Blog

People of Oxfam: Meet our Botanic Avenue shop manager Chrissi.

Getting ready to reopen our home away from home – and how we need your help!

Countless businesses across the country faced the sad reality of having to close their doors due to COVID-19. But what if your business is also a home away from home for people from all walks of life?

At the heart of Oxfam Ireland Shops, there is a network of dedicated staff and volunteers – all working together to beat poverty. They play a vital role in supporting Oxfam’s global work - and now our global response to COVID-19 – while also providing a solution to throwaway fashion by saving items from ending up in landfills here in Ireland. They are planet and people protectors.

I had a chat with my colleague Chrissi, Shop Manager, as she was busy getting ready to reopen shop doors after two months of closure.

Q: How long have you worked with Oxfam Ireland?
A: Almost three years - I started managing the shop in Lisburn and now run the Oxfam Vintage shop on Botanic Avenue.

Q: What was your motivation for applying for the job?
A: I have an interest in sustainable fashion and love clothes. I only buy second hand clothing and feel that fast fashion is a real issue. I’m motivated by raising money that goes towards helping others.

Q: How did it feel to have to close your shop?
A: When we were told we had to close I felt apprehensive for the charity sector as a whole and concerned for vulnerable people in the community.

Q: What did you miss the most?
A: I’ve missed the craic from customers and volunteers and of course the fun of never knowing what you will get donated

Q: What are you looking forward to when you reopen your doors?
A: I’m looking forward to getting the shop into order again and seeing how all the volunteers and regular customers have been.

Q: What is the best thing about working in a charity shop?
A: There are so many things that make it a great place to work. I love my job because I get to meet and work with a diverse range of people and see that people really do care about each other. Of course I’m also obsessed with clothes so get to shop whilst working!

Q: What has been your best moment in the shop?
A: We have had lots of great moments but a real highlight was when two Iranian volunteers got their asylum granted after a long wait. For them to finally have freedom to move forward was lovely to see.

Q: How can people help your business bounce back?
A: By donating good quality items to our shops. If you're like me and you did a massive clear out, we will happily take it! In doing so you are preventing goods ending up in landfill. Of course you can also help by shopping in our shops to find that unique bargain!

Q: Is there anything you would like to say to your customers and/or volunteers?
A: We have uncertain times ahead of us but kindness in the community is so important.

#JoeyChallenge4Oxfam

Have you been decluttering during lockdown? We want the things you don’t! Our Republic of Ireland shops are opening on 8th of June and we’re asking YOU to help us get ready by taking the #JoeyChallenge4Oxfam.
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Ireland's new Government must tackle inequalities made worse by COVID-19

We are calling for ambitious and collective action at home and overseas to address poverty, hunger and the climate crisis

The next Irish Government must prioritise tackling the glaring global inequalities that COVID-19 has further exposed as well as ending the injustices driving poverty, hunger and the climate crisis.

In Responding to New Global Realities: An Agenda for the new Irish Government and Oireachtas, we laid out an ambitious call for decisive and collective action to create a fairer and more sustainable world that leaves no-one behind, highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic has proved our global interconnectedness and that things can be done differently.

As Ireland eases restrictions and begins to plan for the future, for the world’s poorest and most vulnerable the devastating impact of COVID-19 will continue long after the threat of the virus is gone. Responding to New Global Realities calls for leadership at an international level to address the economic fallout of COVID-19 that could push half a billion more people into poverty and decimate already inadequate social protection infrastructure and essential services like healthcare.

Our agenda outlines action needed by the next Irish Government across three main points:

  1. Resource Poor Countries' development needs in a changed world

  2. support system change in healthcare, food production and protection of the vulnerable

  3. build a more sustainable and just world

Globally

Jim Clarken, our Chief Executive, said, “Even in times of crisis, our leaders must not lose sight of their duty to uphold human rights and environmental protection. In many ways this pandemic is a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency. COVID-19 may well seem like a more imminent threat to our lives – but if we do not start to take serious action to address the climate crisis it will quickly pose as great and imminent a threat to our existence – as it already does for many of the communities we work with.

“There has never been a more important time to stand with the world’s poorest and most vulnerable. As we look to the future with hope, they brace themselves for the worst yet to come. Countries across the world are experiencing a major economic hit as governments shut down economies to prevent the spread of the disease. Those who rely on informal work have said this pandemic threatens to starve them before it makes them sick. Women and girls stand to be the hardest hit as they’re at the forefront of the informal work sector as well as on the frontlines of the healthcare profession and caring roles.

