Monthly Archives: July 2009

Lying down to stand up

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I just wanted to share this cool photo that my colleague Vicky Rateau sent around via email the other day—it shows student volunteers for one of our sister Oxfam affiliates, Oxfam Hong Kong, lying down in the streets of Causeway Bay to draw attention to the human consequences of climate change.

I’m not sure if they’re spelling out a specific character or symbol (anyone know?) but it’s still a pretty powerful demonstration of commitment. According to the website for their campaign, Every Little Help Counts, the young activists kept it up even during a typhoon signal and a “very hot weather warning.” 

“I am here today because I do care about the environment. Climate change is affecting human life and so many farmers around the world,” said Sophie, one of the students who took part in the action.

I especially like this image because it reminds me of attention-getting events organized by our Oxfam America volunteers here in the US, like last year’s Walk for climate justice. It’s inspiring to think that like-minded people on the other side of the world share the same dedication.

And hey, if you see a bunch of people lying down in the streets of Manhattan during the next big UN climate meeting in September—now you’ll know what it is they’re doing.

Hunger in Ethiopia

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Ethiopian children play in the village of Gutu Dobi where some membes of the community were surviving on just one meal a day. Photo by Sarah Livingston/Oxfam America
Ethiopian children play in the village of Gutu Dobi where some members of the community were surviving on just one meal a day. Photo by Sarah Livingston/Oxfam America

Months in the making, a story-gathering trip to Ethiopia that I’ve been planning is finally coming together. I fly out on Thursday. I’ll be visiting with farmers, often rain-parched, in the far north and herders in the south who have been struggling to overcome a drought and food crisis that left 13.5 million Ethiopians dependent on aid for survival last year. That’s close to 18 percent of the entire country of 77 million people. And news is now trickling in that the UN has just allocated $6 million from an emergency fund to address a new spike in hunger that could leave 6.2 million Ethiopians needing food aid in the coming weeks. Poor rains from mid-February to mid-May are part of the problem. Continue reading

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What do you think the president should have said?

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Since writing about President Obama’s speech in Ghana I have continued to see many fascinating comments about it rolling around the internet. The AfricaFocus web site has organized several reactions from Africa that are critical and very revealing. If you want some perspective on how Africans perceive their own challenges, and how they are reacting to the speech, check it out. Particularly notable are comments about how the US has failed to acknowledge its role in supporting dictators, influencing political transitions, and supporting conflicts during the Cold War. Firoz Manji of Pambazuka News noted this in a clever, alternative version of Obama’s speech called “Obama in Ghana: The speech he might have made.”

Trade came up in an editorial in Public Agenda in Accra, Ghana, which pointed out that “if the developed countries would open just three percent of their markets to African countries, these countries would earn more income from exports trade than the total foreign aid doled out to them in any given year. Mr. Obama shied away from the controversial issue of US farm subsidies which is killing small scale farmers, especially cotton farmers in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger.” Oxfam has been pointing this fact out for years, so it was good to see that the idea about trade and subsidies are still relevant, especially to Africans who have so much to gain from trade.

So what are your reactions to Obama’s speech? And if you could rewrite it as Manji did, what would you say?

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When it comes to poverty, is marketing a dirty word?

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During my first year in book publishing, I would often balk at parties when people asked, “What do you do? Are you an editor?” I had to begin by explaining that working with authors and booksellers to bring a book to market was the other half of the profession, but I did not like casting myself as a marketer because their inevitable response would be a smug, quasi-judgmental “ah.” Very quickly, I made peace with the fact that because my work involved selling books and ideas−not soap or violent video games−there was inherent meaning in what I did.

Now, I work as a press officer for branding at Oxfam America, where, given our mission, marketing is still sometimes a dirty word. Which brings me to Nick Kristof’s assertion in a recent column: that toothpaste sellers do a better job of peddling their wares than non-profits do, even in situations of urgent need.

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Speaking plainly about rape in Congo

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Beds crowd a bare room at a clinic in Congo where rape victims receive medical and psychological care. Photo by Liz Lucas/Oxfam America
Beds crowd a bare room at a clinic in Congo where rape survivors receive medical and psychological care. Photo by Liz Lucas/Oxfam America

I’ve been thinking about a string of words that appeared in the headline of an Oxfam press release on the Democratic Republic of Congo earlier this week: “Rape, forced labor, reprisal attacks, and torture.” They describe the surge in brutality civilians have endured from all sides since the start of the year when the Congolese government began a UN-backed military offensive against a rebel group in the conflict-torn eastern provinces of the country.

