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World Humanitarian Day: The people behind emergency responses

"World Humanitarian Day is an annual reminder of the need to act to alleviate the suffering. It is also an occasion to honour the humanitarian workers and volunteers toiling on the frontlines of crises. I pay tribute to these dedicated women and men who brave danger to help others at far greater risk." — UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon

On this World Humanitarian Day, we recognise the people who work tirelessly to deliver crucial humanitarian support to families and communities around the world. Each year more than 30 million people flee their homes as a result of conflict and natural disaster and over 500,000 people are killed in war. Oxfam is currently working in emergencies in over 30 countries. Some are in the public eye; some are forgotten and out of the spotlight. Thanks to the continued dedication of humanitarian workers such as those featured below, we’re able to respond to wherever we’re needed.

Sara Zehl (29) from Germany volunteers as a team leader with Oxfam, managing the distribution in the Kara Tepe camp on the island of Lesvos.

Speaking about her decision to come to Greece, Sara says: “I was at home literally sat on the couch watching the news. And I just wanted to come over and help, both the people arriving and the Greek population too, to support everyone. So I left my job working in hotel management and flew over. I have been here for six months now and whilst it is hard seeing families in this situation, I am passionate about helping and trying to make a difference."

Colm Byrne, Oxfam Ireland's Humanitarian Manager, is pictured here during a monitoring visit to Malakal, South Sudan. This region was the first place where Colm was deployed as a humanitarian worker and so when the opportunity arose to return with Oxfam, Colm says he “couldn’t say no”.

Colm’s motivation to engage in humanitarian work stems from a moment many will remember - the 1984 famine in East Africa which inspired Band Aid and subsequently Live Aid.  Speaking about how his perspective on aid work has changed over time, Colm says: “I’ve learnt that being a humanitarian is broader than I originally thought. It’s not just about people on the front line. There are lots of ways of being a humanitarian – whether you’re an urban planner creating safe spaces for people to live or local fundraiser who generates vital income.” 

Marianna Kapelle is a member of Oxfam's gender and protection team in the Filippiada camp, Epirus Region, northwest Greece. Speaking about her work, Marianna says: “As a Protection Officer with Oxfam I spend most of my time in the camps, talking with the refugees mostly in Arabic, which is my passion and helps people to share their thoughts and feel more comfortable. Part of my role is to provide as much information as possible so people are able to make the best choices for themselves and their families. I am so grateful to be able to support people who are so resilient and brave, despite everything they have been through. Everyone has so much hope still and open-hearted smiles. This is something that inspires me every day."

Vincent Malasador was part of Oxfam’s rapid assessment team that responded in the immediate aftermath to Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines in 2013. Vincent’s dedication to the cause is clear when he describes a typical work day: “We would wake up very early, take our lunch at sundown and take our sleep hours past midnight; this was the life we had to live so that we could provide the support that the struggling communities needed to survive.”

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6 tips for a charitable wedding day

Your wedding day is a time to celebrate love, happiness and good fortune. For many couples, incorporating some ethical elements or charitable giving into their special day is a great way to spread the love even further by helping those who need it most.
 
Here are our top tips for a wedding day that gives back:
 

1. Visit Oxfam Bridal

 
Buying your dress at one of Oxfam Ireland’s bridal shops makes a real and lasting difference by raising vital funds for our work worldwide, from making sure communities have clean, safe water when disaster strikes, to helping female farmers grow more crops or getting more girls into school.
 
Our Oxfam Bridal boutiques on George’s St in Dublin and on Main St in Bangor offer a wide range of mostly brand-new dresses and accessories for your big day. You can browse the rails and try on dresses – accessories and shoes too! – in private and in comfort with the undivided attention of our staff.
 
Contact our Oxfam Bridal boutiques to make an appointment.
 
 
Photo: Darren Fitzpatrick / Oxfam
 

2. Wedding Favours

 
Wedding favours are now available from Oxfam Ireland! The money raised through the sale of wedding favours supports our work worldwide, from saving lives in emergencies and helping people build better lives through long-term development work to speaking out on the issues that keep people poor.
 
Why not gift “calorie-free Chocolate” to your guests? This favour comes in packs of 10 and can be placed at table settings during dinner. Inside each card a blank space allows you to add your own personal message to your guests. Our wedding favour cards can be ordered online and cost €50 / £40 per pack – order yours today!
 

3. Wedding Donation Certificates (in lieu of favours)

 
If you would prefer to make a donation to Oxfam Ireland in lieu of wedding favours, you will receive a certificate which you can print off and place on tables or in a frame at your reception.
 
