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TV presenter Lorraine Keane explains why she's teamed up with Oxfam Ireland for Fashion Relief

Over the past eight years, my work with Irish and international charities has taken me to some of the world’s poorest countries. My most recent trip was to East Africa, where millions of people are facing a devastating hunger crisis. I’ve seen mothers who can’t feed their babies and small children who go to bed hungry, knowing there’ll still be nothing to eat when they get up in the morning. It’s absolutely heartbreaking – something that no man, woman or child should have to go through. 


Above left: Lorraine Keane with baby Emilia Rodrigues in Marracuene, Mozambique. Above right: Lorraine with pupils from the Amazon School in Insiza, Zimbabwe. Photos: Jeannie O'Brien

Right now, people in East Africa and elsewhere are dying of hunger. But I don’t think the public realises how bad the situation is because this hunger crisis isn’t being reported in Ireland. At least, that’s what I discovered when I got home. How can millions of people dying from something preventable not be big news?

The other thing I realised when I returned to Ireland was how much stuff we all have. Many of us have too much while other people have nothing. It got me thinking about all those I know who’d be happy to part with a few pre-loved items if they thought it could save lives. 

With that thought it mind, I approached Oxfam Ireland to see if they’d be interested in teaming up for a fashion fundraiser. If we were able to encourage celebrities and members of the public to donate their high-quality clothes, bags and accessories, we could hold a massive sale and raise funds to fight the hunger crisis. Oxfam Ireland was the obvious charity partner. Not only does it work with communities on the brink of starvation, its 48 shops nationwide make ideal drop-off points for stock from the public. 

Once we’d agreed on the concept – now called Fashion Relief – I got out my contacts book and started to get in touch with friends and colleagues in the entertainment business. As I’d expected, they all agreed to help. Not only were some happy to give their designer clothes, they offered to man the stalls for the event on Sunday 13th May at Dublin’s RDS.  As for donations, not one person has said no. 

Miriam O'Callaghan, Bono, Cillian Murphy, Kathryn Thomas, Lucy Kennedy, Andrew Trimble, Amanda Byram, Don O'Neill, Brian O'Driscoll, Rob Kearney, Rosanna Davison, Aisling O'Loughlin, Sonya Lennon, Brendan Courtney, Brian Kennedy, Glenda Gilson, Brent Pope, Karen Koster, Niall Quinn, Deborah Veale, Helen Steele, Lisa Cannon, Louise Kennedy, Colette Fitzpatrick and Ryan Tubridy as well as jewellery designers like Aria-V, Melissa Curry and Juvi Designs – the list is endless.

They all want to help those suffering from extreme hunger. We’d love if you could join us – because together we can make a difference. 

For more details on tickets, donations or volunteering for FASHION RELIEF, see www.fashionrelief.ie 

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Typhoon in the Philippines: the power of local people to save lives

When a deadly storm struck Mindinao, Oxfam’s work to strengthen local humanitarian leaders was put to the test.


Left: “No one here could afford to lose the things that were destroyed,” says organizer Ruth Villasin. “But these communities knew what they had to do to save lives, and they did it. They lost a lot, but in some ways they are stronger than ever.” Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam. Right: “We were all shocked,” says Pricarda Malinao, who lost her shop to the Davao river flood, along with much of the land it stood on. Despite a heart condition and a fear of the water, Malinao rescued two toddlers from a nearby home and carried them to safety. Photo: Elizabeth Stevens/Oxfam

The Davao is not a tame river. For all its glassy surface and gentle curves, it is capable of rising 20 or 30 feet with breathtaking speed, overwhelming the communities perched on its banks. That’s what happened in December 2017, when Typhoon Vinta struck the Philippine island of Mindanao.

“We were all shocked,” says Pricarda Malinao, who lost her shop to the flood, along with much of the land it stood on. Thirty-five houses in her village—a third of the total—were destroyed. But when community members gather to talk about that day, there is an unmistakable tone of pride in their voices: they were well prepared for a flood emergency, and the actions they took saved lives.

Families who live on the banks of the Davao eke out a living by taking in laundry, hauling carts from door to door to collect garbage, or scooping sand from the bottom of the river to sell as construction material. In other words, they are poor, and around the world it is the poorest people who suffer most when disaster strikes. Of course, vulnerable doesn’t mean helpless; in communities where resources are scarce, the ethics of sharing and protecting one another often runs deep, and stories abound of heroism in the face of disaster.

But it takes more than good will and spontaneous acts of courage to ensure that every family in harm’s way makes it to safety: it takes knowledge, skills, practice, and a few resources.

