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Thousands still homeless in Gaza: ‘Our children are paying the price’

For the past six months, Sawsan al Najjar and her family have lived crowded together in a small room with cracked walls and a fragile roof. “I fear the walls will fall on us while we sleep,” she says.

The rest of the house lies in rubble, destroyed by Israeli bombing during last summer's 51 days of conflict between Israeli forces and Palestinian armed groups.

International donors pledged $3.5 billion towards Gaza's reconstruction, yet six months later people like Sawsan are still living in desperate conditions. A new report by Oxfam and other aid agencies including ActionAid, Christian Aid and Save the Children found that not a single one of the 19,000 destroyed homes has yet been rebuilt and promises of lasting political change have not materialised. The eight-year old Israeli blockade of Gaza remains in place, severely restricting the movement of people and goods.

Top: Dr Ihab Dabour checks Sawsan's son Ameer (2) at a mobile clinic in Gaza.  The clinic - run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and funded by Oxfam - treats illnesses in the devastated neighbourhood of Khuza'a. "Many families are living in extremely unhealthy and overcrowded conditions, in caravans and damaged houses," says Dr Dabour. "There is a shortage of clean water and a lack of heating, which was badly needed during the harsh winter. All this causes frequent illnesses such as scabies and respiratory problems. As long as people live in these conditions, they will continue to have these health problems. I just wish I could help more." "Winter was very tough. The rain leaked through the damaged roof and walls and my children are sick all the time here," says Sawsan. Bottom: Faraj Al Najjar at work. Photos: Iyad al Baba/Oxfam
 

Sawsan's two young children – Ameer (2) and Ahmed (16) – suffer from stunted growth and her husband, Faraj, works day and night to raise money for their special medical treatment.

“I used to have my own business, trading motorbikes,” says Faraj. “Business got worse after the blockade began [in 2007], but I made enough to at least feed my family. Then during the war I lost the motorbikes, which were worth $7,000. Now I work 12 hours a day fixing spare parts and I barely get 20 shekels [$5/€4.75/£3.40] a day. This is not enough to even buy food.”

Their current living conditions make life even more difficult. “Winter was very tough. The rain leaked through the damaged roof and walls and my children are sick all the time here,” says Sawsan.

Dr Ihab Dabour helped provide emergency health care to thousands of people during the height of the conflict, despite his own home being bombed. Every two weeks he brings a mobile health clinic, run by the Palestinian Medical Relief Society (PMRS) and funded by Oxfam, to treat illnesses in the devastated neighbourhood of Khuza'a where Sawsan lives.

“Many families are living in extremely unhealthy and overcrowded conditions, in caravans and damaged houses,” says Dr Dabour. “There is a shortage of clean water and a lack of heating, which was badly needed during the harsh winter. All this causes frequent illnesses such as scabies and respiratory problems. As long as people live in these conditions, they will continue to have these health problems. I just wish I could help more.”

At least 81 health clinics and hospitals across Gaza were damaged in the conflict – along with schools, water systems and other infrastructure – and most have not yet received funds for repairs. Under the blockade, even the few that have funds have not been able to get essential construction material to start rebuilding.

“The mobile clinic gives us the medicine we need to stop further health problems,” says Sawsan. But what the family needs most is to be able to rebuild their lives. For that to happen there needs to be a permanent ceasefire and an end to the blockade. Gaza needs reconstruction but also help to rebuild its once thriving economy that has been devastated by the blockade and recurrent conflict. 63 percent of young people are now unemployed and people are increasingly reliant on international aid.

“It is our children who are paying the price,” says Sawsan. “We used to have a happy life with a nice house and business – we were not rich, but we didn't need help from others. Now we seek any kind of assistance. We've started to lose hope that reconstruction will ever happen.”

Oxfam and our partners in Gaza are providing safe water, helping families to buy food, and supporting local health services.

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Lights, Camera…Take Action!

Films that inspire us to make a change

Movies have an astronomical impact on our society. Our most critically acclaimed movies often have strong political and social messages, about equality, freedom, environmental justice and capitalism. Analyse your favourite film, there will undoubtedly be a subliminal message underlying those Hollywood effects. Somehow when its packaged up for the silver screen it is easier to break through and get us thinking about the world we live in, what’s really going on …and what it could be like.