I’ve been to Congo. I’ve seen the conditions in those eastern provinces. I’ve heard many painful stories about the hardships and trauma people there live with daily. So why has that headline rattled me? Continue reading

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Obama, a son of Africa, speaks in Ghana

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Pounding fufu (boiled cassava, a staple food) in a small village in central Ghana. Most of the people in this area grow cocoa and make a decent living, but in other parts of the country a large percentage of the population live on less than $1 a day. Photo by Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America.
Pounding fufu (boiled cassava, a staple food) in a small village in central Ghana. Most of the people in this area grow cocoa and make a decent living, but in other parts of the country a large percentage of the population live on less than $1 a day. Photo by Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America.

Barack Obama made his first trip to Africa as President of the United States, and his speech last week in Accra was the talk of Africa and much of the world. When we looked at it here in the office, a colleague said to me, “It’s almost as if Obama works for Oxfam.” He worked through a number of Africa’s challenges and many of his recommendations were aligned with those Oxfam makes on the same issues.

But the speech was also interesting for another reason: It’s always hard for someone from the US to confront Africans about problems on their continent. Continue reading

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Down payment on ending hunger

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Families in the Honduran community of Copan used to survive on two or three small meals a day, but with support from Oxfam and a local partner organization, they now grow a wide variety of nutritious vegetables. Photo: Gilvan Barreto / Oxfam
Families in the Honduran community of Copan used to survive on two or three small meals a day, but with support from Oxfam and a local partner organization, they now grow a wide variety of nutritious vegetables. Photo: Gilvan Barreto / Oxfam

Gawain Kripke is Oxfam America’s policy director focusing on hunger and food issues. At the G8 summit he’s lobbying government officials and talking to journalists to keep the pressure for action.


Newsflash: G8 and other countries commit to $20 billion over three years for agriculture development.  This is $5 billion more than expected and came from “arm twisting” in the last few hours.

We still don’t have details, but this probably means more money – new money – for agriculture development.

This is a victory for President Obama who said, in his press conference today, “There’s no reason Africa can’t feed itself.  They have lots of arable land.”

Although this is still a fraction of the annual additional $25 billion to $40 billion needed, it’s a down payment on the goal of ending hunger.

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How far will the G8 go to end hunger?

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gawainGawain Kripke is Oxfam America’s policy director focusing on hunger and food issues. At the G8 summit he’s lobbying government officials and talking to journalists to keep the pressure on for action.

Intrigue is building on what, exactly, will be promised on hunger at the G8 summit.  For weeks the rumors have floated that President Obama wanted to make a major announcement at the G8 on the issue of hunger.  His staff said that he wanted to focus on aid to small farmers to help them grow their way out of poverty and feed themselves.  It’s exciting and very welcome coming on the news that the world faces a sad milestone in 2009: This year more than 1 billion people will face hunger. That’s more hungry people than ever in human history.  Continue reading

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Strange weather, human consequences

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Miss Betty Jane Adams of Chauvin, LA. Photo: Grazioso Pictures
Miss Betty Jane Adams of Chauvin, LA. Photo: Grazioso Pictures

This June was one of the weirdest months I’ve ever seen in New England. Instead of warm days, we had endless cool and rainy weather. The Boston skyline vanished behind a perpetual cloud bank. Lately, I’ve taken to leaving my sunglasses at home and hauling my umbrella around instead.

Of course, besides giving Bostonians a chance to complain (something we love dearly), the unseasonal weather hasn’t really disrupted our lives. I haven’t put in my air conditioner yet, and some of my neighbors have held off on planting their summer gardens. But overall, we can live with it.

A thousand or so miles south of us, though, the weather is changing in a way that’s much more lasting and profound. Last week I watched some stunning footage filmed in the bayous of Louisiana, part of a series of forthcoming short films by Oxfam about building people’s resilience to climate change. The story centers on a local organization building elevated “lift houses” to protect Gulf Coast residents from increasingly severe floods and storms. 

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