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Syria: Preparing for a harsh winter

Last winter, nearly 4,900 families, who have escaped the fighting in Afrin, Syria, received warm winter clothes that helped them face the harsh weather conditions, especially with the little heating they had and the lack of proper attire. Each kit consisted of two adult winter coats and three children-sized. 

Funding for these winter kits came at a time of a great need for some of Syria’s most vulnerable people who have escaped the violence and are still hoping for a better future for both them and their children.

Woman carries a winter survival box
Credit: Islam Mardini/Oxfam

Nazeera* was displaced from Afrin and now struggles to provide food and clothes for her five children. “We lost our home and livelihood when fighting escalated in our hometown, destroying my husband’s shop. It was very difficult for him to find another job and we must now rely on the support of relatives. Our disappointment is only increasing, day by day, as we cannot return home and cannot afford to live here,” Nazeera* tells Oxfam.

Elderly man receives winter box
Credit: Islam Mardini/Oxfam

70-year-old Nezar*, was also displaced from Afrin and now stays with his relatives in Aleppo. His leg was injured, and he cannot walk without crutches – but still he perseveres. “I lost three sons to this war, and now I must support their three little children. My condition does not help, and this means we must rely on handouts for the time being. We live in a shoddy apartment with no reliable electricity, which means scarce heating in the cold winter months. We can’t afford to buy fuel. I really miss my old house and hope to return to it soon,” he tells Oxfam.

How You Can Help

Winter is upon Syrian families who fled for their lives across the border to Lebanon or Jordan. Many of them live in flimsy, improvised shelters.

Please help us provide Winter Survival Boxes which could contain thermal blankets, food vouchers, jerry cans, tarpaulin to insulate their shelter – simple, yet life-saving items.

As the nights start to get colder and more unbearable for Syrian refugees, your gift can’t come soon enough and will help support our emergency responses in places like Syria and where needed the most.

*Name(s) changed to protect identity

 

Rohingya Refugees: Working for peace, longing for home

There are close to a million Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh – more than 700,000 arrived following the violence of 25 August 2017. Some have been there since the 1990s.

Smiling woman near her unstable home

Two years on

Two years on, overcrowding and poor infrastructure leaves people exposed to diseases, especially during monsoon season, and lack of legal status prevents refugees from working, studying, getting specialist medical help, or reporting crimes. Oxfam’s Senior Communications Officer in Cox’s Bazar, Mutasim Billah, explains that a ban on refugees working and the lack of education in the camps has left many refugees feeling as though they are treading water.

Two years is a long time for lives to be left on hold, and for many Rohingya this has been the case for even longer.

Though not without worries, some Rohingya refugees in the camps of Cox’s Bazar prefer sometimes to focus on the brighter side, to share examples of how they can help themselves and their communities. They were proud to tell us how they were managing, just getting on with life.

Neighbors in a crowded community

Down a crowded path between the camp shelters, Layla, 30, is a Rohingya woman who has become something of a local hero for coming up with a simple solution to an everyday problem in her neighborhood. As it starts to rain, we huddle together by her front door in plastic chairs carried over by neighbors, under a cleverly woven awning made of palm fronds and empty rice sacks. We could have reached across the path with arms outstretched and touched both Layla’s front door and that of her opposite neighbor across the path.

Gesturing out the front door, we pointed to the host community village at the end of the lane, not 10 meters from this dense grouping of camp shelters. Layla explained, “When we first arrived here, we did not have a good relationship with our neighbors from the host community. Every day there were quarrels! For us the biggest issue was water. We want water, the host community wants water.  Everyone would just go to the taps with as many bottles as they could carry and collect as much as they could.”

Water is scarce – so how to keep the peace?

"I didn’t want to see the women quarreling at the taps, so I suggested a system. At our water tap, each Rohingya family can take two pitchers of water first. Then, the host community can come and take whatever they need. If there is a bit more water, the Rohingya can come take another pitcher. I fill the containers myself for the families to come and collect."

“I manage it this way to keep the peace in the community. Sometimes people come and thank me, and I feel good. We are managing here like this!"

“Neither of us is perfect, but we are very thankful to the local people for letting us stay here. We can be respectful of each other’s values and culture while we are here."

“But if you ask us, we all say we want our citizenship, our nationality. We want to go home.”

The changing role for men

We also spoke to Kabir, who belongs to one of Oxfam’s men’s gender group which meet to talk about changing gender roles, gender-based violence and the specific challenges men face living in the camps and how to cope. Oxfam has 25 men’s groups serving about 500 men across seven camps.

Kabir told us, “There was so much we didn’t know. We learned about our responsibility to our society, our home, and our women. Women work very hard at home!"

“Most of the time we forget to acknowledge that. When we were in our own country, no one ever told us to try to understand women’s contributions. Every home had conflicts. Now that we understand this, we don’t have conflict anymore – I don’t fight with my wife.”

Providing personal fulfillment

These men’s groups are not only critical for addressing long term challenges around transforming gender roles in the camps, they also give men like Kabir a place to vent frustrations and build confidence.

