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The refugee crisis you won’t have heard about: On the ground in Tanzania

The situation facing refugees from Syria has been one of the big international stories of the past year but another crisis has been less visible.

Tens of thousands of refugees have fled Burundi, a landlocked country in East Africa, into neighbouring Tanzania after election tensions last year led to weeks of violent protests.

Michael O’Riordan, Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Coordinator, took a lead role in organising the humanitarian response.

Having been involved in many humanitarian programmes before ranging from the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Philippines to South Sudan, Michael was well prepared for his secondment to Tanzania last year.

Nevertheless, the huge influx of refugees arriving from Burundi meant it was like “setting up a small town from scratch” at the Nyarugusu camp.

Michael first arrived in May last year after approximately 30,000 people crowded onto a rugged beach shore of Kakunga Beach, Lake Tanganyika, on the Burundi and Tanzania border. Many spent up to three weeks here in exposed, cramped conditions with little clean water, food or sanitation.

Watch this video where Michael shares his experiences in Tanzania, responding to the Burundian refugee crisis:

The refugees there were brought to the Nyarugusu camp, where Michael helped set up Oxfam’s emergency programme. Often whatever worldly belongings they brought on their journey had to be left behind to be transported to the camp at a later date, meaning that many refugees arrive in the camp with just the clothes on their back. People are thirsty and tired; many are sick. They’ve gone through so much already just to get to this point, and what they need now is clean water, food and a place to sleep.

One of Michael’s main priorities was to expand the existing water and sanitation network within the Nyarugusu camp to allow for the huge numbers arriving. The original water system was built by Oxfam 20 years ago and was designed to be used by 50,000 people but was already being used by 65,000 mainly Congolese refugees. (Nyarugusu was created in the mid-1990s to house people fleeing the Democratic Republic of Congo).

The numbers of people now arriving from Burundi since May 2015 has made Nyarugusu the world’s third largest refugee camp today with a population of 173,000 with the vast majority new arrivals (it was once the ninth largest).

Having so many people living in such close proximity to each other creates conditions ripe for diseases like cholera and typhoid to spread. Access to clean running water, a toilet and a shower is vital.

Above: Michael O'Riordan shares a moment of laughter with refugee children in Tanzania.

“We were dealing with approximately 30,000 of the refugees coming from Burundi’, says Michael. “So many basic services were lacking, and we had to set them up from scratch. This meant the first phase of the trip was very busy, with many 24 hour days and very little sleep. We also had to import some of our equipment due to the lack of services in the area. The only way of importing this was driving from Nairobi in Kenya all the way to northern Tanzania, which was a good four/five days of physical driving.”

The Tanzania Water and Environment Sanitation (TWESA), a local NGO set up by Oxfam, partnered up with Oxfam in dealing with the crisis. Michael describes how TWESA’s local knowledge of the area meant they had the capacity to respond effectively to the crisis. There was also a reunion of old friends, as many of the Oxfam and TWESA staff had previously worked together before.

The long days and limited services were challenges for Michael and his team, but it was easy to be reminded of the importance of a humanitarian presence in the area on his first day meeting refugees. “I was talking to a woman who had been separated from her husband and some of her children, and who had not received food in five days,” he says. “It really brought home to me the desperate situation which many were facing, and the work that needed to be done.’’

Clockwise from top: Boy using Oxfam water station for hygiene at Tanzanian refugee camp. Oxfam workers prepare water supplies at Tanzanian refugee camp. Refugees in Tanzania.

Along with improving water and sanitation systems and providing basic hygiene items like soap, toothpaste and sanitary towels, Michael observed a need for something else basic but equally vital – buckets, cooking pots and kitchen utensils for people to carry, prepare and eat the food being distributed to them, something which Oxfam has since distributed.

People were using any container they could find to collect the nutritious porridge-like food that was being distributed, and Michael watched as a man, who had queued for hours, finished what he had to eat and walked down the length of the queue to pass his precious container onto the first person who had none.

