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Seven in 10 Irish support overseas humanitarian support

Seven out of 10 Irish people are proud of the country’s generosity in supporting humanitarian relief efforts, according to a recent survey by Oxfam Ireland released as part of World Humanitarian Day, the 19th of August.

To mark this, Oxfam’s Colm Byrne reflects on his trip to CAR and the effect of humanitarian crisis there. 

Where is that?” almost everyone replied when I told them I was going to the Central African Republic (CAR). The clue in the name not being enough, they then searched the web to learn more and if truth be known, so too had I once. Information, at least in the western media, is sparse. It is clearly not without reason that this landlocked country bordered by some of the African continents most conflict affected states - Chad to the north, Sudan to the north east, South Sudan to the east, DRC and Congo to the south – was once referred to as “the Phantom State”. 

In 2012, the country experienced its fifth coup d’état since independence in 1960 sparking extreme violence as Christian self-defense groups (anti-Balaka) fought with the fractured Muslim rebel alliance (Séléka) that had brought a new President to power. The humanitarian consequences were devastating as 6,000 people died and almost a million were displaced within the country and to the surrounding states with only French and UN intervention preventing still greater catastrophe. 

Today CAR is again largely out of sight and out of mind as Communities struggle to recover and reports suggest dangerous food shortages in many parts of the capital Bangui. This is in no small part because the local markets, the lifeline of commercial activity providing both access to food for the city’s inhabitants and a means to earn an income for traders, have been disrupted. Territorial lines drawn between once neighbourly Communities limit the movement of both traders and consumers for fear of violence both within the city and beyond. Trapped, local traders told me “we were like slaves”. Maqil, who buys and sells oxen told me he cannot now travel safely to the countryside to buy them. Even aid convoys are being attacked in CAR as banditry is common. 

Some traders too were robbed or beaten during the fighting and to add to their woes are now left without capital with which to resume or sustain trade and so provide for their families. I met Anna, a member of one of over a hundred local trade groups who are receiving training and cash grants from Oxfam to restart their businesses, who invited me to take a short walk to her stall. It’s meagre stock of just 5 pieces of cloth and 3 handbags said everything. And there are no social protection mechanisms in the form of social welfare or insurance schemes to fall back on here. 

But for Anna and other traders like her, the talk is not now of handouts or more aid as trade group names such Sara Agayé (Do anything to become something) and Wali Guida Loudo (Women of Guida Get Up) serve to prove. These are proud and resilient Communities who despite living in the most difficult of circumstances ask no more than a step back up on the ladder. And the traders, working together as united communities regardless of religious identity, plan to return better than before too. Ali, another trader, tells me that “now we have learnt about marketing, know how to use and save our money effectively and understand better now the importance of quality”. “Before we didn’t save or plan” said Anna “but the training has provided us with habits, taught us how to sell and engage with our customers”. The Sara Agayé group plans to buy tools and higher quality seed e.g. Japanese and Italian cabbage, which will allow them to sell higher quality produce at a higher price. 

Beneath the optimism however, there exists a very real fear of being forgotten again. Conflict affected Communities in the Central African Community have been promised much by the international Community before and remain cautious about whether even committed support might ever materialise. As I leave the city, the market is flooded ….. not with consumers but with seasonal rains. The traders remain steadfast by their stalls and from the comfort of my passing car I try to take a photograph of a committed phone card salesmen standing knee deep in water. These traders will not give up….but they do ask for a step up. 

EU and Oxfam work together to help refugees and other vulnerable groups in humanitarian and conflict situations around the world. Your continued support makes this possible. Read more at eusavelives.org

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Drop and Shop style tips: How to edit your wardrobe

I’ve worked with Oxfam Ireland many times over the years and was thrilled when they asked me to support the new Drop and Shop campaign – which is also a great scheme for you to get involved with.

I’ve always found Oxfam to be a great organisation to work with on shows and shoots – the staff and volunteers really know their stuff about fashion, both current and vintage, and have a great eye for merchandising. These events are the most fun for me to style because you never know what you might find when trawling through the stock.