 

4. Create a Charity Gift Register

 
This is a very popular way to give back. As many couples already live together and have all the household items they need, instead of creating a wedding list, they suggest guests make a donation to Oxfam Ireland. It’s easy! You create an online gift register page and share the link with your guests so they can give the gift that gives back on your behalf.
 

5. Donate to our shops

 
When the big day is over, why not make space for Oxfam by donating your wedding dress to Oxfam Bridal? Our shops also take bridesmaid dresses and other accessories too, including those decorations you no longer know what to do with! Donating your pre-loved dresses and other items lessens manufacturing demands and keeps more items out of the landfill. Simply drop your items into your local Oxfam shop or into your nearest donation bank.
 

6. Wedding Vendors

 
Several vendors donate all or a portion of their proceeds to charity. If you’re shopping online, a great way of finding out which retailers give a percentage of your purchase back to charity (at no additional cost to you) is by using services such as HelpFreely. By installing the Helpfreely App on your browser, you can raise funds for Oxfam Ireland simply by signing up and creating a HelpFreely account – get started here!
 
Don’t forget to download our latest free eBook, “10 Tips for the Perfect Ethical Weddings” for more great ideas on how to give back while you plan your special day.
 
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It’s time to stand as one with refugees worldwide

Almost a year on from the dramatic images of refugees and migrants arriving in Europe to rebuild their lives and the tragic death of three-year-old Syrian Alan Kurdi, offering safe haven to people on the move remains elusive. With the E.U.-Turkey deal that returns refugees en masse to Turkey, the mood is ever darkening.

The recent deal between European governments and Turkey has left thousands of men, women and children detained in Greece in appalling conditions, in legal limbo and susceptible to abuse. When announcing the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp, the Kenyan government said that if Europe could turn away Syrians, so Kenya could Somalis.

It has been saddening to see the wealthy nations of the world squabble over relatively small numbers of resettlement places, reluctant to welcome more refugees. Governments are backsliding on commitments, leaving people stuck at borders with no prospects of dignified futures.

Europe is but a chapter in a global displacement crisis. More than 65 million people have been forcibly displaced by war, violence, persecution and human rights violations. Turkey alone is hosting 2.5 million people. In Lebanon, one out of every five people is a refugee. Ethiopia and Kenya host more than 1.3 million refugees. Meanwhile, the six richest countries host less than 9% of refugees. 

A NEW WAY FORWARD

Oxfam hopes that September’s twin summits in New York – the U.N.’s first on refugee and migrant issues, coinciding with President Obama’s Leaders’ Summit on refugees – will bring countries together to back a more humane and coordinated approach. These are historic opportunities to draw up a blueprint for more effective international response based on shared responsibilities. We need to see significant new commitments to support and protect refugees.

These summits take place in 50 days’ time. Make sure they count.

SHARE AND SHARE ALIKE

Joseph* (34) from Burundi now lives on Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania. He works as team leader at Oxfam’s tailoring centre and also teached English. Photo: Keith McManus/Oxfam

Oxfam’s latest analysis shows that the six wealthiest countries – which make up more than half the global economy – host less than 9% of the world’s refugees. Meanwhile Jordan, Turkey, Pakistan, Lebanon, South Africa as well as the Occupied Palestinian Territory are hosting more than half of the world’s refugees and asylum seekers. Together, they account for under 2 percent of the world’s economy.

The countries that are least equipped are shouldering by far the biggest responsibilities.

One of Oxfam’s key asks is that this complex crisis receives a coordinated global response based on the concept of “responsibility sharing”. Wealthier countries should welcome more refugees. They should substantially increase their support for the low- and middle-income countries to meet the needs of both displaced people and their host communities. All countries should ensure that people who are displaced have a promise-filled future through permits to work and the ability to send their children to school.

ESCALATING CRISES

Around the world, more than 34,000 people a day are forced to flee their homes due to conflict and persecution. Many of them die in their efforts to reach safety. This is the fifth year in a row that the number of internally displaced people has increased. This has largely been driven by the violence in the Middle East. Yemen, Syria and Iraq account for more than half of all new internally displaced people (IDPs). Despite this shocking trend, neither of these two summits in September will focus on IDPs.

OXFAM’S INITIATIVES

 

Nadi Hassan* (27) from Iraq with her daughter. After fleeing her home due to violence, Nadi has returned home and with Oxfam’s help has restarted a small shop that provides income for her family. Photo: Tommy Trenchard/Oxfam

Oxfam is helping 9 million people in crises around the world. We work in nine of the top 10 countries from which refugees are fleeing. Our programmes in Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic, Myanmar and Colombia are helping those people affected by conflict, working to reduce inequality and poverty, and to support civil society and citizens to claim their rights and be heard.