“That generosity, even in their hardship, these people were willing to share with each other to make sure that they could each get food really struck me. I met that man again several weeks later, and he was able to take me to where he was staying now… he had set up a little barber business using a razor powered by solar energy. In so far as you can be in that environment, he was trying to make his life normal again.

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#GE16: Rising inequality is a key election issue for 8 out of 10 people in Ireland

As voters in the Republic of Ireland prepare to go to the polls on Friday February 26th, a new survey by Oxfam Ireland has found that 8 out of 10 (81%) people want politicians to make inequality a key issue in the general election. 
 
82% agree that the next Taoiseach should prioritise tackling inequality in the new programme for government, specifically addressing tax dodging, equal pay and access to healthcare. 
 
Above left: Back row from left - Bríd Smith (Anti Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit), John Lyons (Labour), Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken, Lorraine Clifford-Lee (Fianna Fáil) and Eoin Ó Broin (Sinn Féin). Front row - Carol Hunt (Independent Alliance) and Director of National Women’s Council of Ireland Orla O'Connor. Above right: Jim Clarken and Orla O’Connor with economist David McWilliams who hosted the Make Equality #1 event focusing on economic and gender equality. Photos: Sasko Lazarov/Photocall Ireland
 
This widespread opinion stems from the broader concern that Ireland is becoming a more unequal place – the survey revealed almost 8 out 10 (79%) of Irish people believe the gap between the richest and the rest of society is widening. 
 
The Empathy Research nationwide survey was launched today at the Make Equality #1 pre-election event hosted by Oxfam Ireland and the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) and was chaired by economist David McWilliams with general election candidates Lorraine Clifford-Lee (Fianna Fáil), Carol Hunt (Independent Alliance), John Lyons (Labour), Eoin Ó Broin (Sinn Féin) and Bríd Smith (Anti-Austerity Alliance–People Before Profit) debating economic and gender inequality.

You can listen to the full 'Make Equality 1' debate below.

Oxfam Ireland Chief Executive Jim Clarken says: “This survey confirms that rising inequality is clearly at the forefront of Irish people’s minds as they prepare to go the polls. We live in a world where the richest 1% own more wealth than everyone else put together. Ordinary working families are up against odds that are impossible to beat and poorer people are paying the biggest price for rapidly increasing inequality.
 
“Every day Oxfam works to close the inequality gap from the bottom up by helping people to lift themselves out of poverty. Today, along with the people of Ireland, we demand more action in closing the gap from the top down too, tackling a toxic tax system, ensuring quality services for all and closing the gender pay gap. 
 
“Inequality is not inevitable – it is the result of policy choices. The upcoming general election offers an important opportunity to shape a recovery that includes everyone.”
 
Director of National Women’s Council of Ireland Orla O'Connor says: “NWCI are calling on the next Government to prioritise equality budgeting and serious investment in public services. Tackling violence against women, delivery of quality health and maternity services, and providing a universal pension are all essential for women’s equality and all dependent on the resources being invested. There is a real danger that parties which focus on short-term tax cuts will not be in a position to deliver that investment.  
 
 
“Equal pay is a major concern highlighted in the survey and in Ireland the gender pay gap has actually risen. A majority of those on low pay or insecure part-time contracts are women with 50% now earning €20,000 or less. This negative spiral must be halted and reversed. Whichever parties form the next Government they must legislate against precarious work, support a living wage and attach strong employment, equality and environmental standards to public spending while also promoting gender balance in senior roles.”
 
84% of Irish adults believe that women in Ireland being paid over 14% less than men is unfair – with women stronger in this belief than men (92% vs. 74%).
 
The NWCI is calling for an end to the gender pay gap to be named as a goal within the new programme for government.
 
The survey also shows growing concern about large-scale tax dodging with more than 8 out of 10 (86%) of Irish people believing that big companies and wealthy individuals are using tax loopholes to dodge paying their fair share of taxes. 83% agreed that tax dodging means vital public services like schools and hospitals in Ireland and across the world are suffering.
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Entertain, educate, organise: how radio supports development

To mark World Radio Day on Saturday 13th February, Oxfam celebrates how radio impacts millions of people every day, and remains an important tool for development and a lifeline in times of emergency. 
 
