Monthly Archives: July 2010

Getting the facts about women and hunger

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Did you know that women produce 60 to 80 percent of the food in developing countries, but own just 2 percent of the land? That water shortages and drought affect women first? Or that women farmers have fewer opportunities than men to start businesses or reach new markets where they can sell their crops?

Emelina Dominguez is a farmer and agricultural technician from from La Paz, Honduras who trains other women in farming techniques. Photo: Gilvan Barreto / Oxfam
Emelina Dominguez is a farmer and agricultural technician from La Paz, Honduras, who trains other women in farming techniques. Photo: Gilvan Barreto / Oxfam

I didn’t know any of this myself until I started writing Oxfam America’s latest fact sheet, Fight hunger: Invest in women farmers. As I gathered the facts from Oxfam research and outside sources like the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, I began to get a clearer picture of the connection between women’s efforts and the world’s food supply.

Basically, hunger is not about too many people and not enough food. It’s about power, and inequalities in access to education and resources. If you’ve ever been to an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet, you might remember the MC saying those words… maybe right around the time you realized that not everyone at the banquet would be eating the same meal.

I ended up using those words on the fact sheet, too, because they seemed to sum up the whole problem: Women’s hard work feeds millions, and women produce the world’s staple crops, but they’re often battling against deep-rooted inequalities. Add in the consequences of climate change (droughts, floods, and unpredictable rainy seasons) and you’ve got a true threat to our global food supply.

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Four photos that illuminate Haiti’s recovery

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I recently came across a quote from one of my favorite photographers, Minor White, who said, “At first glance a photograph can inform us. At second glance it can reach us.”

My job is to organize and catalogue Oxfam’s photography from Haiti and other disaster-affected areas. That’s why I wanted to highlight a few recent images from Haiti—all by Ami Vitale—that are worth a second glance.  Six months after the devastating earthquake, they illuminate Haitians’ efforts to rebuild and recover.

Photo: Ami Vitale / Oxfam America
Photo: Ami Vitale / Oxfam America

In rural Haiti, farmers are learning better beekeeping with the promise that more honey means more income to spend on household necessities. For me, this image from the village of Lacedras comes alive through the light and the points at which it hits.  As the beekeeper angles the honeycomb towards the sun for a better look, the comb glows with a warmth and seems to be lit from within. It suggests the hope and potential for beekeeping to provide greater opportunity for these farmers. 

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Video: Address basic needs, reduce population

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Once again I am grateful for Duncan Green’s excellent blog “From Poverty to Power” for raising the issue of global population growth, which generated a lively debate when I blogged about it earlier this year. This time Green references a fascinating lecture by Hans Rosling. You can watch the video below, in which Rosling uses plastic storage boxes from Ikea (Rosling is Swedish so I suppose this makes sense) and an animated PowerPoint presentation to show how helping with basic needs reduces child mortality and encourages people to have fewer children. His basic message: If you want to address population growth, work on eradicating poverty. It’s a clear-eyed analysis of the population issue and basic development, all in about 10 minutes:


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Teen busker raises $1,000 for Oxfam, one song at a time

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Zoe Kurtz has been studying violin for an impressive ten years. But three years ago, at age 13, she decided it was time to take her musical talent to the streets.

“Since I know how to play violin, and people in my neighborhood appreciate music, I wanted to play on the street [for charity],” explains the Takoma Park, MD, high school student. “It was so scary the first time… But I wanted to use what I know, which is violin, to help people.”

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In a Haiti camp, one boy elevates recycling to an art

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Jeanot Dossus works on a bag. Photo by Jane Beesley/Oxfam
Jeanot Dossus works on a bag. Photo by Jane Beesley/Oxfam

Dealing with household waste in the camps for people left homeless by the earthquake that hit Haiti in January can be a big problem. Oxfam’s public health teams are working with locals on ways to manage it, including with children who are doing some creative recycling. Oxfam’s Jane Beesley, a photographer and story-gatherer, reports how in one camp, a young participant has taken that creativity to a whole new level.