“This crisis also risks food value chains, causing immediate concerns for food security in developing countries with the UN warning of famines of “biblical proportions”. Protecting food security and implementing policies and support programmes that promote agricultural development must be supported, while taking into account the challenges of climate breakdown.

“Ireland has made a strong contribution to the international response to COVID-19 – in particular to the UN’s Global Humanitarian Response Plan, as well ongoing humanitarian support through Irish Aid. However, the scale and complexity of this crisis is unprecedented. We must seize this moment to repair the systems that made so many people vulnerable in the first place. This means putting equality at the centre of development in order to help the world recover from the crisis.”

Here at home

We are also calling for a number of measures in Ireland, including reform of the Irish care system. Care work (paid and unpaid) in Ireland and around the world is highly gendered and undervalued in terms of pay and recognition. Provision of care services - childcare, care for the elderly or people with special needs - by the Irish State is relatively low, leaving households to provide these services themselves or to source them from the market - if they can pay. This issue has become even more acute due to the COVID-19 crisis.

In addition, we call for priority to be given to supporting small businesses that have the least ability to cope with the crisis, saying that bailouts of big corporations should be conditional on measures to uphold the interests of workers, farmers and taxpayers and to build a sustainable future.

Recognising that Ireland has made some reforms to address corporate tax avoidance, we don't think they have gone far enough to address the scale of tax avoidance that is facilitated by Ireland’s current corporate tax regime.

In conclusion

Jim siad, “As in the last the financial crisis, the choices currently being made in the short-term at EU level will determine the policy choices open to the Irish Government in the aftermath of the pandemic. The new Irish Government should advocate for development of a monitoring mechanism to ensure any new resources allocated to tackle COVID-19 benefit the most vulnerable parts of the economy.

“The pandemic has forced us to reconsider what is essential to keeping our economies and societies functioning. It has also shown the incredible power of solidarity and collective action - we can rebuild a better world. Ireland now has an opportunity to fulfil its ambition to increase its international influence as set out in Global Ireland and A Better World.

“A better future must be guided by universality, collaboration, human rights, interconnectedness and on the principle of leaving no-one behind. The time is now for Ireland to cement its place as a world leader for progressive change.”

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My 2020 odyssey: To only buy pre-loved clothes

Before Christmas of this year I set a challenge for myself – to only buy second hand clothes and to try to stick at it for a year at least. The decisive moment came after a few fun daylong charity shop trawls with my two housemates. They had just discovered the joys of second hand shopping and together we would set out every second or third Saturday to see what we could find – they were mostly clothes missions, but on one occasion, we also happened upon a lush couch to replace our badly worn old one.

The three of us would descend on a circuit of shops – eager bees – and between us would come home with a hodgepodge of amazing finds, perfect fits and some really special pieces that sparked excitement and satisfaction. In turn, (as our wardrobes were growing at an insane rate) we would bag up our pre-loved items and bring them with us to donate to our local charity shops. Win, win – a local circular economy of sorts.

My favourite pieces include a Tommy Hilfiger jumper, that I am seriously missing now -  it is in lockdown in Dublin and I am in lockdown in Kildare. Hilfiger isn’t a brand I would usually shop for or check out, but this jumper stopped me in my tracks! I had to have it, and at the princely sum of €12 (bearing in mind it had barely been worn) I nearly skipped the whole way home.

Another fav success story was an amazing Gonzo zip up hoodie – when I saw it I immediately thought to myself...”who would get rid of this!?” I have gotten serious wear out of it and it has become a staple of my wardrobe – unfortunately this one is in lockdown in Wexford, so I’m not sure when we will meet again.

My last spotlight find was a nifty Supremebeing light summer jacket. Again, it was in perfect nick, fit like a glove and was a departure of sorts for me – it wasn’t really my usual colour choice. But therein lies the beauty of buying second hand – it tends to push you out of your comfort zone, makes you test new waters and expand your wardrobe horizons.

With lockdown and COVID-19 my challenge has been somewhat sidetracked. I am still trying to stick to a sustainable 2020 – I am knitting a baby blanket for a friends’ new baby girl instead of buying a gift and I have started growing veg and wild flower beds.

However, I can not wait, I mean seriously cannot wait, to get stuck back into second hand shopping when charity shops reopen. As many of you may be using your extra time to declutter at home – be it books, clothes or bric-a-brac – please be sure to keep them for your local charity shop when it reopens (Oxfam shops will be opening from 8th June!). Donations will be needed more than ever. But when you drop that bag or box off, also take a little meander through the shop, and see what hidden gems you can find – little gems that enable organisations like Oxfam to beat poverty and fight inequality across the world.