Oxfam uses radio as a vital medium in its overseas programme work tackling poverty and assisting vulnerable people during humanitarian crisis.
 
Radio dramas and entertainment/education campaigns offer the potential to deliver critical information to those who need it most across vast geographic distances via compelling, entertaining programming. 
 
In Tanzania, for example, Oxfam is supporting a community station, Radio Lolondo FM, by helping to provide equipment, solar powered energy supplies and salaries, as it works to raise awareness about development work in Tanzania. The station educates people about Oxfam’s livelihood projects which help people grow more crops and set up their own co-ops, among other things, as well our campaign against violence on women and girls in Tanzania.
 
One of its broadcasters, Janet Mbunito explains radio’s benefits and its immediacy as a communications tool for essential information: “Newspapers are slow getting here and few can read them. With radio, we can bring the news of Arusha and of Tanzania quickly and the key is to broadcast local issues in the local language.
 
 
Janet Mbunito during a broadcast by Radio Lolondo FM, an Oxfam-supported station in Tanzania. Photo: Geoff Sayer/Oxfam
 
“We play music, take phone calls, and bring people in from the villages to talk. The station is here to entertain, to educate and to support development...”
 
Similarly, Oxfam and its partners in Haiti have developed a radio drama to change and influence knowledge, attitudes and behaviours amongst local communities, tackling issues such as nutrition, gender-based violence, destruction of natural resources, cholera, and safe hygiene practices. 
 
And in Liberia in 2015, Oxfam helped to develop radio jingles and a drama about the signs and symptoms of Ebola, which were broadcast via radio for four days nationwide. In Sierra Leone, the Radio Bintumani station in Koinadugu district also played jingles to highlight the signs and symptoms of Ebola and how to prevent it. Steven Bockarie Mansaray, the station manager, says that the promotion of health messages was key to keeping Ebola out of the district for so long.
 
 
Steven Bockarie Mansaray is the manager of Radio Bintumani in Sierra Leone. The district station played jingles to highlight the signs and symptoms of Ebola and how to prevent it. 
Credit: Holly Taylor/Oxfam
 
Nepal is another powerful example of the positive role that radio can play in Oxfam’s humanitarian work.
 
Following the two devastating earthquakes that hit the region in April and May 2015, Oxfam quickly responded, ensuring safe and equal access to water and sanitation facilities, and provision of basic needs such as food, cash and hygiene materials. 
 
However, as our community mobilisation teams in Nepal hit the ground to ask communities what they needed and to better understand the challenges they faced, it soon became apparent that in addition to basic essentials there was more we could do to help connect communities with information.
 
As Simone Carter, Oxfam Community Mobiliser and Public Health Promoter, says: “Families had lost access to information; their radios and TVs had been destroyed or buried in the earthquake, and travelling to access this information was impossible at the time.
 
“People were also confused about how to access the much-needed aid from the numerous organisations and relief agencies. This information gap resulted in rumours and questions about everything from selection criteria for reconstruction grants, to myths regarding the next earthquake.
 
 
Above: Radio Sindhu DJs Gurash Gureng (22), Deepak Khatri (23), and Asmi Tamang (21) in Nepal. After the earthquake made their station building unsafe they relocated to this open bike shed and set up their equipment for broadcast. The team received regular missing persons calls and helped to reunite people with their families. Photo: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam A Nepalese woman with one of the radios distributed by Oxfam, following the devastating earthquakes in 2015. Credit: Oxfam
 
“An organisation focused on improving access to information in affected communities, Internews, was in Nepal running a programme called OpenMic Rumour Tracking, which they had first trialled in Liberia with Ebola. 
 
“They collected rumours from communities and then published a weekly report in English and Nepali comparing these common rumours to facts, as well as providing contact details for people who could provide further information. 
 
“Oxfam teams did not have a channel to disseminate the information, so we decided to partner with a local community station, Radio Sindhu, to produce a programme, including a section on myth de-bunking.”
 