Oxfam is also working in Italy and Greece, where there have been a high number of refugees and migrants, providing basic support.

STAND AS ONE

Rosa* (3) from Syria waits with her family at a registration centre for migrants and refugees in southern Serbia. Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam

The U.N. Summit on Refugees and Migrants and the Leaders’ Summit are two big opportunities to find a solution that does not come at the expense of the most vulnerable people in the world. The meetings need to put refugees’ and migrants’ rights at the front and centre of this solution. Oxfam’s global displacement campaign aims to ensure that world leaders guarantee these desperate people more safety, protection and sustainable futures. More than 100,000 supporters have signed our petition demanding exactly this. The world must come together and stand as one with people who have lost everything.

*All names have been changed to protect identities 

Attila Kulcsar is Oxfam International’s Humanitarian Media Officer

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Let Me In - Alicia Keys' powerful tribute to the refugee crisis

What would you do if you were forced to flee your home?

Where would you go?

Alicia Keys recently teamed up with Oxfam and other partners to shine a spotlight on the refugee crisis from a unique viewpoint. Let Me In, a short film which features the moving song ‘Hallelujah’ from Alicia’s upcoming album, re-imagines the refugee crisis on American soil, displacing thousands in the Los Angeles area and forcing them to seek refuge by crossing the border into Mexico.

The campaign is in support of Oxfam, Care and War Child’s ongoing work with refugees and people forced to flee their homes as part of the We Are Here campaign.

Please take a moment to view the film, reflect, and then take action with us via the link below.  We don’t have to be silent on this issue. In fact, we can’t be.

No one is illegal

We all deserve to live in safety. And we all have the right to refuge when our safety and dignity is threatened.

MEET NOUR AND ELIAS

Photo: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam

Nour (28) and Elias* (7) from Syria now live in Kara Tepe camp with the rest of their family – Nour’s husband Fayez and Elias’ three siblings, Zeinah*, Firas* and Rasha*.

The family left Syria because of the war. Fayez explained: “It was really bad, on the day we left it was like hell. We didn't have time to pack anything, we left with just the clothes we were wearing.”

Nour said: “The journey was very hard. After we finally reached the coast in Turkey, we had to make the journey by boat at night. It was wooden and leaking water, all of the children were crying. The coastguard rescued us and brought us here.

“We don't have any laughter anymore. Every happiness or joy has disappeared. Our hope for the future is to just be in a safe environment.”

*Names have been changed to protect the person’s identity

MEET FADEH

Photo: Moayed Al-Shaybani / Oxfam

Faedah (35) from Yemen fled with her four children from Taiz city to another village a year ago due to the ongoing conflict in her country. Her husband used to work in a car maintenance workshop. He could not bear the feeling of helplessness so in desperation returned to Taiz to find work. Faedah has not heard from him since.

She explains: “I do not know what happened to my husband and also have no idea what to do. Throughout this period, we have been relying on aid provided from villagers and Oxfam.”

Suffering from hemolytic anemia, Faedah struggles to feed her family and also pay for medicine. She walks for 90 minutes three times a day to bring water from a remote well.

"I hope my kids will lead a secure and easy life. I keep thinking about my four kids and do my best to be strong for their sake."

MEET IRAKUNDA

Photo: Mary Mndeme / Oxfam

Irakunda* is from Burundi and came to Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania with her husband and child last September after seeing someone killed in front of them.

For one month they lived in a mass shelter before receiving the tent that is now their home. This is not the first time Irakunda and her family fled to Tanzania – in 1999 they fled to another camp before returning home.

“Things have changed since I came here,” Irakunda said. “In this camp we receive aid, compared to other camps that we have lived in, but it was difficult living in the mass shelter. In our family tent at least we have more space.”

*Names have been changed to protect the person’s identity

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Be part of the festival crew – volunteer as an Oxfam steward

Summer at Oxfam Ireland means festivals and each year at events across Ireland, a dedicated crew of volunteers generously give their time to help raise awareness and funds for Oxfam’s work worldwide.

STEWARDING

Oxfam stewards in action!

Our volunteers act as stewards at some of Ireland’s biggest music events and festivals, helping festival staff and security teams ensure that everyone has a fun and safe experience. In return, Oxfam Ireland receives a donation from the event organisers towards our work worldwide.

Volunteering as a steward at festivals, events and gigs is a fantastic way to learn about music event management and gain valuable work experience too.