We follow their lead

In April 2015, Oxfam joined forces with Tearfund and Christian Aid in a three-year pilot project aimed at strengthening the ability of local organizations and communities in the Philippines to handle disasters without significant help from international agencies. It is called the Financial Enablers Project, or FEP.

“We set out not only to strengthen local knowledge and capacity,” says Jane Bañez-Ockelford, who led the project for Oxfam, “but also to build local leadership—to help develop effective, confident, proactive decision makers.”

There is nothing new about international agencies supporting capacity-building efforts in countries prone to disasters. What’s different about the FEP is that the international agencies didn’t tell the Filipinos what to do with the money.

“The partners we work with define their own needs and gaps and design their own capacity-development plans,” says Bañez-Ockelford. “We follow their lead.”

Some organizations needed to improve their financial systems; others needed to sharpen their skills in carrying out assessments and providing clean water in emergencies. Each underwent a rigorous self-assessment and came up with a proposal that the FEP then supported.

It’s all part of a plan to shift power and resources traditionally held by international organizations to the humanitarians working closer to home.

“At the heart of our humanitarian ethos is the power of people,” says Winnie Byanyima, executive director of Oxfam International. “It pushes us to move decision-making and power to where it should be: in the hands of people most affected by crises.”

Zero casualties

In the months before the typhoon struck, a group of FEP-funded organizations worked with 15 riverside communities to prepare for just such an emergency. They helped villagers set up an early warning system in which upland communities would warn people living downstream of impending floods, and where painted markers along the river would enable residents to monitor the water as it rose. The agencies encouraged communities to form emergency committees, and trained them in everything from evacuation planning to first aid to health and hygiene in emergencies. They provided the local teams with rescue equipment, and carried out simulations to help everyone understand what to do and when to do it. When the real emergency hit, evacuations were timely and effective.

The price tag for training and equipping 154 community-level responders? Less than $20,000.

Community team leader Armando Amancio experienced a similar flood in 2013. Last time, he says, “there had been no training in advance and we had no equipment. Our response was completely disorganized. There was no monitoring of hygiene and sanitation and no immunizations, and there were serious health problems afterward. People came down with leptospirosis, dengue, flu, and diarrhea. One person died of tetanus from a puncture wound. This time, the health problems were mild.”

And while more than 200 people died in Typhoon Vinta, in the areas where Oxfam’s FEP partners were working, there were no casualties.

“These communities knew what they had to do to save lives, and they did it,” says Ruth Villasin, an organizer from one of the local aid groups. “They lost a lot, but in some ways they are stronger than ever.”

Typhoon in the Philippines: the power of local people to save lives

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In South Sudan, Oxfam races the rains to save lives

By Tim Bierley

In the middle of war, even the simple solutions to staying healthy can feel impossible, but education and resources at the community level are saving lives every day.

Nyawal is a community heath volunteer, helping to educate her community about the importance of keeping their community clean, using clean water and practicing good sanitation to avoid diseases like cholera and diarrhea. Right now, Oxfam and volunteers like Nyawal are racing to educate and provide resources before the rainy season starts. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam
 
You can do many simple things to keep control of cholera and diarrhoea, explains Yoal, an Oxfam health volunteer in Pading, South Sudan. But it gets more complicated when your town’s water pumps break down and people are forced to drink swamp water; when animals drink and defecate in the same water sources; when there are no toilets; when you only have one container for bathing, collecting water and washing clothes and dishes; when conflict cuts off your town from almost all trade and the price of soap is more than many people earn in a week; when sick people must walk 30 miles through blistering heat to reach the nearest hospital.

“It is hard for people to keep healthy here,” Yoal sighs. “In 2017, we had so many cases of cholera and diarrhoea. We lost 27 people.”

Yoal, an Oxfam community health volunteer, teaches the importance of keeping water containers clean in Lankien. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam
 
Yoal’s home town of Pading is a small cluster of pointy-topped huts in Nyirol County in the northeast of South Sudan. It is extremely remote – surrounded by huge stretches of almost completely flat land, compressed into uniformity by the swamps which swell in the wet season between May and October. The swamps make delivering aid to places like Pading extremely difficult and they also increase the risk of cholera, as the expanding waters soak and mix up everything in their path.

Soon, those rains will thunder down on Pading again. With lives at stake, Oxfam is racing to make sure communities like this one are prepared with the means to fight off another outbreak during the wet season.

Oxfam and local leaders respond ahead of the rains

Last month, engineers from our mobile emergency response team repaired the town’s two water pumps, so Pading will have clean water this year. Now we’re working with volunteers like Yoal to teach people practical ways to keep disease at bay, as well as handing out supplies like water buckets, containers for bathing, soap and drinking cups.