 

Films have powerful effects on our aspirations and actions. One woman can fight the multi-million capitalist system to save the health of her neighbours; one small robot can change how we treat our precious planet before it’s too late. The way we respond to movies affects our awareness of events and people in our world, Erin Brockovich (2000) and WALL.E (2008) are no exception.

Filmmakers have expanded the horizon of what’s possible; they teach us about the lives of the brave, the bold and the outrageous. Underlying the entertaining story and actors, important paradigms are at play. Hotel Rwanda (2004) tells the real story of the choice faced by one hotel manager when his country was collapsing into genocide around him. It’s not without controversy but the film directed by Belfast-born director Terry George, puts us in the position of what would we do and what do we do faced with turmoil and violence?

In The Pursuit of Happiness (2006), Will Smith tells his son not to practice basketball as he himself was never good at it. Discouraged, his son walks away from the court. The father follows, “You got a dream, you gotta protect it”. How can filmmakers turn an instance of self-doubt into a social campaign? Movies like these make us profoundly aware of rigid social systems we are creating to prevent social and financial equality, often in the countries where it is needed most.

What do Philadelphia (1993), The Green Mile (1999) and Forest Gump (1994) have in common? Apart from Tom Hanks, they teach us of the need to become aware and to act. What better way to create change than to highlight severe discrimination against a minority, or an individual ability to change history.

At the heart of the fast-paced, effects-heavy Avatar (2009), there is a message about social equality and harmony with the earth, and further, what we consider to be human and civilised.

Other movies shed a light on complex real-life situations and structural problems - as Syriana (2005) shows how oil money can drive political and power struggles or Blood Diamond (2006) reveals the links between civil war and the global trade in precious stones.

Some messages remind us of our troubled past, Selma (2014) and Gandhi (1982) embrace political activism with an individual stamp. The power of films to create a stir cannot be underestimated, whether a sci-fi, a historical depiction, or even a Disney cartoon, movies can have strong messages which we can use to make the world better - one film at a time!

Join us this April at The Better Film Fringe, part of Belfast Film Festival, brought to you by Oxfam and the Coalition of Aid and Development Agencies.

Hotel Rwanda with Terry George Q&A - Buy Tickets

The Island President – one man’s journey to make the world wake up to climate change - Buy Tickets

Better World Campaign Workshop - Sign up

And join the conversation: what movies have inspired you to act and think differently about the world?

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Yemen eye-witness: ‘Even if we survive the bombs we are running out of food’

Oxfam has been working in Yemen for 30 years. Over 60 percent of the population – 16 million people – were already in need of some form of aid before the airstrikes started.

More than 10 million Yemenis did not have enough food to eat before the crisis. Already, over 13 million people had no access to clean water and nearly nine million people were unable to access basic medical care.

An Oxfam staff worker has written the below blog describing what life has been like in Yemen over the past week.

Yemen is a country of unpredictables. You never know what is going on. Sometimes – like now – that makes it both emotionally and psychologically exhausting.

Change started in Yemen in 2011, with the Arab Spring reaching the country. We all hoped that was the first step towards a better future. People were very enthusiastic back then – people were excited.

But in September 2014 the security situation deteriorated. The government changed without warning, the transition period seemed to stop. All of us – including the 16 million or so of my countrymen and women who are desperate need of aid – were once again living every day without knowing what would happen next. The 600,000 people that Oxfam were helping were going to need aid even more.

Homes destroyed in Yemen. Before the crisis over 13 million people had no access to clean water. Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

Then on March 25, the airstrikes began. At first, the streets were empty – it was like they had been abandoned. It was scary. But today, despite reports of the death toll rising, there are people in the streets because they have started to cope with life now. For me and my fellow Yemenis living in fear and never knowing what’s round the corner, this is ‘normal’.

But it should not be like this. For a long time there has been severe humanitarian crisis in the country, now there could be a humanitarian catastrophe unless a permanent ceasefire is agreed and humanitarian access is granted.