Working with Oxfam on fashion shows, such as Belfast Fashion Week’s Charity Shop Challenge, always causes quite a stir. Over the years there have been near-riots backstage on more than a few occasions when models spy one-off desirable pieces that they wanted to buy – while at the same time members of the audience mobbed the Oxfam shop manager to buy the pieces straight off the catwalk.

DROP

I recently realised how many clothes I have (a lot), yet I tend to wear so few of them. You know how it is – you throw on whatever is handy, you rely on a certain style formula, a colour palette, a silhouette, a trademark. And there is nothing wrong with that, it’s important to have a personal style that suits you and your lifestyle. Honestly though, it’s easy to go from personal style straight into a style rut. I verge on this sometimes and I’m a stylist! I live and breathe this stuff.

A wardrobe fit to bursting sounds like the ideal scenario for any fashion-conscious person (or in my case, a room overflowing to another room, overflowing to the floor…) but the reality is that we wear 20% of our clothes 80% of the time. This means the majority of our clothes are sitting there, doing nothing. Getting in our way, occasionally sneaking into the laundry. It makes getting ready in the morning more taxing, as you wade through rails of ex-favourites to find the one thing you are looking for.

But these clothes could be doing something. A big something. Did you know that a high quality/one-off piece like a designer dress or a piece of furniture can raise vital funds and make a big impact on Oxfam’s work worldwide? For example, a jumper sold for £6/€8 at your local Oxfam Ireland shop could help purify around 2,000 litres of water, making it safe to drink for families living in makeshift camps in Nepal.

Take a few hours to go through your wardrobe. I bet you have loads of things you’ve only worn once or twice, or maybe never worn? Try them on. Why did you buy them in the first place? What do they work well with? Do you still like these pieces? Decide what to keep and what to ditch. Get rid of anything you haven’t worn for over 18 months (except occasion clothing and items with sentimental value), anything that no longer fits and anything with the labels still attached.

Bag these items up and drop then to your local Oxfam shop. I now do this regularly and it feels great. The relief of having a nice organised, clear wardrobe is fab. The feel-good factor, knowing that you are doing your bit to help Oxfam fight poverty and save lives in emergencies, is priceless.

There’s an extra pressure in these days of social media and the ever-present camera. With every event and night out charted on our Facebook and Instagram, people are feeling the pressure previously reserved for celebrities – being photographed in the same outfit over and over. It sounds silly but I bet it’s gone through your mind before. What better reason to bag up those old favourites and donate so that someone else has the chance to have a night out in that gorgeous dress and hopefully you can pick up something just as stunning when you #dropandshop – you get 15% discount on the day you drop. Share your experience on social media to be in with the chance of winning a refurbished iPad 2.

SHOP

I’ve been a trawler of charity shops since I was a little kid – first of all spending my pocket money on old Enid Blyton books and Judy annuals, then on slip dresses and grandad cardigans during the grunge years of the ’90s. Here are my top tips.

- Don’t take vintage/second-hand items at face value – body shapes have changed over the last century, so clothing may need alterations. Long skirts can be cut short, necklines altered, garments restyled. You should find a good dressmaker or learn how to use a sewing machine.

- Imagine a piece out of context. On a crowded shelf of scary figurines, or a rail of sad-looking frocks, you must try to see each item as an individual. Pick up every piece and imagine it out of context: in Urban Outfitters or Topshop, say or a cool boutique. Things which look tatty and unloved sometimes just need a bit of styling. Stand back, squint, and imagine how it would look somewhere really chic.

Charity shopping does take a certain amount of commitment. You can’t just waltz in twice a year and hope to strike gold. Little and often is the best way, dash around your locals on your lunch break at least once a week. Get to know the volunteers so you can ask about stock that hasn’t been put on the floor yet.

Find out what day your local charity shops receive their deliveries, so you can get first dibs on the good stuff.

Check for any stains or damages to the garment and be sure it can be repaired.

With proper vintage clothing, do try things on, and don’t trust the labels – ‘standard’ sizing has varied greatly since it was introduced in the 1950s – so a modern size 10 may find that a size 14 vintage garment is a perfect fit. On that note, different decades’ styles flatter different body shapes – the fit and flare silhouette and strong shoulders of the 1940s flatters pear shapes. The full skirts and cinched waists of the 1950s were designed for the hourglass figures, while apple shapes suit the empire line and shorter hemlines of the sixties. Slender figures can carry off the bias-cut of the 1930s and the long, lean looks of the ’70s.