The key to surviving in extremely risky situations like this, Yoal says, is being completely thorough.

“Sometimes, everyone within the family has to rely on the same containers for lots of different uses,” he says. “You have to be extremely careful about how you use your resources.”

He explains that as the war has dragged on, people have grown increasingly tired. They have seen friends and family die unnecessary deaths. It can be hard to persuade people that it’s possible to stop the slide, when it is clear the conflict is forcing people into ever worsening positions.

“You have to give really practical support like telling people that even if they cannot afford soap for washing, they can use ash. They should boil water if they are drinking it from the swamp. We explain exactly how each thing can affect them.”

Children are the common denominator

Convincing people that change is possible is not still not always easy, but Yoal says there is one thing that unites everyone: “It’s when people see the impact on their children’s health that they are really affected by what I say. Everyone just wants to keep their family safe.”

Nyawal, who volunteers for Oxfam in Lankien, a town nine hours walk from Pading, knows too well the impact cholera can have on a family. She lost two children to the disease last year. Like so many mothers in South Sudan, she felt that their lives were almost out of her control.

Nyawal, smiling with one of her children whose health has improved, is an Oxfam volunteer in Lankien helping with water and sanitation work. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

“I have always kept things clean and done everything I can to look after my family,” she says, but adds that people across the community do not realise the constant level of vigilance needed to prevent the spread of cholera.

Cholera can spread extremely quickly and through the most innocuous-seeming sources. Nyawal says she always knew that you should wave flies away from your food, for example. It’s instinctive. But she hadn’t seen it as a life and death matter. She doesn’t know what it was that caused her children to fall to cholera, but she wants to make sure her neighbours don’t suffer the same fate.

“As someone who went through this experience I have to keep telling people to take care of themselves and their children – how to help stop these diseases. We’ve brought tools, including rakes and pangas to help people clean up the areas around their houses and we’re telling them how to ensure their food is safe.”

Clean water isn't always an option in a warzone

Just as it is impossible to keep every fly from infecting food, sometimes the conflict takes health completely out of people’s control. Just outside Lankien, William a village elder tells how fighting in the area forced him and his community to flee deep into the bush, fearing attacks on civilians. The priority was to hide, so it was not possible for people to use functioning boreholes in the area: most were close to the road and therefore considered to be too exposed.

Yoal and his family were forced to flee violence and were too afraid to seek out clean water or boil water where they were hiding. Photo: Tim Bierley/Oxfam

“During this time, we had to drink swamp water,” he says. “It was hot and dirty.”

He and his family could not even treat the water by boiling it, as demonstrated by Oxfam’s health volunteers, for fear that the smoke would give away their position, and almost inevitably disease spread.

“A lot of us got sick at this time,” says William. “People lost their lives.”

In a country at conflict, it is extremely hard for communities to eradicate the risk of disease completely. It makes a huge difference to have access to clean water and to the utensils needed to be thorough in hygiene practices, but simple bad luck is also an inevitable factor. The awful fortune of being surrounded by chattering guns is compounded by the resulting destruction of water sources, of trade, of whole ways of life. People continue to be forced from their homes, their routines, and their means of looking after themselves.

As long as this keeps going, thousands of people will continue to suffer from entirely preventable diseases. Oxfam will continue to help people access clean water, maintain their dignity and keep their communities alive. That is something we can at least control.

WASH in the camps

Women collecting drinking water supplied by Oxfam in Kalunga camp, Kalemie, Tanganyika, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Oxfam is providing water, sanitation services and training to keep families healthy. Photo: Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi/Oxfam

In Kalemie province in southeast Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the extreme violence between the Bantu and the Twa ethnic groups and brutal clashes between armed group have very forced more than 654,000 people to flee their homes and thousands of families are facing an increasingly critical food shortage. Women, children and the elderly are among those most affected after having seen families killed, villages burned and fields destroyed. The situation remains volatile and threatens to flare up again at any moment, preventing the displaced from going back to their villages and rebuild their lives.

Oxfam has been working in Kalemie since February 2017 and has already reached 58,302 people forced from their homes and the communities who have welcomed them. Oxfam is helping to provide clean water and sanitation facilities and working with community volunteers to educate people about the importance of good hygiene for staying healthy.

Left: Therese*, a Public Health Promoter talks to a child in Kalunga IDP camp, Kalemie, Tanganyika, Democratic Republic of the Congo. Right: Therese cleans Oxfam sanitation facilities in her community. Photo: Diana Zeyneb Alhindawi/Oxfam.