As a steward, you can soak up the atmosphere, watch your favourite artist or band play for free and raise vital funds, from saving lives in emergencies like the current refugee crisis and helping people build better lives through long-term development work to speaking out on the issues that keep people poor. 

Sound too good to be true? Just ask our volunteers about their experience.

SIOBHAN SCURRY, FESTIVAL INTERN AND STEWARD

Siobhan Scurry works the entrance at Longitude, Marlay Park in 2015. 

Stewarding with Oxfam Ireland is the best way I can imagine spending my summer. I have worked at a heap of festivals/concerts for Oxfam including Paul Weller at Royal Hospital Kilmainham and Arcade Fire, Kings of Leon, Macklemore and Longitude at Marlay Park and I highly recommend it."

“Stewarding with Oxfam Ireland gives you the opportunity see amazing acts live and meet new people, all while giving you experience in the production of some of Ireland’s biggest summer events and experience working with the people who make them happen." 

“Every year, I have an amazing time! My highlight so far would be catching The Pixies performs ‘Hey’ on my break at Arcade Fire at Marlay Park in summer 2014!” 

RACHEL STOOPS, STEWARD

Rachel Stoops (right) and Molly Stevenson brave the rain at Croke Park for One Direction’s gig in summer 2014. 

“I got into Oxfam Ireland stewarding when a friend recommended it and after hearing how much fun it was I couldn't resist. I went on to the Oxfam Ireland website and put in my details and eagerly waited for an email. 

“I got asked to do various concerts and festivals but my favourite was One Direction at Croke Park, not only was I volunteering with my friend but we were seeing an awesome band. 

“We were selling ponchos for two reasons, the Irish rain and to #TurnCrokerGreen. We ended up raising a good bit of money for Oxfam Ireland’s work worldwide whilst having a great time. 

I couldn't urge people enough to become an Oxfam steward, it is exciting and so worthwhile.”

NATHANAELLA CORNET, STEWARD 

Nathanaella gets ready with the team of Oxfam Stewards at Longitude, Marlay Park in 2014.

“Volunteering with Oxfam Ireland made my summer magical! I did some stewarding and campaigning too. Stewarding was an amazing experience. The security crew working at gigs and festivals welcome you into their family with open arms. Most of them have amazing stories, like Brian who had a cigarette with Faithless’ singer, and so much more!

“All the volunteers are united together by the love of music and the will to change things. Laura O’Leary, Oxfam Ireland’s Public Engagement Executive, and the rest of the Oxfam crew take very good care of us, bringing crisps, water and sun cream (it was needed at one point…).

“I really did not realise I was doing anything except having fun! I had a free ticket to the last day of Longitude but I decided to volunteer instead. Just because I could and because it's so much more fun! Each gigs I attended gave me an incredible smile and energy, even the rain would only make me happier! 

“In two words: DO IT! I know I'll do it again! “

get involved

Applying to be a steward is simple. Just fill in the application form on our website to get started and fill your summer with festivals today.

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Let’s stand as one – World Refugee Day 2016

I visited some of Europe's refugee camps recently. Oxfam was founded in 1942 to help civilians that were starving in Nazi-occupied Greece, and now, more than 70 years later, we are once again active in Greece. Oxfam is working in camps in Lesvos and the mainland, providing clean water and sanitation, food, and helping people who have fled conflict and hardship to understand their rights.

In mainland Greece, there are around 45,000 people scattered across 40 different refugee camps that are run mainly by the country's military. In the two sites I visited, refugees were living in rows of flimsy tents on hard rocky ground. Conditions were basic, in some instances squalid, and the air was thick with flies. I saw people in obvious need of urgent medical assistance. Greece is experiencing a deep, traumatic economic recession that complicates its efforts to respond to refugee needs - still, I never expected to see such a scene in wealthy Europe.

I spoke to a man from Syria, whose wife and four children were in Germany. Earlier this year, his family had travelled from Turkey to Germany via a combination of train, bus and car - it had taken them around seven days. A few weeks later, he set out to follow them but by then the so-called 'Western Balkans route' had been shut. He has been in the camp in Greece for months now and with the borders closed and uncertainty around how to claim for asylum, he doesn't know when and how he will see his young children and wife again. The unilateral closure of borders in Europe has restricted the movement of people and it has left a thousand cruelties in its wake. Who gains when children are kept apart from their parents?