He says, “I only had one year of school, I am definitely not an educated person. In the group, I learned to write my name. It feels good writing your own name! Maybe as an educated person you wouldn’t understand, but this is a really fulfilling experience for me.”

Longing for home

Refugees like Layla and Kabir work hard to find ways to cope, but in many ways, their lives are in limbo.

“Now we are safe. We got a lot of support from the people living in this village. They helped us when there was no one. They provided many things,” says Kabir with a deep gratitude.

“But in the future, I just want to go home. The camp is not a good place to live for your whole life. Here we are living on support. Mentally no one is happy as all of us want to go back. But for that we need our nationality. It is our security. Without having that, we cannot go back.”

Oxfam is providing vital aid including clean water and food to Rohingya refugees. So far, we’ve helped more than a quarter of a million people in Bangladesh and we provide ongoing humanitarian assistance to 100,000 Rohingya and Kaman Muslims confined to camps in Myanmar.

Five Ways Oxfam Unwrapped Makes a Difference in the World

Giving someone a thoughtful and ethical present always feels good, but by giving an Oxfam Unwrapped charity gift, you're being generous in more ways than one.

We’ve rounded up the top five ways you’re helping to make a positive difference in the world when you give an Unwrapped charity gift this Christmas.

Girls walking to school

1. You’re fighting to end poverty

All gifts support Oxfam’s work and offer people around the world the opportunity to earn a sustainable income. They help to provide training, support and resources to make sure small businesses thrive, in the face of challenges that can affect farming and fishing, such as climate change.

2. Helping families in crisis

Oxfam provides resources for those affected by natural disasters or displaced by conflict. Proceeds from Oxfam Unwrapped support the many humanitarian relief efforts around the world by providing foodclean water, solar lights, mosquito nets, and bedding to families in need.

3. Supporting women’s rights activists

By choosing an Oxfam Unwrapped gift, you’re assisting the work of women’s rights activists around the world, who are calling for gender equality and an end to violence against women. Oxfam supports training for campaigners in countries such as Vanuatu, so they can educate others on creating a safer, more inclusive community.

4. Empowering curious minds with education opportunities

Education is a key pathway out of poverty and improving access to education can change lives around the world. From Papua New Guinea to Pakistan, Oxfam helps to support teachers and provide resources such as books, blackboards, pens, and clean water.

5. Spreading our mission to end the injustice of poverty

By sharing an Oxfam Unwrapped gift with family and friends, you’re helping to spread the word about the positive impact that can be made in communities around the world. It’s also an excellent way to educate younger family members about the diverse lives of families around the world. The more people learn about Oxfam’s life-changing programmes, the more successful we’ll be in creating a world free from the injustice of poverty.

Shop now to see the full range and learn more about the communities each Oxfam Unwrapped gift supports.

Ethiopia: Surviving a climate shock

For a young family in Ethiopia, surviving a climate shock and a deadly disease leads to the promise of a new livelihood.

Mohammed Dek says a severe drought in 2016 and 2017 turned his life upside down: First, it killed all his livestock. He and his extended family had 150 sheep and about 50 camels, and they moved around parts of Ethiopia’s Somali Region looking for pasture and water. “The rain stopped,” he says, “and the animals lacked feed and pasture.”

For a pastoralist family, losing an entire herd of animals to drought is a cruel form of bankruptcy. Not only do the animals represent their wealth, herding livestock defines who they are culturally. It is as much an existential crisis as an economic one. But for Dek’s family, this was just the beginning of a crisis brought on by climate change that would change their way of making a living— and hopefully lead to a better life.

Man in despair
Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Deadly disease

Dek says they did not dwell on the loss of their camels and sheep. “The livestock were gone; we had to accept that,” he says, using the Somali word “samar,” which means the acceptance of a loss. He and his wife and three children had other more important problems: “We had to focus on human life.”

When a severe drought hits, drinking water supplies become scarce and many families are forced to drink unclean water. This can lead to an outbreak of water-borne diseases and severe malnutrition as people with stomach problems are unable to benefit from what little food is available. In Dek’s village, a small place called Dalad, people came down with severe diarrhea (likely cholera) and became so dehydrated they died.

By the end of 2016, both of Dek’s parents and his uncle had passed away, and the government was advising Dek and his surviving family and others in Dalad to move 13 kilometers to the district center of Gunogado. Nearly three years later, there are still an additional 645 internally displaced families (about 3,900 people) living here, many in makeshift shelters.

Gunogado is in a remote part of the Somali region, accessible only by crossing a vast plain of what should be grassland but in dry times is a dusty expanse dotted by thorn bushes. Approaching the town, an occasional herd of cattle or goats trudge across the arid landscape, kicking up clouds of dust. Nearby, eight gerenuk (long-necked gazelle) seek shade in a group of spindly trees.

“A lot of people come here because we have had some rainfall, so they are coming with their livestock,” says one government official based in the community. But, he continues, in reality there is a shortage of water and pasture, and now the community is becoming crowded. “There are food shortages, and market prices are going up,” he says.

