Monthly Archives: April 2009

On the world wide web, whose world is it?

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Students get computer training at AJA in Bamako, Mali. Photo by Nick Rabinowitz/Oxfam America
Students get computer training at AJA in Bamako, Mali. Photo by Nick Rabinowitz/Oxfam America

Just as we thought we were bridging the divide between us and them, it breaks open again.
The New York Times ran a story the other day about the costs web companies face as they peddle their products—Facebook, YouTube—in developing countries. The ads featured on those sites just don’t produce results, said the story. Profits are impossibly tiny.

But in a world where half the population of 6.8 billion lives on less than $2 a day, should that come as any surprise to web entrepreneurs? Most people don’t have the luxury to consume anything but the basics. Laser hair removal and “cute and comfy” shoes—both now hawked on Facebook—don’t meet that standard. Continue reading

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Joe Strummer, or how I learned to shout through the window

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Almost everyone who works or volunteers at Oxfam has had an “epiphany moment.” Ask us about it, and we’ll tell you what inspired us to change our lives, pick up the baton of volunteerism, or put our talents to work helping Oxfam accomplish great things here and abroad.

My story, though, is a little bit different than most. It involves Joe Strummer, the late leader of the iconic British political rock band The Clash.

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Erratic rain and climate change

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Moh Mariko, born in the year when it rained a lot (1945). Photo by Rebecca Blackwell/Oxfam America
Moh Mariko, born in the year when it rained a lot (1945). Photo by Rebecca Blackwell/Oxfam America

Moh Mariko was not sure what year she was born, since it isn’t important and no one pays attention to such things in her village in southern Mali. “I was born in the year when there was a lot of rain,” she says. (Her government ID said it was 1945.)

Rain, that’s the important thing in the Sahel. When there is none, people suffer terribly. They can’t grow crops to feed themselves, and they can’t grow cotton to sell for cash, so they can’t support their families with enough food, medicine, and clothes and books and school fees for their children.
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Pirates and poverty in Somalia

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We’re not saints here at Oxfam. With all the bad news about piracy off the coast of Somalia, we’ve been cracking plenty of jokes–most of them corny–about doubloons, parrots, and eye patches. Maybe it’s just a way of managing the horror behind the headlines. They highlight the pirates’ daring, their urge for revenge, their growing sophistication. But behind all that is another story–one that is far more unsettling.

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Joy Bryant: Climate change is harming women around the world

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Actress Joy Bryant is an Oxfam America Sisters on the Planet Ambassador. She recently spoke about the disproportionate impacts climate change has on poor people at an Earth Day event on the National Mall in Washington, DC.

Joy Bryant speaks about climate change and poor people on the National Mall in Washington, DC last Sunday. Photo: Laura Rusu / Oxfam America
Joy Bryant speaks about climate change and poor people on the National Mall in Washington, DC last Sunday. Photo: Laura Rusu / Oxfam America

We often think about the impacts of global warming as something happening in the distant future. But the reality is that communities around the world are dealing with it right now. From Ethiopia to Bangladesh, South Africa to our own Gulf Coast, we have witnessed the shocking damage from droughts, floods, and extreme weather associated with climate change. And as Hurricane Katrina’s devastation showed, it’s the poorest and most vulnerable who are hit first and worst.

Women in poor communities are particularly vulnerable. Because of their roles in communities and families, they often have access to less education and fewer resources, all of which makes it more difficult for them to cope.

This is why I began to work with Oxfam America and became a Sisters on the Planet Ambassador. As a Sister, I have committed to raising awareness about the impact that climate change is having on people — and what we can do to help.

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Seeing through the smoke: the right to survive a disaster

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A woman and a baby walk back to a camp for displaced people in Democratic Republic of Congo.
A woman and a baby walk back to a camp for displaced people in Democratic Republic of Congo.

We spent Saturday at our house burning the branches and trunk chunks from a giant pine that a pair of spider-like tree guys, with spikes on their boots, had cut down for us. We were afraid a strong wind off the river would send the old tree crashing onto our house. So, we beat the wind to it.