- Wearing top-to-toe vintage can create a theatrical, fancy dress look – mix vintage with high-street and designer to create your own style and keep hair and make-up clean and simple.

Don’t forget men’s clothing – the androgynous ‘boy meets girl’ look great. Look for oversized jackets and shirts to wear with slim cropped trousers. Shoulder pads can be removed and shoulders nipped in.

It is more environmentally sound to buy second-hand – it is the most stylish form of recycling.

The ’70s is a big trend this season and next, with suede coats and jackets being one of the key pieces so keep an eye out for those. Leather pieces are also great investments with the bonus of already been worn in. Try something a bit different, charity shopping is a great time to take a risk and nab a bargain.

When you take your new finds home, see where they fit with your newly edited wardrobe. Mix and match to create new outfits and create a new personal and ethical style.

 

Top fashion stylist and designer Sara O’Neill is supporting the Oxfam Ireland Drop and Shop campaign.

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The spirit of Vanuatu

Vanuatu-Efate-Pang Pang Village-Mark, Oxfam staff, hands voucher to cyclone survivor. Photo: Groovy Banana/OxfamAUS

About three months ago, on the morning of 14 March 2015, I opened the door of my home in Port Vila slowly, not sure what I would see outside after Severe Tropical Cyclone Pam had screeched its way across our beautiful Vanuatu. At the time I thought, and wrote, that our world would be quite different out there. And it was. My first impression was of the physical devastation. My second (just a few minutes later) was that somehow we now had a cat in our garden! The phrase “raining cats and dogs” came to mind. We named it “Cat Five” and took care of it, but that’s another story for another day.

None of us in Vanuatu could imagine what a Category 5 cyclone would do to Vanuatu. Our Oxfam team tried to. We had to prepare and work with our partner organisations to prepare for something, the impact of which we were really not sure of as the country had little experience of a cyclone of this magnitude. None of us were too sure about how we and the whole of Vanuatu would respond to whatever Pam did to our country and people.

 

Only a few minutes out of my home’s door, I had a good sense of both. Large parts of Vanuatu had been devastated. It was, quite simply, bad. Pam had been cruel to our country in many ways. She had ripped large pieces of it to shreds leaving it looking naked and fragile; and leaving many of us feeling that way too. Pam had killed mercifully few for the magnitude of her force. But the people of Vanuatu were already out there, taking control of their own fate, making sure that Pam’s “control” was not allowed to settle over us or hold us back for a moment longer than it could.

In the early days after Pam, we only had ourselves to rely on. The outside world was cut away; and most of the many beautiful islands that make up Vanuatu were isolated from each other too. This didn’t stop families, friends, communities, organisations, government departments and our amazing team of Oxfamers just getting down to work and starting to make things better in whatever way possible. It was amazing to watch and an incredible privilege to be part of. Like the rest of Vanuatu, our Oxfam team emerged safely, a little dazed and tired, but ready to get on with whatever needed to be done.

Much has been said of the amazing Vanuatu response across all forms of media and in early pieces of research. Resilience was what people called it as soon as they could give it a name. That label, for me, quickly became too commonly used — taking away the “something special” that I felt and saw happening in Vanuatu. But what else could it have been? I searched my (very tired) brain for other ways to describe it, to give it a title which had a deeper sense of specialness for me. No luck. And then I looked at synonyms for resilience and there hidden among terms such as elasticity, buoyancy, hardiness and toughness was a word that fitted better: spirit. A simple term, but one which captured the essence of what I was seeing and feeling among our Oxfam team and the general population — a spirit that was strong, positive, realistic, practical under stress and located somewhere deep in the fabric of the people of Vanuatu, deep in their culture and traditions, deep in their hearts and minds.

Three months on and this spirit has done, and keeps doing, amazing things. And it is everywhere. Thanks to the amazing support of people across the world, we were able to launch a solid response to Cyclone Pam. Our team has grown, as has our work at Oxfam. While the initial “surge” needed us to bring in specialist skills from across the world, we have also been able to tap into the amazing spirit and talent of the people of Vanuatu.