The earthquake had made Radio Sindhu’s building unsafe to operate in, and soon the station was receiving calls from people across the area saying they could not hear its shows.
 
Despite difficulties in getting supplies to the region, the station was given a new aerial, they relocated to an open bike shed, got hold of fuel for the generator and set up their equipment for broadcast. Radio Sindhu was broadcasting around the clock within two days of the earthquake. The team received regular missing persons calls and helped to reunite people with their families. 
 
Simone Carter explains: “Internews provided capacity building to help the station produce the show with Oxfam, and our community mobilisers worked with communities to gather the content. 
 
“By working through local radio we have been able to provide communities with the information they want and need, in a way that they find accessible, and which is part of their daily life. The show has been so successful that other local stations have been airing it as well.
 
“Topics have included health, gender, humanitarian assistance and government programming. Other topics addressed by the show have included preparing for winter, how to tell if your child has trauma, and success stories of communities recovery and rebuilding.
 
“By also inviting other organisations including the Red Cross and government agencies to be on the show, we encouraged communities to listen to just one station, with one show that aims to address their key concerns. The show has been running since June 2015 and although there are some national radio equivalents it is the only local radio show with community dialogue, focused on serving the needs of the community post-earthquake.
 
“Oxfam distributed over 1,000 radios to women's groups and youth groups to encourage members to listen. The show is replayed at four different times and on two different stations, allowing these groups different opportunities to sit together and listen. Our community mobilisers and the female community health volunteers also carry recorded versions of the show to play during community visits. This means that when our teams arrive in communities and they bring up key issues, they can play the episode on that topic or take note of the issue and organise an upcoming episode to address it.
 
“We are now trying to do live segments from communities and to have story collection done by the radio station, encouraging the station to take more ownership of the programme, so that it will be sustainable in the long-term.
 
“Not only do the radio shows provide key information to communities, they also serve as a constructive forum for the community to discuss and share information and experiences among themselves. We have hosted children's groups, promoted community events and showcased local talent. 
 
“The show has done more than inform, it has helped to grow and strengthen community bonds, bringing people together in the process of recovery and reconstruction after the earthquakes.”
 
You can help support Oxfam projects worldwide by making a donation.
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Gifts from Oxfam, spread the love this Valentine’s Day!

It can be hard to pick the perfect gift for Valentine’s Day but with our Unwrapped range of alternative gifts, we’ve got you covered.
 
Here are three gifts from Oxfam that can help spread the love this Valentine’s Day:

GOAT COUPLE:

 
Goat Couple €70/£50 (Available online for half price, just €35/£25)
Celebrate your togetherness with the dynamic duo that is our Goat Couple. Now half price online, pick up this pair and help change the lives of people in extreme poverty who rely on animals like goats to provide for their families.
 

HONEYBEES:

 
For that someone sweet in your life, give the gift of Honeybees and you could help rural farmers to learn about the latest beekeeping methods and build brighter futures by harvesting more honey from their hives.
 

CHOCOLATE:

There is no better way to show you care than with calorie-free Chocolate – a gift that’s free of guilt and full of potential for farmers everywhere, especially cocoa farmers.
 
All three of these gifts raise vital funds for our Livelihoods programme that helps make possible a whole range of life-changing livelihoods projects. Whether that’s increasing agricultural production, safeguarding animal health and well-being, or providing small-scale farmers and other producers with access to more opportunities, we promise to maximise your generosity by helping poor families to thrive.
 
Unwrapped gift cards are available at your local Oxfam shop and online as a printed card or eCard.*

*Please note, the Goat Couple is only available at 50% discount online, not in store. Offer available online until February 16th 2016.

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Shining a spotlight on inequality

Our 'Richest 62' stat hit a nerve last week and got the whole world talking. From journalists and economists to celebrities and the US Vice President - here's a selction of tweets which show just how far and wide the news about our shocking report on inequality travelled.

 

"..and for me, obviously you know inequality is a priority" - Enda Kenny speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

All this talk must be backed up with action. Sign our petition now for a fairer Ireland and a fairer world.

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