Going out to visit farmers in villages displaced by mines is usually a sobering experience. I’ve done this in Ghana, Mali, Peru, and Honduras. A few farmers get a job at the mine, but they seem to be lucky. Most of the time the farmers tell me tragic stories:
An old friend from my newspapering days came for supper the other night. Inevitably, the talk turned to the demise of the ink-on-paper news industry and what its collapse is going to mean for all of us. Trouble, I think—the kind we can hardly fathom here in the US where our right to be informed feels like part of our genetic code.
I’ve been thinking a lot about that right—and the healthy habits of questioning and challenging that it feeds—since Oxfam colleagues from Africa, South America, and Central America arrived in Boston last week for a communications workshop. Part of the workshop focused on pitching stories to the media—a delicate undertaking in countries where governments would just as soon have the public remain in the dark and there is no such thing as a free press. There are some things you just can’t say publicly, said one of my African counterparts, no matter how truthful it is. Continue reading
When Cyclone Aila hit the coast of Bangladesh on Monday, reportedly killing at least 89 people, one of the first things I thought about was the 400 storm-resistant homes Oxfam helped to build following another devastating cyclone one and a half years ago. Did the houses hold up? Continue reading
Sarah Zipkin is the project officer for Oxfam’s decent work program in the US. This is the second of two guest posts by Sarah about food, farms, and what it means to support workers’ rights in 2009.
Less than a week after I marched for workers in North Carolina–complete with tobacco leaf sign around my neck–I was back in Boston representing Oxfam at a pre-release screening of Food, Inc, a film opening soon that takes a disturbing look at the mechanized food industry in this country, from field to fork.
As I watched it, I was glad I’d eaten a veggie pizza beforehand, since I learned that a lot of our meat comes from mechanized slaughterhouses–often the site of inhumane conditions and questionable practices. I am already obsessed with looking over labels in the grocery store, but since seeing this film, I’m even more fixated. Now that I’ve actually started thinking about where our food comes from, I can’t help but wonder: what dark secrets hide behind those colorful packages?
Tim Fullerton, Oxfam’s online communications manager, shares his thoughts on four years of reaching out to supporters.
If you are on Oxfam’s email list, are a fan of ours on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter, you’ve probably wondered to yourself, “Who is this Tim Fullerton character who’s always sending me emails? Is he real, or just some imaginary person who likes to fill my inbox with Oxfam stuff?”
Well I’m here to tell you that I am in fact real–and that I won’t be emailing you for much longer. Today is my last day at Oxfam, and whether you know it or not, you’ve been part of my extended family over the years: the 350,000 online supporters with whom I’ve developed a very close relationship.
Sarah Zipkin is the project officer for Oxfam’s decent work program in the US. This is the first of two guest posts by Sarah about food, farms, and what it means to support workers’ rights in 2009.
Last week, as I walked through the doors of the RJ Reynolds tobacco company headquarters in Winston-Salem, NC, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was having a flashback to another time. My parents told me about the grape boycott led by Cesar Chavez in the 1960s, and I read about farmworker rights in the Grapes of Wrath in high school–yet here I was in 2009, walking in a rally with a painted tobacco leaf hanging around my neck that said “Justice Now for Farmworkers!”
Today, a farmworker in this country makes around $13,000 a year and has a life expectancy of 49 years. (Yes, you read that right.) Hazardous working conditions, long hours, and a lack of health services take a toll on these workers, especially tobacco pickers–some even get physically ill. And this has been the reality for over 30 years.
That’s why 40 of us–students, people of faith, worker rights advocates, union leaders, and grandmothers–turned out on that balmy Wednesday morning in Winston-Salem. We were ready to stand up for farmworker rights at RJ Reynolds’ annual shareholders meeting, and to bring the voice of farmworkers to the company’s Board of Directors and CEO Susan Ivey.
I’ve been thinking a lot about heritage lately. My husband, John, and I are expecting our first child in about a week. John’s a New Englander, who traces his roots back to various European intersections, but not one that he identifies with in particular. I’m from California, the daughter of Sri Lankan immigrants.
Everyone we know is fascinated by the sort of child the two of us would produce; the fact that we’ve decided not to find out the gender just makes it all the more intriguing. Will the baby have my South Asian features – big eyes, dark hair, caramel coloring – or will he or she have my mother-in-law’s trademark heart-shaped face, almond eyes, and long lashes. Could it be the “perfect baby” (someone actually said this to me once) and be a lovely cross of both?
And since it will be a biracial child, how will we make sure he or she has some connection to its roots? Continue reading
Below, Aschkenasy, Oxfam’s public health specialist, writes about the second day of their five-day trip.
I am always so tired at the end of the day in Mudzi, a region in the northeast part of the country where Oxfam has been working on the cholera outbreak. After a two-hour car ride from Harare we arrived at the Pumpkin Hotel–the only hotel in this region. We settled in (Emile got the suite with the waterbed, and I got the one next door) and had some lunch: Eggs and sadza, a finely ground cornmeal boiled in water.
After lunch, we headed out to look at a bore hole–a narrow well drilled deep into the ground. Mudzi has hundreds of them. They’re the source of drinking water for many people in this rural region. This one was a half-hour-drive away on a bumpy, dry road–and when we arrived, we found hundreds of community members waiting for us.
We’ve been looking at the photos we got from Senegal-based photographer Rebecca Blackwell from a trip in March in Mali to visit several Saving for Change groups in the southern part of the country near Bougouni. I want to share a few of Rebecca’s portraits and some quotes from the women we met, just because I have been thinking about them lately. I detected a common theme in each village and group: dignity. The women described how saving and borrowing money from their group helped them manage their affairs independently. You can see pride in their faces, and hear it in their words.
Soumba Doumbia, mid 30s, three children, sells cloth and clothing to earn extra money.
“Before we established our group, we had no hope. If we had problems and needed money, we had to go to a nearby town and borrow it. We would ask people here for help, but they did not always say yes. Now we can find money for our problems from the group.”