I have worked with and watched young Ni-Vanuatu people new to Oxfam absorb the Oxfam values — that are so central to what we do — with ease and enthusiasm. Likewise, I am experiencing Oxfam learn and grow from the spirit of these young people — a deeply valuable and rewarding exchange and a privilege; an unanticipated gift from Pam.

Alice at Vanuatu-Efate-Matarisu village. Evelyn signs list to get emergency voucher. Philemon, community leader. Sandi and three sons, Wilkins, William and Philip n front of their house damaged by cycline Pam. Photos: Groovy Banana/OxfamAUS
 

We have done much. Our Oxfam teams provided life-saving emergency water to communities directly after Pam struck. We have built new longer-term relationships in our recovery work, some with remote communities on small islands. On Epi Island, Oxfam teams were the first to arrive in some communities and provided much needed emergency supplies, and, importantly, a sense that the world out there cared for them. We have continued our work there and on Efate Island. Our expert skills in technical water system restoration have done amazing things, as has our pioneering work in emergency food security, livelihoods and public health and hygiene education. Our partners too have worked hard with us to engage in all of this work. Always making sure that gender, protection of vulnerable community members and sound monitoring, evaluation, learning and accountability mechanisms are core to whatever we do. Together with this, the incredible work that has gone into our coordination role of the Vanuatu Humanitarian Team has been recognised as significant in the response to Cyclone Pam.

Today I look out over Port Vila, from our offices on the hill above the bay, and it is clear that the land is responding to the spirit — healing itself and sharing this with the rest of the world. The green is returning, plants are growing, flowers are dotting the place with tentative colour, markets are reopening, homes are being rebuilt, smiles are getting bigger and children are at school again. Gone are the constant sounds of chain saws cutting away at the trees that fell across our roads and buildings. Gone too are the clouds and smells of heavy smoke that hung across the city when people could only dispose of the debris by burning it. The warped and crushed metal of roofs have been cleared, signs are back up and shattered windows replaced. The harbor is no longer silent, and likewise the airport — we hear the horns of the boats and ships, see their twinkling lights again at night, and hear the flights come in and out of the airport almost as they used to. Somehow, these have become good sounds. Businesses are rebuilding and customers and tourists are returning to enjoy our special place on the planet. Lessons are being learnt and shared, government is working to respond in ways they consider best, and donors, local not-for-profit agencies and international agencies such as Oxfam are doing whatever they can to support. It is an amazing journey.

Of course, all of this will be documented in copious research and evaluation reports. Pages of paper. Some of the work will be critiqued and some applauded depending on the time and audience. This is all normal in the cycle of events after a cyclone of this magnitude. But through these formal processes we should never lose sight of that special spirit, the simple (but, at the same time complex and often elusive) “something special” that has carried us to the point we are at, and will carry Vanuatu beyond this point too.

As the anniversaries of Cyclone Pam come and go we need to continue to embrace the spirit we have experienced; the sprit that has always and will always be at the core of what makes Vanuatu and her people get up, dust themselves off and get on with life in such amazing ways. I said in the early days that there were lessons for the world in this — there have been and will be. Watch this space!

Colin Collett van Rooyen is Oxfam Vanuatu's Country Director. 

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‘A yes vote in Ireland will give us hope for LGBT rights in Zimbabwe’

Oxfam Ireland is supporting a ‘Yes’ vote in Republic of Ireland’s marriage referendum on May 22nd because we believe that equality and human rights belong to us all, regardless of sexual orientation. These rights include the right to marry the person you love. We work with civil society organisations and citizen activists to build a social movement for justice and equality on a broad range of issues, including gay rights.

Brian Malone, Oxfam Ireland’s Digital Coordinator, recently visited Zimbabwe and met with an Oxfam supported, feminist collective of lesbian, bisexual and transgender women called Voice of the Voiceless (VOVO). 

The LGBT community in Zimbabwe are denounced by their aggressively homophobic government. Homosexuality is a crime under Zimbabwean law with a one-year prison sentence for sexual relations between men. Hate speech, beatings, arbitrary arrests and even ‘corrective’ rape are rife.