It took all day to burn the tangle of boughs. And as each sap-soaked armful exploded into flame, the orange and gray smoke boiling above it, I thought about some of the women I had met in Ethiopia last summer.

They were trying to survive a drought that had wiped out their crops and killed their animals, leaving them with little to eat. Loko Dadacha’s family was down to one meal a day—a government-supplied ration of wheat boiled in water. With few options for earning money, she spent hours scavenging for wood to sell, as did many of the women, hauling their heavy loads home on empty stomachs. Continue reading

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Aid workers become targets

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Years of conflict in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo have left people facing countless hardships. Photo by Liz Lucas/Oxfam America
Years of conflict in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo have left people facing countless hardships. Photo by Liz Lucas/Oxfam America

A new report shows a frightening spike in attacks on aid workers. Last year, 260 were killed, kidnapped, or seriously injured. That’s almost a four-fold increase since 1998 when 69 were attacked. Among those killed, the figure has more than tripled since 1998 with 122 workers losing their lives in 2008.

Numbers always have a remoteness to them—until they describe a part of your life.

These numbers do. Continue reading

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A step forward for women fighting climate change

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Women carry firewood back to their home village of Caicaoan, Uganda. The women place a cushioning loop of cloth on their heads, and then help each other to lift and balance the heavy loads. “We travel further and further for firewood every year, and it takes us to less safe places,” says Martina Longom, a Caicoan woman and one of Oxfam’s Sisters on the Planet (Go to www.oxfamamerica.org/sisters to hear her story.) Photo: Geoff Sayer / Oxfam
Women carry firewood back to their home village of Caicaoan, Uganda. The women place a cushioning loop of cloth on their heads, and then help each other to lift and balance the heavy loads. “We travel further and further for firewood every year, and it takes us to less safe places,” says Martina Longom, a Caicoan woman and one of Oxfam’s Sisters on the Planet (Go to www.oxfamamerica.org/sisters to hear her story.) Photo: Geoff Sayer / Oxfam

I’ve noticed there’s a rhythm to the way we work with US lawmakers here at Oxfam. Things don’t always move fast, since it takes time, energy, and dedication to sway legislators on the issues.  Occasionally, though, everything comes together, and that’s when we see real results on Capitol Hill.

Last week I wrote a story about a group of truly amazing women–Oxfam’s Sisters on the Planet Ambassadors–who went to Washington, DC, to call on Congress to help women in the US and abroad fight climate change. They explained that although the climate crisis affects everyone, it’s often women who bear the brunt of its consequences, including droughts, floods, storms, increased conflicts, and even forced migrations from their homes.

This week, as a direct result of that visit, three women US Representatives introduced a new Congressional resolution that “affirms the commitment of Congress to support women globally to prepare for, build resilience for, and adapt to the impacts of climate change.”  This support comes at a key moment, since an important new global warming bill is already in the works in Congress.

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Bringing mercy home

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HIV/AIDS caregiver Lebogang Molefi, right, with her patient Maria Mogale, in South Africa’s North West Province. Molefi works for Pholo Modi Wa Sechaba, one of thousands of local community-based organizations dedicated to helping the country’s roughly 5.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Photo: Brett Eloff / Oxfam America
HIV/AIDS caregiver Lebogang Molefi, right, with patient Maria Mogale, in South Africa’s North West Province. Molefi works for Pholo Modi Wa Sechaba, one of thousands of community organizations helping the country’s roughly 5.5 million people living with HIV/AIDS. Photo: Brett Eloff / Oxfam America

Last month I won a free subscription to the glitzy celebrity magazine US Weekly. At first I was skeptical, but I’ll admit it’s become a guilty pleasure: After working on poverty issues all week at Oxfam, I kind of enjoy reading about fashion faux pas and learning how celebrities are “just like us!”

I never thought the two worlds would collide, but they did last week, when the magazine covered pop singer Madonna’s battle to adopt Mercy James, a 3-year-old girl from Malawi. It was bizarre to flip through those shiny pages, filled with expensive clothes and glamorous photos, and then read about a country with a reported 1.5 million children orphaned by HIV/AIDS.

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