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'What will happen to us in Bangladesh?'

The hygiene kits include a month’s worth of supplies for a family: ten bars of soap, a kilo of detergent, eight reusable sanitary pads, 50 disposable masks, information, and a bucket with lid and tap for washing hands. Duke Ivn Amin/JAGO NARI

As COVID-19 spreads quietly through communities in Bangladesh, Oxfam partner JAGO NARI shifts into high gear.

What do you do when you live in extreme poverty and are ordered to shelter in place? You get frantic, and for good reason.

“People are in a panic,” says Duke Ivn Amin. “They have few food reserves, and since they are no longer allowed to go out and work, their supplies are quickly running out. The situation is very bad.”

Amin is the emergency response team leader for JAGO NARI, an Oxfam partner organisation in the Barguna district in southern Bangladesh.

“About ten of us are living at the JAGO NARI guest house so we can work out in the communities without putting our families at risk by going home at night,” he says. “It may be months before we see our families,” he adds.

JAGO NARI has been working in Barguna for more than 20 years, and Amin has been there from the start. So, while he’s missing his wife and 16-month-old son, he never seriously considered putting his own comfort and safety ahead of the Barguna communities. “We are at the front lines of this emergency,” he says. “We have to work.”

Fortunately, the government is starting distributions of rice, lentils, oil, and potatoes, which will make sheltering in place more realistic for many families, but without the knowledge and means to avoid transmission, they will remain acutely vulnerable.

“I feel very bad thinking about what’s coming,” says Amin.

“Poor families need everyone’s support now,” says Duke Ivn Amin, shown here with hand sanitizer made and distributed by JAGO NARI. Photo: JAGO NARI

Building on local strengths

JAGO NARI is a Bangladeshi development organisation that emphasises women’s rights and environmental protection. The group worked closely with Oxfam for three years to strengthen its understanding of humanitarian work, and to build its capacity as an organisation. Now, JAGO NARI is able not only to launch rapid emergency responses but also to raise funds for that work from a variety of sources, which is key to its survival.

As a local organisation, its staff has a finger on the pulse of what’s happening in the Barguna communities; when the coronavirus crisis emerged, JAGO NARI noticed that youth organisations were engaging immediately in the response.

“Youth are always at the front lines in an emergency. They move fast and contribute so much,” says Amin. “And in this emergency, they are much less vulnerable than elders.”

But the groups lacked experience, coordination, and proper safety protocols, so JAGO NARI invited them to help form a new organisation: the Coastal Youth Network. Now they work together to get the word out, and they keep safety—their own and that of the communities—front and centre.

JAGO NARI and the Coastal Youth Network have been disseminating public health information through leaflets and radio shows, and cars that blast the messages out of loudspeakers. They’ve been going door to door distributing face masks and leaflets; within the week—with support from Oxfam—they will also be distributing hygiene kits (see photo), and Oxfam will help them step up their public health awareness campaign in hopes of reaching 35,000 people.

Everyone needs to come forward

There is frustration in Amin’s voice as he talks about the catastrophe bearing down on his communities.

“The international community was late in waking up to this crisis,” he says, and his own country has also stumbled. “There are many workers who migrate from Bangladesh to other countries for jobs; they return by the thousands but are not quarantined when they arrive. Now, they are spread out all over the country.”

The number of confirmed cases is growing at a worrying rate – our future reality could be grim. Doubly so because no one outside Dhaka is likely to have access to proper medical care.

As the wealthy countries of the world stagger under the weight of the coronavirus emergency, he asks, “What will happen to us in Bangladesh?”

“This is the biggest crisis our country has faced since the war of liberation,” he says, with a death toll that could dwarf the famine of 1974 or the powerful cyclones that hammer this country each year.

But thinking back to the war gives him a measure of hope. “Back then,” he says, “everyone came forward to do what they could. That’s what we need now, and I think it will happen.”

Oxfam is mobilising to prevent the spread of COVID-19 and to save lives in vulnerable communities around the world. Working closely with our local partner organisations, we are delivering clean water, sanitation, and public health promotion programs; supporting food security; and getting cash to many of those in greatest need. In Bangladesh, Oxfam has helped many local organisations strengthen their capacity as humanitarian responders. We will work hand in hand with them in the COVID-19 response.

You can help Oxfam reduce the risk of COVID-19 to those most vulnerable.

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