Supported by Oxfam, VOVO provides a safe space for LBT women to connect, share stories and raise the visibility of women’s issues within the broader LGBT community. Sian Masuko, Oxfam Women’s Rights Programme Manager in Zimbabwe, explains that, for many of them, VOVO meetings are the only time these women feel safe enough to be who they really are.

Some are private, invite only gatherings where members feel safe to share their stories openly. Other events are more public like last year’s courageous feminist ‘transect’ walk around Bulawayo, Zimbabwe’s second largest city, highlighting the areas where LBT women don’t feel safe.

“We went to the Central Police Station and a trans woman spoke because she had been arrested. She spoke about how difficult it is to be free and to be who you are and how you are constantly attacked on the basis of your identity. That was a bit of a risky one so we had to stand at a slight distance.”

Carol and Sku, bravely agree to share their experiences of being gay in Zimbabwe. Sku is wearing a purple t-shirt with, ‘Women Who Are Not Afraid to Use the F-word – Feminism’, written on it. Carol makes a joke about not wanting to be on camera – not for personal, security reasons but because she thinks she “looks like a pirate” today. 

“I think Zimbabwe would have a lot of ‘actors’ and ‘actresses’,” Carol says. “You’re always in character. It takes a toll on the mind. Sometimes it’s just making it through the day and saying ok I didn’t get arrested. I got home after sunset and no-one mugged me. No one spiked my drink at the bar. No one sent me threatening messages.”

In the middle of all this oppression, Sian tells me there’s also a lot of laughter and celebration.

“I think for VOVO this year there was a shift to say, ‘You know what? We’re actually not going to apologise for who we are anymore. We’re going to start to celebrate’. Because what we see as a good, positive, democratic society is a celebration of diversity and not a society where you have to apologise for who you are, and are always having to cut corners or trying to pretend.” 

Above: VOVO members dance in the streets of Bulawayo, t-shirts emblazoned with the message: 'Women who are not afraid to use the F-word - FEMINISM'. Photos: Sian Masuko/Oxfam.

Irish Marriage Equality Referendum

I told Carol and Sku about the gay rights movement in Ireland and we watched Panti's Noble Call. Then I told them how, on May 22nd, voters in the Republic of Ireland will take part in a national referendum on legalising same-sex marriage, i.e. allowing gay and lesbian couples the right to civil marriage. As it currently stands, lesbian and gay couples cannot get married and do not have equal status under the Irish Constitution.

I was curious to know how they feel when they see LGBT communities in other countries taking strides towards equality – left behind or hopeful?

For Sku, it’s the latter. “It shows us that, yeah, you can fight for something and something can actually come out of it,” she explains. “So it’s a good thing, it’s showing us that as time goes on maybe things can change here in Zim too.”

“It’s very inspiring that you’re actually at that stage in Ireland,” Carol adds. “I’m actually looking forward to hearing how that I goes. If I were Irish I would definitely say yes!... I hope the desired outcome becomes the actual outcome.”

A Yes vote in the referendum won’t just be a leap forward for human rights in Ireland. It will send a message of hope to members of the LGBT community all over the world that inequality can be challenged, that positive change can happen.

Use your voice for equality – Vote YES on May 22nd.

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Nepal now facing a double disaster

Just over two weeks since a devastating earthquake struck Nepal, there has been a second major quake.

Our teams there are rapidly assessing the situation. They include Dubliner Colm Byrne, who experienced the quake in Chautara (approx. 40km from the epicentre). 

Chautara is in the Sindhupalchowk province, the region worst affected by the first earthquake on April 25. Colm says people were afraid of the aftershocks and landslides that could follow.

“It was very powerful,” Colm says. “The ground was shaking and buildings were collapsing. I’ve also seen people being carried on stretchers.”

Oxfam is helping over 60,000 people over seven districts in Nepal, delivering clean water, emergency toilets, shelter, food assistance and hygiene kits. Reaching communities in the country’s rural districts has been challenging and initial reports suggest fresh landslides have cut off some areas.

Colm and his colleagues were fortunate not to have been beside buildings when the earthquake struck at around 12:35 Nepali time (approx. 07:50 Irish time). They were very shaken but immediately got back to work. Their concern is for those thousands of families who must now cope with what is a double disaster.