Left: Mawia* (4) and her mother wait to be reunited with Mawia’s father, Mahamoud after getting split up in the crowd at a registration centre for refugees and migrants in southern Serbia. [*Names have been changed to protect identities.] Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam. Right: Washing hangs on the fence at Katsikas camp in northwest Greece. Photo: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam

I walked on through the camp. A little girl ran to me, wanting to be hugged. She wouldn't let me put her down. A volunteer was taking care of her and her baby sister, while her mother tried to find a doctor. I learnt later that their mother is haunted by what happened to her in Syria: her home was pulverised by a bomb, killing her close relatives. She doesn't sleep at night.

In Syria, schools, hospitals and residential areas continue to be hit. Civilians are caught between the bombs from the sky and shells and motors from the ground. Yet, European governments concluded a deal with Turkey in March that is predicated on pushing people fleeing that conflict, and others like it, away from Europe and back to Turkey - a country which is now home to at least two million refugees, more than any other country in the world.

A core tenet of international law - the right to seek protection in another country - is under threat. And it threatens all asylum seekers. Syrians, at least, still benefit from some public sympathy and, when they are able to access a fair asylum processes, the recognition rate is around 90 per cent in most countries (see UNHCR statistical yearbook). Other nationalities, such as Afghans, are being pushed even further to the margins - they've been dubbed the 'The Refugees' Refugees'.

Left: Ibada* (29) with her 16 month old daughter Jana*. They now live in Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, home to over 80,000 people. Ibada and her family fled their home in Syria after their house was burned down. [*Names have been changed to protect identities.] Photo: Sam Tarling/Oxfam. Right: A woman collects buckets and a jerry can from an Oxfam distribution in Nyarugusu camp in Tanzania. Tanzania has welcomed over 130,000 refugees fleeing violence in Burundi since April 2015, now living in Nyarugusu and Nduta camps. Photo: Amy Christian/Oxfam

But it's not all bleak. Around the world, there are countless acts of solidarity.

In Greece, I saw teams of international and national volunteers working in the camps. Oxfam staffers told me about elderly Greek villagers inviting pregnant women into their homes when the women neared term to make sure they were in easy reach of hospital.

In less than 100 days, two major summits on migration, one hosted by the UN and a separate summit hosted by President Obama, will take place in New York on 19 and 20 September. They are a chance for world leaders to show that spirit, put a halt to the race to the bottom and help the millions fleeing conflict, poverty and disaster.

Maya Mailer is Head of Humanitarian Policy & Campaigns at Oxfam International.

Stand as One

We are in the middle of the worst refugee crisis since the Second World War. 65 million people have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict and war. Many more are on the move because of natural disasters and entrenched poverty.

Together we can stand as one and help vulnerable families forced to flee for their lives.

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Be a cool kid, buy your dad a goat gift this Father’s Day

All the cool kids know it – goats make people smile! This Father’s Day, you could spread smiles the world over with the gift of a goat from the Oxfam Unwrapped range.

It’s the present that keeps giving back by changing the lives of families who depend on animals for their livelihood.

Goats are easy to care for, hardy and resilient even in times of drought which means they play an essential role for families living in poverty. They provide nutritious milk as well as fertiliser for crops and the money earned from selling extra milk can be sold at the local market and used to buy supplies for school, medicine and other household essentials. Plus their little kids can be passed on to another family when they grow up so many others will reap the same benefits.

Be a cool kid and buy your dad a Goat (€35/£25).

Augustina with her husband Joshua and two of their three children – daughters Ava and Emily. Photo: Adam Patterson/Oxfam

Augustina Danaa (32) is from northern Ghana and part of an Oxfam programme, run with local partners, which helps farming families to thrive despite the effects of climate change.

Augustina and her family have received a kid goat as well as chickens and pigs. She has also received training on how best to care for animals so that they stay healthy and strong as well as practical, weather-resistant farming techniques like composting which increases crop yields.

Augustina is also one of the first women to be involved in a bee-keeping project in the area.

Augustina harvesting honey. Photo: Adam Patterson/Oxfam

Before she got involved in the project, Augustina harvested and sold shea nuts. The work was very labour intensive and dangerous too as she was constantly at risk of being bitten by snakes when at work. Her income was small and erratic and the family relied heavily on what her husband Joshua earned. For four months of every year, her family did not have enough to eat.

Augustina says: “We couldn’t grow or buy enough food. I used to feel sick and unhappy. It was a bad situation. I couldn’t get enough food to feed my children, which made me feel bad as a mother. We would survive on a cup of rice each day, which meant each had just two spoonfuls. That was it.”

