Monthly Archives: October 2008

A Good Oxfam Day

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An improved irrigation system in Ethiopia shows how a modest project can make significant improvements in a community. (photo by Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam America
An improved irrigation system in Shasha Korke is a significant improvement for a modest investment. (Photo by Petterik Wiggers/Oxfam America)

When I visited Shasha Korke in Ethiopia a few months ago, I had what I call a good Oxfam Day. A good Oxfam day is when I get to meet people and organizations that take a little help from Oxfam and achieve something positive. It doesn’t mean that everything is perfect now, but there is a significant improvement and people feel good about what they have done. And they can show that when they work together, they can accomplish something important.

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Electing a New World Leader

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Growing up, politics was always a big part of my life. Each family gathering usually devolved into a shouting match over US politics and problems back home in Sri Lanka. As a kid, I used to sit quietly and watch the tennis match between my relatives. I didn’t understand all the drama. Why all the shouting? But in recent months, as my own interest in the US presidential election has grown (alright, it’s an obsession at this point), I’ve found myself right there at the center of the debate, throwing out poll data and political analysis like a network pundit.

This, I believe, is the legacy of a family of immigrants. My parents have spent half their lives in a developing country; the other half in the richest country on the globe. On one hand, they see how a new president could affect their daily lives. On the other, they see the potential to influence events around the world.

My colleagues in our regional offices have noted the same interest in our election over the past several weeks. While a lot may be at stake for Americans, a new administration could signal big changes abroad. Here’s what they’re seeing in South Africa and Ethiopia.

Charles Scott (right) meets with a group of people living with HIV and AIDS at a community service organization in the North West province of South Africa. Many in Africa are hoping the next US president will continue to support foreign aid programs that address the HIV and AIDS crisis on the continent. Photo by Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America.
Charles Scott (right) meets with a group of people living with HIV and AIDS at a community service organization in the North West province of South Africa. Many in Africa are hoping the next US president will continue to support foreign aid programs that address the HIV and AIDS crisis on the continent. Photo by Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America.
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Why the World Is Watching Our Election

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Muthoni Muriu, director of Oxfam America’s overseas programs, talks about why the US presidential election matters to people around the world—especially those living in poverty:

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A Great Day for Democracy

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“Luxury apartments,” said the sign. But the chipped paint and graying wood beneath those words indicated something different–a worn neighborhood of transients able to hold onto their apartments only as long as they could hold onto their jobs.

These, we were told, were the “undecideds,” the people who 10 days before the historic presidential election had yet to make up their minds despite the multi-million-dollar barrage of advertising, the horse-race headlines, and the droning of the pundits. Continue reading

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Fixing Our Mistakes

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Rebecca Blackwell / Oxfam America
Family members share a meal in a house where village residents are hosting refugees from the Casamance, in the village of Janack in the Gambia. Photo: Rebecca Blackwell / Oxfam America

There are a lot of problems facing our next president, none of them simple. Watching all the rhetoric flying around, I keep thinking that words only mean so much; whoever wins this election better be able to come up with some nuts-and-bolts solutions.

But here’s one issue we haven’t heard much about, yet would be relatively straightforward to tackle: the global food crisis.

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Our Hungry Planet

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On Saturday, I participated in an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet at a church in Wakefield, Massachusetts. It’s a town where the median price for a single family house is $379,000 and 89 percent of high school graduates go on to college. It’s a place of affluence and ambition. But  it’s also a place where the local food pantry saw a 31 percent increase in visitation this past year—a sign of the hard times many families are now facing.

Sitting on the floor nibbling through a fistful of rice—a meal symbolic of the scant nutrition on which 50 percent of the world’s people survive —I thought about some of those Wakefield families turning to a food pantry for their own survival in a culture crazed with consumerism. What must it feel like to pull up for a handout  in a shiny SUV that you can no longer afford? Continue reading

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A Fighting Chance

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School in Lumphat village, Ratanakiri province, Cambodia; January 2007 - Photo by Brett Eloff/Oxfam America.
School in Lumphat village, Ratanakiri province, Cambodia; January 2007 - Photo by Brett Eloff/Oxfam America.

“The face of climate change is a child under the age of 5.” When Dr. Kristie L. Ebi said this at a brown bag lunch discussion in my office earlier this week, you could hear her words land like a ton of bricks.

Children, especially those living in tropic and sub tropic regions like Sub Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, are most vulnerable to the increasing consequences of global warming. Continue reading

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Are Diamonds Really a Girl’s Best Friend?

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Community theatre performance in Kliptown, South Africa. Women in southern Africa are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis due to discrimination and violence. Photo by Laura McFarlane/Oxfam America
Community theatre performance in Kliptown, South Africa. Women in southern Africa are disproportionately affected by the HIV/AIDS crisis due to discrimination and violence. Photo by Laura McFarlane/Oxfam America

The Mo Ibrahim Foundation announced this week that it was awarding its Prize for Achievement for African Leadership to Botswana’s former president Festus Mogae, who led the country from 1998-2008. During his tenure, Botswana became the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to provide free anti-retroviral medication to all its citizens living with HIV, and by 2007 was treating 90 percent of people living with HIV or AIDS, according to UNAIDS.

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We Are Not Always the Answer

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Minata Konaré is proud of what she and others have done in her Saving for Change group in Mali. “This is our own money,” she says. Brett Eloff/Oxfam America photo
Minata Konaré is proud of what she and others have done in her Saving for Change group in Mali. “This is our own money,” she says. Brett Eloff/Oxfam America photo

With the abrupt economic downturn I have to wonder what will happen to US foreign aid budgets when the new president assumes office. Barack Obama originally said he will double foreign aid to $50 billion by the fourth year of his administration, if he can get elected. Earlier this month he said he will probably have to re-evaluate this plan, but that he does not intend to cut the foreign aid budget. It seems certain: Whoever becomes the next president may have to devote more treasure to bailing out banks and other unforeseen expenses.

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