Even if we survive the bombs we are running out of food. My brother went to buy food yesterday; he said that several shops were out of flour. There was none in the markets close to where I live either. When you go out you see long queues of cars waiting for petrol at the gas stations. Yemen could suffer a real food and fuel crisis. More than 60% of the Yemeni people are already under the poverty line – Oxfam was trying to make the world wake up to the desperate situation that many people in Yemen face even before the latest fighting started. Now I fear for my family but we are much better off than many people who were already struggling to survive.

People search under rubble of houses destroyed in Yemen. Over 60% of population needed some form of aid before conflict Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

Yemen imports practically all of its food, petrol, everything! Now our borders are closed and there are no flights coming in or supply ships docking. We are now living with the tiny amount of what Yemen already has but this is running out fast.

What is going to happen? That’s the million dollar question. I am not sure. Nobody is sure. It is all rumours that we hear. I’m not expecting it to end soon. Even if the violence stopped, the massive humanitarian need is going to go on and on. At the moment humanitarian agencies such as Oxfam are trying to reach the areas where people are caught up in the fighting to give them the aid that they need.

But we need the access and security to go where these people are and in many places it is simply too dangerous at the moment. Where it is safe to do so, Oxfam is already assessing the impact of the conflict on people’s lives and the needs they have, so we can plan a quick response.

Homes destroyed in Yemen. Over 60% of the population already needed some form of aid before conflict. Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

I started working with Oxfam in Yemen in July 2014 as a programme manager focusing on women’s rights. Working with Oxfam made me continue to feel the positive sense of change and of the importance of the growing participation of women in life in Yemen.

Then a few months later, in September, the insecurity started. It was like Yemen hit the rewind button, and after the feeling of positive change that started in 2011 we went back to the uncertainty of before. I can remember that day when it all started. I was at work and my mother was with my younger brothers and sisters at home. My whole family all moved to my grandmother’s house. This was even closer to the fighting than our home – but at least we were together.

What makes me really sad is that this prolonged insecurity has become normal to me, my friends and family. People with guns and armoured vehicles in the street became normal to see every day before you go to school, to work, to the market, when of course it is not. Now we can add air strikes to that list.

Inside a house destroyed in Yemen. Before the crisis more than 10 million Yemenis did not have enough food to eat. Photo: Abbo Haitham/Oxfam

I am usually optimistic, but I’m not now. Even if the conflict ends soon the humanitarian situation will unfold. Then the shock and the extent of the suffering here in Yemen will become apparent. Only then we will know what this conflict has left behind.

  • Since 2011, Oxfam has provided assistance to nearly 600,000 people affected by the humanitarian crisis.
  • In Al Hodeidah and Hajjah in Western Yemen, Oxfam has given cash transfers to 400,000 people since 2011 to help them buy food and support their basic needs. Oxfam has been is working with 32 communities to help rebuild their livelihoods through cash for work schemes and scaling up social protection programmes.
  • Oxfam responded to the 2014 fuel crisis with the distribution of water filters to 3,300 vulnerable households and a cash transfer to an additional 1,000 households in western Yemen.
  • Since 2012 Oxfam has rehabilitated water systems in 41 rural communities in western Yemen, providing more than 125,000 vulnerable people with safe drinking water.
  • In the north in Sa’ada governorate, where years of conflict have destroyed infrastructure and created significant access constraints, Oxfam working on repairing and installing water sources, and has reached 58,000 people. We have also delivered vital water and sanitation services to communities in Aden and Abyan in the south.
  • Together with partners, Oxfam is working to empower women economically, socially, and politically to have a say in decision making at all levels.
  • Planning for the longer term, Oxfam is piloting three solar pump drinking water systems, reaching more than 20,000 beneficiaries in three communities.
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In with the old and make it new

Oxfam Ireland recently teamed up with Studio Souk and Voluntary Arts Ireland to highlight some of the imaginative and waste-reducing ways in which people can take something unwanted and make it something beautiful.

Visitors and passers-by to our Oxfam Home shop in Belfast could be forgiven for wondering what exactly was going on the shop window recently, as three ladies were to be observed on their knees, in paint-splattered aprons, taking spray cans, sandpaper, staplers, stencils and screwdrivers to some of the furniture that was for sale in the shop.