Now the future is much brighter for Augustina and Joshua and their three daughters since she joined Oxfam’s project. Their honey is a valuable commodity, which also keeps the family healthy. Their animals provide them with a more nutritious diet as well as additional income. Last year, she and Joshua enjoyed the best harvest in years thanks to their training in new composting techniques.

“I cannot express enough joy for the support and training we have received in these projects,” Augustina explains. “There is a great difference in my life. Now the story is different. I am benefitting from the bee farming, agricultural activities and livestock. Now we have food. We eat a variety of foods and meat. I can now buy school books, pencils and uniforms. With the rest, we can save for our children’s education.”

Feeding time on Augustina’s farm. Photo Adam Patterson/Oxfam

Other great gift ideas from the Oxfam Unwrapped range include ‘A Share in a Farmyard’ €7/£5 gift which makes sure people have the best opportunities to sustain and grow their livelihoods while Educate a Girl (€25/£19) is full of girl-power – giving girls and women the chance to learn, grow and reach their potential!

You can purchase any of our 15 life-changing Unwrapped gifts here.

Our full range of gifts are also available from your local Oxfam shop.

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Once a month, we'll send you inspiring photos and stories from Oxfam's work around the world.

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“I never thought I’d be a refugee”: From Aleppo to Belfast

“I never thought I’d be a refugee.”
 
So says Ahmad Alissa, a Syrian refugee now living in Belfast who volunteers at Oxfam’s shop on Botanic Avenue. 
 
Born in Aleppo, Ahmad is from a family of four brothers and five sisters who had a comfortable life thanks to their large olive grove farm and also from a business producing materials for the construction industry. 
 
“We had to leave Syria quickly, it took a short time,” he says. Now Syria is empty.” 
 
“When I first left Syria, I thought I’d be a refugee for a maximum of one year… maybe two years,” Ahmad continues. “But that dream is gone now. Now it seems Belfast and Northern Ireland is my home.
 
“When I was first a refugee, I had to learn Turkish, so I learnt Turkish. Then I had to learn Greek. Now I hope English is the last language I will have to learn.” 
 
Ahmad was speaking after the screening of a documentary called District Zero at the Belfast Film Festival’s Better World Fringe section organised by the Coalition of Aid and Development Agencies (CADA NI), an umbrella group of large and small charities based in Northern Ireland, working to tackle poverty and its root causes around the world. 
 
 
 
The story of a Syrian refugee who begins a new life in Jordan’s Zaatari camp is the focus of District Zero, a documentary film co-produced by Oxfam and the European Commission. The film focuses on Maamun Al-Wadi – one of almost 60 million refugees and displaced people worldwide – who runs a mobile phone shop in Jordan’s Zaatari camp. Maamun fixes mobile phones and helps fellow refugees print off photos of happier times. Photos by Pablo Tosco/Oxfam
 
District Zero – a film co-produced by Oxfam and the European Commission – tells the story of Maamun, a Syrian refugee who begins a new life in fixing mobile phones and helps fellow refugees print off photos of happier times.
 
In almost five years Syria has become the epicentre of a massive humanitarian catastrophe, causing 4.6 million people to flee the country for their lives and 6.8 million more to be displaced internally.
 
While each refugee’s story is different – for example, unlike the film’s protagonist, Ahmad left Syria before the conflict because of political persecution, and was never in a refugee camp – the documentary does reflect some heart-breaking universal truths behind the refugee experience. 
 
“No-one wants to be a refugee,” says Colm Byrne, who as Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager has visited refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. “How desperate do you have to be to get into one of those boats looking to cross the Mediterranean? People want to thrive. In Zaatari camp, the people revert to doing what they do at home. They want to move forward, they want to grow.”
 
Ahmad agreed: “Nobody is happy to leave their home. When I was living in a peaceful Syria, I never imagined I would be a refugee. It’s a reminder that, in the wrong circumstances, anyone could end up as a refugee.
 
“Many of the people shown in the film come from lives not dissimilar to people I have met here in Northern Ireland – with families and friends, jobs and homes,” added Ahmad.
 
While Colm agreed with one of the audience members who suggested that the film depicted the best possible refugee experience – with good conditions and economic opportunities – he said: “District Zero shows the heart-breaking reality of refugees in the world. This is as good as it gets for refugees in terms of facilities. You can meet people’s material needs, but in a crisis people want a human connection and a connection to home.
 
“But this fascinating film does take us into the often invisible world of refugees: a world of chaos and uprootedness. It shows us the complex human realities of people who have been driven to extremes, but who, against many odds, still have hope.” 
 