It was already a race against time to reach people before the monsoon season arrived at the beginning of June. It’s now more vital than ever for us to be able to reach as many people as possible.

“People are shocked and scared by what’s happened. They are too afraid to sleep in their homes so one of things Oxfam is trying to do is to provide spaces for people to sleep outdoors,” Colm says.

“One of the big challenges is that this is a hugely mountainous country with very few large, flat open air spaces where people can gather safely. We’ve just done an assessment this afternoon to find alternative locations.

“Whilst we don’t yet know the full extent of this second major earthquake, we do know that the people of Nepal will need much more support to help them put their lives back together.”

Thousands of you have already generously donated to this crisis and your money is helping to provide immediate aid to those in desperate need. If you haven't done so already, you can donate here, in your local Oxfam shop or by calling 1850 30 40 55.

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Nepal Earthquake: Your Support In Action

Nepal earthquake: Your impact

After the devastating earthquake in Nepal, we have touched by the generous support being shown by people across the island of Ireland.

Thanks to those donations, we are working in camps and in hard to reach rural areas to bring shelter, clean water, toilets and emergency supplies to the worst affected.

The UN estimates that 8 million people, more than a quarter of the population of Nepal, have been hit by the crisis.  Tens of thousands of people have seen their homes flattened or damaged to such an extent that it is not safe for them to return.

We have been working in Nepal for years and aim to provide aid to at least 430,000 people.

It’s vital we get shelter, water and food to the huge numbers of vulnerable people like Kamala Maharjan in the hard-to-reach rural areas, as we step up our relief efforts.

Kamala, pictured in front of her collapsed house in Gamchha village in Kathmandu district (Photo: Prabin Man Singh/Oxfam), says: “I would have been killed if the earthquake had hit us at night. I was at the window of second storey of my house when the earthquake hit me and knocked down me together with the window to the ground. 

Above: Kamala (top-left) and Oxfam staff in action in Nepal. Photos: Prabin Man Singh/Oxfam

“The quake took everything that we had. We have nothing to eat, no clothes to wear and no place to take shelter. I don’t know what to eat now, what to feed my family.

“Though we are safe, the trauma that we experienced haunts us every second. We are taking shelter under a tent nearby but hygiene and security are a major concern now.”

Here is a snapshot of our emergency response in Nepal so far:

Oxfam volunteer Shekhou Khadka (23) works to off-load latrines being delivered to the Tundikhel camp. He is one of 500 volunteers trained by us to react in the event of an earthquake, during an urban risk management programme. 

"I'm sleeping under canvass outside our house but my family are safe,” he says. “I became a volunteer because I wanted to serve my community. The big challenges that lie ahead: supplying food, water, health care, and the scarcity of food."

Oxfam-trained technical volunteers erect a water tank. This T11 tank has a capacity of 11,000 litres of clean drinking water at the Tundikhel camp. They are assisted by volunteers from the Netherlands, tourists stranded after their flights were cancelled, and members of the Nepali armed forces.

Above: Oxfam staff and trained volunteers working to save lives in Nepal Photos: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam

Oxfam programme office Veejay Pant works with community members in Sankhu to identify suitable places to construct latrines (toilet facilities) and gain permission from the owners of the lands on which people have taken temporary shelter following the destruction of their homes. 980 houses collapsed in Sankhu when the earthquake struck. Photo: Aubrey Wade/Oxfam
 
Oxfam India workers load trucks which will carry aid by land to remote villages in the Ghorka district of Nepal. Three trucks carrying tarpaulins, foam sheets, water containers, chlorine tablets and solar lamps have left Gorkhpur and another two have departed Kolkata with water filters and latrine construction materials. Photo: Oxfam India
 
There was no water supply in the Tudhikhel camp when Ram Kesari arrived. Oxfam had constructed water tank in Tudhikhel camp site to supply water to over 5,000 people living in this camp. She had a lot of challenges ahead to regain her life before the earthquake. But with a supply of water means one immediate need has been met. Prabin Man Singh/Oxfam

Oxfam water works

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lights, Camera…Take Action!

Films that inspire us to make a change

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hotel Rwanda with Terry George Q&A - Buy Tickets

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

Better World Campaign Workshop - Sign up

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Top tips

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