But no, they weren’t vandalising Oxfam’s stock, just the opposite. The answer? It was a live hands-on demonstration by Oxfam partners Studio Souk – a Belfast-based collective of creative businesses – to mark the #LovetoUPCYCLE campaign. The aim is to highlight how imaginative and creative upcycling can reduce waste by turning old and otherwise unwanted items into fabulous and desirable new pieces.

As Linzi Rooney, Studio Souk Director, explains, “Upcycling helps sustain the environment around us and most importantly to reduce landfill, which at this time is at a critical condition. Upcycling gives an individual the ability to express themselves and their personality through an item, whether it be an unused wardrobe or an old cup and saucer, and to create something unique.”

The day before the demo I had met with Linzi to select a few items from the Oxfam shop floor that would best be suit the makeover demonstration. We finally selected a nest of walnut tables, a set of drawers and an open-top pine chest with a cushioned seat.

 

Before upcycling… All the items were sourced from the Oxfam Home store. Photos by Phillip Graham/Oxfam

The next morning, the creatives – Linzi, Madeleine, Paula, with assistance from Bobby – set to work. They quickly earned my admiration for how they could see beyond the temporary faults of the tired furniture and only visualise how its potential could be unleashed with a bit of crafty TLC and upcycling.

I wasn’t the only one admiring their skills. While the ladies were busy with their heads down, hard at work, I could witness how their creative efforts were drawing appreciative glances from the shop’s customers.

Indeed more than one shopper was so curious and eager about the items craftily being upcycled that they ignored the BBC and Northern Visions TV crews who were filming us, so as to get up close and personal with the furniture – almost knocking over the pots of paint on the floor in the process. Talk about an interactive workshop!

 

During… creatives at work in the Dublin Road Oxfam Home store, Belfast. Clockwise, from top left: Linzi Rooney, Studio Souk Director; Madeleine Beattie; Bobby Kleinmeuman and Paula McVeigh. Photos by Phillip Graham/Oxfam

All the items of furniture were given a new lease of life with vibrant Spring colours using chalk paints.

Paula took what was a rather ordinary chest of white drawers, sanded them back, before applying a beautifully bright pink coat of chalk paint. On the top, Paula used a stencil to paint a sky of clouds and balloons in a blue sky to revitalise a piece of furniture that is now both fun and practical, perfect for a young girl’s bedroom. Linzi also suggested that with more time the handles, could be changed, using domestic cutlery for a quirky touch.

Meanwhile, Madeleine was working on the pine chest, which she dismantled and stripped back, before treating it to some lemon yellow chalk paint. The chest top was removed at the hinges and the seat’s tired tweedy cushion covering was made over with the aid of some blue linen material which had also been found in the shop. The visually-striking chest was then re-assembled and reborn, ready to find a new loving home.

Linzi was giving a makeover to a dark walnut nest of tables, the top one of which was missing a glass insert. Linzi set about painting all three in a vibrant green (the Oxfam green, appropriate for the environmentally-friendly initiative!), and after 2 coats of paint sanded it back to better reveal the detailing.

Bobby, an Australian by birth and a sewer by craft, also assisted the Studio Souk Creatives throughout. Bobby also endeared herself to the Oxfam Home staff when she bought a dresser and other items from the shop – no doubt they too will be lovingly made over in due course.

 

… and after. All items of furniture were given a new lease of life with vibrant Spring colours using chalk paints. Photos by Phillip Graham/Oxfam

If, like Bobby, you buy materials, furniture, clothing or anything you like from one of Oxfam’s stores and show us (via our Facebook and Twitter pages) how you like to upcycle them, you will be invited to a free upcycling workshop, teaching you even more ways to get creative with your lesser-loved possessions.

So why not get in touch with your creative side and get upcycling with the help of items to be found at your local Oxfam shop? You will also be raising vital funds for our work overseas, such as our current emergency response to Cyclone Pam in Vanuatu where families desperately need food, water and sanitation.

In the meantime, for more practical tips and advice on upcycling furniture, fashion and homewares, be sure to check out the blog at www.studiosouk.com.