The film gives a face to the daily drama of millions of people and shows that behind every number and every statistic, there is a story to be told. The title of the film evokes the idea of the lives of Zaatari’s inhabitants being suspended or stuck at a ‘Point Zero’ because of the ongoing war in Syria. 
 
“Conflict has forced people to live in these camps with an uncertain future. They remain stuck in limbo, unsure when they will be able to reunite with their families, or go back to their homeland,” Colm added.
 
Also on the panel discussion, chaired by blogger Alan Meban, was Monica McWilliams, a Professor of Women's Studies at Ulster University of Ulster and a renowned expert on women in conflict. Monica has been involved in capacity building of Syrian women's groups in Geneva to bring women's voices into the negotiation process. 
 
Monica told the audience: “When in conflict woman are thrown into extraordinary circumstances and they do extraordinary things. The courage, resilience and coping skills shown in the film touches your heart.
 
“When I saw the baby in the film I wondered, what life it will have in the next four years or the next eight years? Will it have a better life than its mother? Is its father still alive?”
 
 
Clockwise from top: From left: Blogger and panel chair Alan Meban; Ahmad Alissa, with his daughter Sara; Oxfam Ireland Campaigns and Advocacy Executive Christine McCartney, co-organiser and Chair of CADA NI; Monica McWilliams, an expert on women in conflict; Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager Colm Byrne. Photo by Kevin Doherty. Ahmad Alissa, a Syrian refugee now living in Belfast, spoke as part of the post-screening panel discussion. Photo by Conor Meikleham. Colm Byrne spoke as part of the panel discussion following the film premiere. Photo by Kevin Doherty 
 
 
To wrap up the event each panellist was asked to recommend a course of action for the international community on Syria and what we here in Ireland, north and south, need to do.
 
Colm Byrne said: “The concept of humanitarianism is one we hold dear yet we’re not responding to the crisis correctly. Europe’s response to the refugee crisis does not reflect a focus based on humanity, it’s a security response. The deal between the EU and Turkey deal is ill-thought through and illegal, contrary to the spirit of international and humanitarian law.
 
“Wealthy states only accommodate 10% of refugees. We have to accept our fair share. We need to directly engage with our politicians to find solutions, to physically open our arms. As communities, rights holders and voters we need to put pressure on our leaders to do our fair share.
 
“And we need to build on our experience of conflict here in Ireland and what we’ve learnt from that.”
 
Monica McWilliams added: “In the future my grandchildren may ask me, ‘Where were you when they were using chemical weapons in Syria? What did the world stand up and say?’
 
“So we need to keep working on a humanitarian and political response using the 1325 National Consultative Group implementing the UN Security Council Resolutions on women, peace and security. And we need to keep Syria high up on the media’s agenda.”
 
Addressing the audience, Ahmad said: “All of you here have seen now what’s happening in Syria. You need to tell your friends and family, everybody must know.”
 
Phillip Graham is a Media and Communications Executive with Oxfam Ireland.
 
The District Zero film is part of the ‘EUsaveLIVES – You Save Lives’ campaign by Oxfam and the European Commission’s Humanitarian Aid and Civil Protection department (ECHO), which aims to raise awareness on the lives of almost 60 million refugees and displaced people worldwide.
 
 

District Zero trailer

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Building back stronger in Nepal, one year on

Oxfam has provided water and sanitation in temporary schools in Gorkha, Nepal, after many were destroyed in the 2015 earthquake. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

On 25 April 2015, Nepal was struck by the first of two major earthquakes that left nearly 9,000 people dead and destroyed or damaged more than 850,000 homes.

I was in Nepal in the immediate aftermath of the first quake and saw first-hand the difference your donation made as we were able to provide clean water, sanitation, emergency shelter materials, food and other vital relief.

Your donation has helped not only provide immediate aid like shelter, blankets and clean water but also now the hope of a return to normality.

Critically, your support also means that Oxfam can continue to support affected communities throughout what will be a long road to recovery.

Over the last year, Oxfam’s response has benefitted 481,900 people in seven of the worst-hit districts of Nepal with:

  • 49,978 emergency shelters
  • 13,097 winter kits including blankets and thermal mats to provide protection in freezing temperatures
  • 54,365 hygiene kits to enable people drink and wash safely Installation of more than 150 large clean water storage tanks
  • Over 7,000 toilets or latrines
  • 2,300 cash grants, tools and training to help families rebuild their livelihoods
  • Cash-for-work programmes for over 20,400 families

Bimala, Gana and Netra are just some of the thousands of people supported at the most challenging of times. Their stories are powerful examples of how your support has enabled Oxfam to rebuild communities, restore livelihoods and help people return to normality, stronger and better prepared than before. 