Therese has been in the Kalunga camp since November 2016. When her village was attacked, she was separated from one of her children and her husband. Therese went looking for them after the attack but couldn't find them, and three months later she was told that their bodies had been found. Therese lives in the Kalunga camp with 9 of her children, ages 7-17 years old. She was trained by Oxfam to be a camp hygiene promoter, and she works daily to clean sanitation facilities in the camp, as well as distributing water purification tablets to families so they have safe water to drink.

Therese said: "We fled as we were. There was no time to pack anything. You only took your children and ran."

"We walked for two days before reaching here. I had so many thoughts in my mind. I had been left with nothing. Sometimes I wish it was me who had died instead of my husband, because this burden is too much for me to bear."

"I have 9 children remaining. One of them is paralyzed and so I had to carry her all the way."

"We reached here in November last year and were received well. We received food for the first two months as well as some money to help us buy other things from the shops. But how can you bring up 9 children in these conditions?"

"People have been talking of going back when the fighting ends. Others are even going there to check on their farms or what is left of their possessions."

"I have experienced war in my life but never have I been forced to leave my home and live in a (IDP) camp. I have never seen fighting like this."

"I never thought I would ever be here. My plan was to save money to build a house where my family could live comfortably and live an ordinary life. But now I can’t even think beyond today. How can I think of a good education for my children if I don’t know where their next meal will come from?"

Oxfam is suppling drinking water to the people in Kalunga camp. Oxfam also trained 61 women from the camp as hygiene promoters. Their daily work includes cleaning sanitation facilities (toilets and bath areas) in the camp, distributing water purification tablets to families.

Testing the Waters

How the local community and the government are joining forces to make a change in Jordan

A water community group meeting in Allan, Salt. Photo: Alixandra Buck / Oxfam

In Jordan, it is not common for government and citizens to talk face to face on issues of common concern. There is also skepticism on the role of civil society. (Chatham House).

Together with the Water Authority of Jordan, a group of people in Salt govornorate, Jordan are working to change that.

Abir Suleiman Mrooj, Buthaina Al-Zubi, and Majde Algharagher are three of the twelve men and women who comprise a water community group in the town of Allan, Salt. Now, people of Salt can collaborate freely with government officials, air their grievances, and work together to improve water access and governance in their community.

Rapid population growth, a mountainous landscape and neglect have frequently left people in Allan with insufficient access to water. Community members, including Mrooj and Al-Zubi, highlighted the issues to Algharagher, the Water Authority’s Director of Salt District. In turn he was able to convince the Water Authority to respond with extensive improvements to the local water network, valued at over 150,000 JOD (Approx. 210,000 USD). Now, leakages in Allan have gone down significantly - and further improvements are expected to reduce losses even more.

This is of particular importance in Jordan, one of the most water-scarce countries in the world. Water use far exceeds the replacement rate, and leaks, breakages and interrupted water supply are all too common - pointing to the need for systemic changes to water infrastructure, water governance and water use patterns.

Majde Algharagher was quick to recognize the issues: “There has been a huge increase in population in Jordan, so there is less water available per person,” he told Oxfam. “We are also seeing illegal pumping, which is making water even scarcer.”

Over 40% of water in Jordan’s network is lost through leakages and other losses [USAiD].

Majde Algharagher, the Director of Salt District for the Water Authority of Jordan, speaks with community members. Photo: Alixandra Buck/Oxfam

Abir Suleiman Mrooj, of Allan, told Oxfam, “The sight of wasted water all over the streets used to hurt us, as we were working so hard to save water in our homes... So at first, we were like a beehive around Mr Algharagher – always pushing until we got a solution to each issue.”

Collaborating with the community has made it easier for the Water Authority to find and stop water losses. According to Algharagher, “Now that I am in the water group, people can contact me directly by phone. Before they had to come to the office or call the ministry and it would be a long process to speak to me. We also have a Whatsapp group, so they can send me a picture of a broken pipe or any problem, and I can respond. I can immediately send maintenance staff, and they can fix it. The response is easier and faster than before.”

Mrooj told Oxfam, “We housewives were able to achieve something for our community. The Water Authority heard my voice, and through me, the voices of many people in Jordan. We feel so proud that we could impact our community and the government.” But things are still not perfect: “Now, my water is good. But honestly, other places still struggle.”

Abir Suleiman Mrooj, a water Ambassador from Salt, Jordan, is a leader in her community. Photo Alixandra Buck/Oxfam

With the support of Global Affairs Canada, Oxfam is working with community members, partners, and the Government of Jordan to improve water governance. We want to ensure that more people in the country can meet their basic water needs and participate in decision-making at the community and national level.

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