanding officer; a person I thought was untouchable,” said 43-year-old Furaha. “We greeted each other and spoke together with familiarity. That day, I felt that a relationship had been forged. We put our conflicts to one side and shook hands, like friends.”

Furaha has gained confidence from that meeting. She has saved some money, which paid for a goat. “If my family became ill tomorrow, I could sell it and pay for the health care services without having to borrow money from my neighbours,” she said. “Since this project came into existence, I have discovered new courage.”

Elsewhere, Henriette Namasale M’Makala , who is president of project partner, the Kashusha Women’s Forum, would like to see violence against women become a thing of the past in the DRC.

“There is so much violence oppressing us, including the fact that we don't have access to a space for discussion, where we can speak out loudly and strongly in the presence of men,” she said. “The society we live in sometimes tends to hold us down in a lowly position, even though it is us, the women, who look after the children and do all the housework.”

Henriette (47) said she is proud of being part of a project which gives women the space to talk openly and honestly about the problems they face. She added that the members can discuss issues such as rape and know they will be heard. Even more importantly, they will not be judged.

Being president of the forum has changed Henriette too. "If I have a problem, I am prepared to go and defend myself before and with men,” she said. “We live near a military camp and that no longer affects me, because my family and I sleep at night.”

 

Bombing in Syria

The indiscriminate bombing of the besieged Syrian enclave of eastern Ghouta and neighbouring Damascus in recent days has shocked the world.

Dozens of children have been killed and homes destroyed in relentless airstrikes, and there is no end in sight to the conflict.

(Left) Children play games at an Oxfam hygiene promotion campaign at Dahyet Qudsaya shelter. Photo: Oxfam (Right) A group of children wash their hands as part of an Oxfam hygiene promotion campaign at Dahyet Qudsaya shelter in rural Damascus. Photo: Oxfam

Despite the seemingly hopeless situation, Oxfam has been working hard to help parents and children who have managed to flee the violence.

One of those children was 11-year-old Kareem. His family fled their home in eastern Ghouta, before the recent outbreak of violence, and went to rural Damascus in search of safety. Now they live in a shelter with more than 1,000 people who have also been displaced.

Kareem misses being a little boy and the friends he had before the conflict – which is now in its seventh year – turned his life upside down.

“I used to go to school every day and meet my beloved friends,” he said. “I miss playing with my friends on the way back from school, I miss my home, my belongings and I miss watching cartoons after finishing my homework."

Oxfam has been working in Kareem’s shelter, helping to prevent disease by promoting good hygiene practices. We also distributed hygiene kits to all of the children living there.

We are on the ground in Syria providing clean, safe drinking water and hygiene kits to children like Kareem, while we continue to provide water and sanitation to Syrian refugees in Lebanon and Jordan.

But the scale of this emergency is huge and we still urgently need your help.

Thank you.

Oxfam Ireland will lead on delivering global safeguarding reforms

Oxfam Ireland will play a leadership role across the global organisation in delivering a comprehensive action plan to strengthen the confederation’s safeguarding systems and enforce a zero-tolerance approach to sexual misconduct.

An urgent, independent review of Oxfam’s culture and practices led by leading women’s rights experts was announced today. It was confirmed yesterday by directors across the international confederation, including Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken and Oxfam International Executive Director Winnie Byanyima. 

The immediate measures include: 

  • A new independent High-Level Commission on Sexual Misconduct, Accountability and Culture Change, comprised of leading women’s rights experts, which will be able to access Oxfam records and interview staff, partners and communities it supports around the world. 
  • The immediate creation of a new global database of accredited referees – designed to end the use of forged, dishonest or unreliable references by past or current Oxfam staff. Oxfam will not be issuing any references until this is in place.
  • An immediate injection of additional money and resources into Oxfam’s safeguarding processes.
  • A commitment to build on the ongoing work to improve the culture within Oxfam to ensure that no one faces sexism, discrimination or abuse, that everyone, especially women, feel safe to speak out, and everyone is clear on what behaviour is acceptable or not.
  • Oxfam is also committing to publish its 2011 internal investigation into staff involved in sexual and other misconduct in Haiti as soon as possible, after taking steps necessary to prevent witnesses being identified. The names of the men involved have already been shared with the authorities in Haiti.

Jim Clarken, Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive, said: “Today’s announcement of an external, independent and confederation-wide review underpins our shared commitment to enforce a zero-tolerance approach to sexual misconduct. 

“I am committed to playing a leadership role in facilitating this comprehensive action plan to root out any form of abuse. At home and overseas, we will not stand for any kind of harassment of staff, partners, volunteers or those we serve and we are doubling the number of people who work on safeguarding to make sure we are living up to our responsibility to protect them. 

“I feel great responsibility in the trust our supporters across the island of Ireland put in us and am dedicated to rebuilding any trust lost. This review marks the beginning of change for Oxfam as an international organisation – Oxfam Ireland is 100% committed to playing our part and to working with others in government and across the sector to implement urgent reforms that enable us to do more and do better for the world’s poorest.”

The independent High-Level Commission will shape its own approach and its membership will be announced within a few days. Oxfam will provide the resources it needs to do its job effectively, across the confederation, including full access to records, staff as well as partners and communities supported by the organisation. As part of the Commission's work, it will create an historical record about cases of sexual misconduct and abuse of power that is as complete as possible, which will be made publicly available. 

ENDS

Notes to Editor: 

  • Oxfam Ireland’s all-island polices to protect and support staff and volunteers include: 
  1. Safeguarding policy
  2. Anti-bullying and Harassment
  3. Disclosure of Malpractice in the Workplace/Whistle-blowing Policy
  4. Prevention of Sexual Exploitation and Abuse Policy
  5. We also have robust recruitment processes which involve vetting, reference checks, probationary periods and adherence to Oxfam’s codes of practice and conduct, as required by the role. 
  • No staff employed by Oxfam Ireland were involved in the case in Haiti.
  • The case in Haiti did not involve the misuse of public funds. All of the money raised by Oxfam Ireland supporters was spent as planned on the response to the earthquake of 2010.
 
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