Extremely dry arid land
Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Seeking safety

Dek came to Gunagado at the end of 2016. “We had so many problems. When I came here I felt safe, because we could get some help. There were others like us, and we would be protected by the government.”

“When we first got here,” he continued, “we got a cash disbursement from Oxfam and a plastic sheet for a shelter and some mats for sleeping, soap, a jerry can to store clean water, and a solar light.”

Oxfam set up latrines, brought in water, and hired people to help clean up the community. Dek and his wife worked and used the cash they earned to buy food. They got three payments of 1,200 birr each, or about $120 total.

Children in front of a straw hut
Credit: Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

New livelihood

Dek’s thoughts were always on what he could do next to support his family. Now, he says he’s not inclined to rebuild his herd and return to a pastoralist life because the climate is changing and he doesn’t think he can make it work anymore.

“We had a lot of experience with droughts,” he says. “We might lose 50 percent of our herd, but we would always cope, and then it would rain. We would see rain in specific months, but now the rains don’t appear and the temperature is just getting hotter.”

Instead, Dek is participating in an Oxfam business training program and receiving grants (about $400) to start a small restaurant near the market in Gunagado. “I want to sell hot drinks, tea, and food like rice, pasta, and bread,” he says. He already has a location rented and intends to turn it into a successful and more diversified business he can expand to multiple locations.

Elias Kebede, Oxfam’s program manager for this area of the Somali region, says Oxfam is providing assistance for displaced people like Dek to help them diversify their ways of making a living beyond only raising livestock.

Ultimately, he says, “it is the government’s responsibility to ensure there is a good, enabling environment for rural communities, with water, roads, and schools that meet basic service needs. This will not only help pastoralist families, but also help those who want to diversify their livelihood.” He says the government needs to focus on ways to help people, especially women and young people, find the resources to build their own businesses and create more opportunities to earn money.

After he gets his restaurant business established, Dek says he wants to build his family a decent home. His objective is to “give my children a good education, so they can learn to speak English, and enjoy a better standard of living.”

Give something different – give a gift that lasts, with Oxfam’s Christmas range

Give something different this Christmas by giving a gift that lasts, with Oxfam Ireland’s new range of ethical and sustainable presents.

The charity is calling on the public to shop more sustainably this year by visiting their local Oxfam shop and browsing their wide range of gifts that last, from Unwrapped alternative gift cards to the beautifully unique ‘Sourced by Oxfam’ items. Each gift makes a lasting impact by helping to raise vital funds for Oxfam’s work worldwide, including communities affected by the climate crisis.  

Available online and in-store, there are new additions in the Unwrapped range for 2019, including the There Is No Planet B card (€20/£18) tackling climate change and helping farmers living in poverty to prepare for the challenge as well as the You Are My Sunshine Solar Lamp card (€20/£18), which really does provide a brighter future for people affected by disaster. Or perhaps you’d prefer to give a Wee Gift? The A Toilet card (€15/£13) helps give families who have lost everything access to clean water and decent sanitation to stop the spread of deadly diseases. To see Oxfam’s full range of Unwrapped gifts, visit oxfamireland.org/unwrapped

Meanwhile in-store only, the Sourced by Oxfam range contains fantastically festive food, gifts and homewares that are made with care, protect the planet, help the women and men who produce them to earn a decent living and raise vital funds to beat poverty for good. Present ideas new to this year’s gift range include more Fairtrade food choices like Dark Chocolate With Tangy Clementine and White Chocolate Strawberry Hearts, candles scented Lavendar Leaf, Rose Leaf and more, notebooks, decorations and homewares like Sari Fluffy Rug… as well as Moomins!

Michael McIlwaine, Oxfam Ireland’s Head of Retail, said: “Every year we give and receive gifts that we don’t need, asking ourselves questions like ‘What will I get for the person who has everything?’ This Christmas, we’re asking people to give something different by shopping more sustainably at their local Oxfam.

“Everything in our wide range of gifts is guaranteed to last longer than the typical bottle of wine or festive foodie hamper as all of them help beat poverty for good by raising vital funds for our work across the world.

“From supporting development projects that change lives in Rwanda, Tanzania and beyond, to saving lives through emergency responses in places like Syria – where millions forced to flee are facing a harsh winter with little means to survive it – your gift will make a difference that lasts for women, children and men in desperate need.

“Why not commit to #GiveSomethingDifferent as one of your gifts this year? Whether that’s your workplace Secret Santa or kids’ stocking fillers, your local Oxfam has got you covered!”

Simply call into one of Oxfam’s shops across the island, or phone 1850 30 40 55 (Republic of Ireland) or 0800 0 30 40 55 (Northern Ireland). To find the Oxfam shop nearest to you, visit oxfamireland.org/shops

ENDS

For more information, or to request images, please contact:

ROI:        Alice Dawson-Lyons on 00 353 (0) 83 198 1869 / alice.dawsonlyons@oxfam.org

NI:           Phillip Graham on 0044 (0) 7841 102535 / phillip.graham@oxfamireland.org

 

NOTES TO THE EDITOR:

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