All items and accessories for upcycling were sourced from the Oxfam Home store, 52-54 Dublin Road, Belfast.

Top tips

  • To give old, unwanted items a new lease of life may mean a bit of basic TLC, with just a bit of chalk paint; or re-upholstering a fabric cover; or perhaps even a bit of lateral thinking to imagine a completely different use for the item altogether.
  • While the makeovers shown here were items of furniture, you could just as easily apply the upcycling lessons to clothing (such as stenciling a new design on an old T-shirt) or homewares (curtains, or reusing them to cover cushions).
  • Express yourself and be an artist in your own right. It’s for you to decide how you want something to be, rather than what the high street dedicates to you. Be inventive, be different – for example, use unused cutlery as drawer handles. Thinking outside of the box not only helps the environment but is loads of fun too!
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The land of the invisible: 51 million people fleeing conflict

Every 4 seconds a person in the world is forced to flee their home. People like Martha, who crossed the Nile carrying three children on her back with another three floating alongside, dodging bullets, with nothing to eat for more than five days. Conflict in her country of South Sudan has forced her and many others to leave everything they know behind.

There are now more than 51 million refugees and people displaced by conflict and violence across the world. This is a record-breaking figure, which surpasses even that of the Second World War.

Above: Okach Mabil (10) walks through mud carrying a sack of grain in the Malakal camp for displaced people in South Sudan. Fighting has forced over two million people from their homes. Simon Rawles/Oxfam

The main cause is the intensification of conflicts, particularly in Syria, South Sudan and the Central African Republic, which alone have resulted in over 11 million displaced people and refugees in Syria, over 2 million in South Sudan and 860,000 more in the Central African Republic.

But beyond these raw statistics lies an individual human being – like me and you – who has had to flee, leaving behind belongings, a home, friends and often family. It is very difficult to put into words the bleakness and vulnerability they face.

We cannot allow ourselves to get used to these permanent crises which affects a group of people almost more than ten times the population of the island of Ireland.

They are in need of shelter; blankets and clothes; food and water; security and protection; a job and money to survive.

Above: Um Ali (right) and her husband Abu Ali sit on the floor with some of their children in their shelter in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. The Jabaa settlement where they live was set up on agricultural land that turns into sludge come the first rain. “In Syria, I had a washing machine. Now it’s all about hand washing, and with this mud, it’s difficult to keep anything clean,” explains Um. Her husband Abu says “In Syria, I had a car and some goats. I sold them all before I left the country and have since spent all the money in Lebanon. Without humanitarian aid, I don’t know how we can survive.” Joelle Bassoul/Oxfam

Through their taxes, European citizens make it possible for humanitarian aid to save lives. We are collaborating with the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid Office (ECHO) with the launch of an innovative communications project – EUsavelives, You Save Lives – in which we highlight the experiences of refugees.

The campaign will give a voice to those affected, showing the human side of these crises so that millions of people across Europe are made aware of the reality of everyday life in refugee camps and host communities.

Since 2008 the world has become a less peaceful place. The increase in terrorist activity and conflicts and the endless rise in the number of refugees and displaced people are the facts that demonstrate this. Unfortunately, this increase in violence will have dramatic consequences for millions of people. And it not only affects those people who are already finding it difficult to survive in this situation; many others will be forced to live in violent situations because it is impossible for them to escape from the instability. It is estimated that 500 million people are currently living in countries at risk of conflict.

Above: Yehia* (51) is a farmer from Idlib in Syria. He has been living in this tent in a coastal area of north Lebanon for the past three years. The strong winds blew away the plastic sheets that were the only means of protection against the rain for Yehia and his family. When their ceiling collapsed the family had to cut the tent’s sides with a knife to be able to get out.  Oriol Andrés Gallart/Oxfam

The question is, if you were in their place? A life erased, all to be built again. It is impossible to fully understand what this must be like. It is a duty to try to. So please help us raise awareness and make the invisible refugees visible by sharing, telling a friend or simply clicking here. You save lives. Together we save lives.

You Save Lives

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Above: Irish Examiner journalist Noel Baker on his trip to Lebanon with Oxfam & ECHO. Originally broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1's World Report.

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