BIMALA’S STORY

Bimala Balami can piece her life back together after participating in an Oxfam cash-for-work programme in Kathmandu Valley. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

Bimala Balami’s life was devastated by the earthquake, which destroyed her home in Dachi Nkali municipality, in the Kathmandu valley. Bimala recalls: “My mind went completely numb. I couldn’t think. I only cared about my baby. I just wanted to protect my child.

“After the earthquake people didn’t know what they would do or how they would earn. Oxfam came in and now the women in the village know they can provide for their families.”

On the hillside fields where her local community grow rice, wheat, mustard, peas, cucumber and other vegetables, the irrigation channel that provides water for the crops was badly damaged as a result of a landslide triggered by the earthquake.

Oxfam has responded with your support by paying groups of 30 women, including Bimala, to construct a new irrigation channel. This provides the women with an income and the community with prospects of a substantive harvest.

Bimala is part of the group working on the new channel. “I like the job that I am doing because I know it is for the welfare of my entire village. People do need proper irrigation for their fields and I know that. If I don’t do this work people won’t even be able to eat.”

For people like Bimala, trying to piece their lives back together after the earthquake, cash-for-work projects such as this make the critical difference between hope and despair. It creates opportunity to rebuild not only individual lives but also that of whole communities at the same time.

In all we have organised 25 similar cash for work programmes in the area where Bimala lives involving 600 people, including clearing debris and repairing roads damaged by the earthquakes and subsequent tremors. Across our response, over 20,000 households have benefitted from such schemes.

GANA'S STORY

Gana Butrai received livelihood support in the form of a small business grant from Oxfam. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam

We have supported women across four districts with financial support in the form of cash grants to enable them to restart their businesses and get their livelihoods back on track, including shop-keeper Gana Butrai.

“The day the earthquake happened I was actually in my shop,” she recalls. “The only thing I was thinking was will I live or will I die. I didn’t look at my watch but it felt as though it went on for at least half an hour. The ground felt like it was shaking for almost an entire day.

“The building was damaged in the earthquake; it used to have a top floor but it fell down and the wall on the left fell down as well.

“I had to ask people to come and help me but I couldn’t retrieve all of the items and lots of them expired. So I had to start again, reconstructing the entire space. Things have become a lot easier since Oxfam has helped.

“The first help that Oxfam gave me was a grant of 4,000 rupees and since then they have helped me with material support. I would like to thank you from the bottom of my heart.” 

NETRA’S STORY

Business is now booming for trader Netra Parajuli after Oxfam’s support. Photo: Kieran Doherty/Oxfam.

We are distributing vouchers so people can buy what they need to restart their farms, businesses and kitchen gardens – which is good news for traders like Netra Parajuli. Before the earthquake, Netra ran a thriving shop in Lamosanghu, but like thousands of others, his livelihood was destroyed in the disaster.

“Everything started moving and we all started running towards the door. Slabs of concrete were falling all around us. I thought they would kill me.

“I couldn’t breathe; there was dust everywhere. I tried to see someone around me but I couldn’t see anyone. I thought I was dead. Suddenly a wall broke and I saw light. I ran towards it.

“Everything was under the debris. We couldn’t even dig the dead people out. I started breaking the concrete so that we could pull people out. That day I pulled four people alive from the rubble. They were trapped and I could hear them crying. I had no idea how many people had died then.”

With the stock he salvaged, Netra has managed to set up a temporary shop, and thanks to Oxfam’s voucher scheme, business is now back on track.

“I’ve had almost 900 people come to my shop because of the vouchers being distributed. The most popular items have been the spade, then hoe and then the watering can. If people’s tools are damaged, I repair them. I make the hoes myself.”

Oxfam has distributed over 6,000 vouchers to help people buy agricultural tools and supplies, with each voucher worth 2,000 rupees (around €17/£13). The distribution supports not only the people receiving the vouchers, enabling them to restart their kitchen gardens and farms, they also support local traders and store owners like Netra and reignite the local economy.

A further distribution is planned to commence soon, supporting local communities with livestock and grain storage through cash grants. In addition to direct assistance, Oxfam is advocating with national and local authorities in Nepal for the roll-out of a recovery process and plan that ensures no-one is left behind – especially women and other marginalised communities with limited resources or opportunities even before this crisis and who are now only more vulnerable.

We are urging a reconstruction effort that builds back better, creating a fairer, more equal and inclusive society than before.

Colm Byrne is Oxfam Ireland’s Humanitarian Manager.

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