Recently I gave a talk about Oxfam’s work in Haiti. It was the fourth or fifth I’ve done since returning to the UK. Among the many stories was one that seems to capture everyone’s attention—the story of Jeanot Dossus, a 15-year-old boy in Don Bosco camp. The public health tent there was filled with children absorbed in a variety of activities. In the middle of the tent sat Jeanot, totally focused on what he was doing. With meticulous care, he was folding strips of cardboard wrapped with pieces from empty crisp packets then weaving them into what is obviously a bag–a glorious green basket-weave bag. Continue reading

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Photos from Haiti: Protecting lives with skits and cerf volants

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Oxfam teamed up with a local kite maker to help children create and launch hundreds of kites bearing public- health messages. Photo: Julia Gilbert / Oxfam
Oxfam teamed up with a local kite maker to help children create and launch hundreds of kites bearing public- health messages. Photo: Julia Gilbert / Oxfam

In Oxfam’s Haiti photo collection from the last six months – in among pictures of tent camps, water trucks, and survivors picking up the pieces of their lives – there are some scenes that look like fun: children building toys and painting pictures, grownups hamming it up on a makeshift stage, and rows of brightly colored kites.

This is the playful work of Oxfam’s public health promoters, whose job it is to help people adapt to the hygiene needs of the crowded camps, where the threat of disease epidemics is ever-present. So the child-crafted paintings, the kites that leap and dive above the rubble of the camps, and the actors entertaining their young audiences all carry messages about staying clean to stay healthy.  So far, Oxfam’s health-education messages have reached more than 200,000 people, and in post-earthquake Haiti – so far – there have been no serious outbreaks of disease.  So, long live the kites.  Or in Haitian Kreyol: Viv – yo cerf volants!

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In Haiti, reunited with her grandmothers–at last

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Sophia Lafontant recently visited family members in Haiti.
Sophia Lafontant recently visited family members in Haiti.

A sea of tents, blue everywhere, greeted Sophia Lafontant when she arrived in Haiti a few weeks ago. The longing she had to see the two grandmothers there with whom she shares a close bond—“I wanted to hold them, to have conversations with them,” she said—had grown to an ache in the endless months since the January 12 earthquake ravaged the capital, Port-au-Prince.

Lafontant is a senior organizer and training specialist at Oxfam America where she works on the CHANGE Initiative, a student leadership and advocacy program. She also works with the Oxfam Action Corp, a program for community organizers. In August, Lafontant will become the lead organizer for Haiti based in Washington, D.C. And she’s worn other hats in the five years she’s been with the organization—but not the ones that would have allowed her swift entry into a disaster zone.

But she finally made it in June for a reunion with family members  that was both joyous and sobering.

“It rained every single day while I was in Haiti,” Lafontant said. “I could only imagine living in a tent under those circumstances.” Continue reading

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Bleak images of hunger fill a trip into Niger

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"Everyone is hungry. There is nothing to eat," says Raha Souley, who was planting beans after some rain finally fell. Photo: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam
"Everyone is hungry. There is nothing to eat," says Raha Souley, who was planting beans after some rain finally fell. Photo: Caroline Gluck/Oxfam

Caroline Gluck is a humanitarian press officer for Oxfam. She is reporting from Niger.

I’ve been left with some haunting images over the last few days as I’ve travelled in Niger to document the country’s worsening food crisis.

A mother who brought in her emaciated one year old son to a malnutrition clinic, weighing half the normal average weight for a child of his age.  She was so under-nourished herself that she had no breast milk to feed him.

Families who supplement cassava and millet flour with wild leaves and berries to fill their stomachs.  Proud livestock herders for whom their animals are their sole source of income – literally, their bank accounts–forced to sell them at bargain basement prices.  And a drive through an area I have dubbed the animal graveyard – a journey of more than four miles where I counted more than 70 dead animals half-buried in the bleached desert sand. Some lay under the shade of a tree, their bared teeth grinning grimly from their sunken skulls. Continue reading

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Hunger in the Sahel

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“Five years ago the world ignored warning signs from Niger, failed to act rapidly, and lives were lost. The international community cannot make the same mistake again.”

Women dig through anthills in search of small amounts of grain the insects have stored there. Photo by Oxfam
Women dig through anthills in search of small amounts of grain the insects have stored there. Photo by Oxfam

Those are the words of Mamadou Biteye, a regional director for Oxfam in West Africa sounding the alarm for a food crisis that, so far, has failed to penetrate the consciousness of much of the western world. The stunning thing is it’s affecting 10 million people across the Sahel region of West Africa—10 million people who are scrambling to find enough to eat.

What does that mean?

For women in the Chadian village of Djaya, it means rising early and spending the day under the hot sun digging through anthills in search of small cashes of grain stored there by insects. If they’re lucky, some of them can scrape together about five and a half pounds from a day’s work. Continue reading

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