Monthly Archives: November 2010

Video: Really listening and trying to help in Senegal

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Over the past few years I have visited a lot of communities affected by large-scale mining projects. In Honduras, Mali, Peru, Ghana, Guatemala, Cambodia, or Senegal, I usually hear about more or less the same problems: loss of land, loss of jobs, pollution, and despair.

No matter how much you hear about these problems, seeing them in the small towns, villages, and in the homes of people remembering a lost way of life is always shocking. I was reminded of this most recently in a small village called Faloumbou, in the far eastern border of Senegal. The entire village of 650 people, including all 35 of its farming families, had lost all the agricultural land they had used to grow millet, maize, and ground nuts. The government gave it to an Australian mining company. All their fields are now part of an open-pit gold mine. No one in Faloumbou had received any sort of compensation for lost land.

The chief of the village, Kourou Keita, asks a simple question: “We don’t know anything but farming, so if you take the land from us, how can we survive?”

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Oxfam fights cholera on three fronts in Haiti

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The rain dropped by Hurricane Tomas across Haiti has created perfect conditions for the spread of cholera. Photo by Eduardo Munoz, courtesy www.alertnet.org
The rain dropped by Hurricane Tomas across Haiti has created perfect conditions for the spread of cholera. Photo by Eduardo Munoz, courtesy www.alertnet.org

The relief that Oxfam staffers felt after Hurricane Tomas doused Haiti earlier this month was short-lived. They knew it would be, says Julie Schindall, an Oxfam press officer based in Haiti.

Though the storm caused limited physical damage, the rain it dumped has created the perfect conditions for another frightening problem: the spread of cholera, a deadly waterborne disease.

“Our staff knew, after decades of working in cholera epidemics around the world, that we hadn’t actually escaped a disaster after the storm,” writes Schindall in a piece posted with Channel 4 News. “As the floodwaters receded, the cholera outbreak that started in central Haiti in late October began its vicious spread.” Continue reading

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Facing poverty and destiny during Obama’s visit to India

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To get the full story of President Obama’s recent visit to my home city, Mumbai, I knew at once to call a reliable source on the ground—my mom.  She exclaimed that taxi drivers and families eager to celebrate Diwali, the Indian festival of lights, were bemoaning the restrictions on the roads due to strict security measures in this city of over 21 million.

Despite those grumblings, Obama received a warm welcome on his three day visit, and several news reports lauded the special friendship between Obama and India’s Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh. This friendship is certainly to be lauded because of the mutual benefit it could have for two of the world’s largest democracies in terms of security and growth.

However, it’s important not to lose sight of the fact that India continues to face severe challenges posed by widespread poverty and unequal access to limited resources: A third of the world’s poorest people live in India, for example, and half of its children are malnourished.

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In Haiti camps, minimal damage from storm—but lots of work ahead

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Hurricane Tomas dumped plenty of rain on the displaced residents of Haiti’s capital over the weekend where countless families continue to live in tents and under tarps in crowded camps scattered across the city. They’ve been there since the January 12 earthquake destroyed their homes. As Tomas churned toward Port-au-Prince, fear of another catastrophe ran high.

But after the storm, Oxfam aid workers reported that damage was minimal to the water and sanitation facilities in the camps where we work—a huge relief (you could hear it in the tone of their messages) since access to clean water and sanitation services is essential in helping to ensure the health of people in the camps.

And there’s no doubt that the preparedness work Oxfam did in advance—including digging drainage ditches, clearing canals, and securing water tanks and latrines—helped keep these critical systems intact.

But there’s lots more work ahead: a cholera epidemic has hit the rice-growing region north of capital. According to the UN’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Haitian government is now reporting that more than 8,000 people have been hospitalized with the virulent waterborne disease and more than 540 people have died from it. Oxfam is very concerned that all the rain Tomas dropped could exacerbate cholera’s spread.

In Artibonite province, where most of the hospitalizations have occurred, Oxfam has launched a major response to combat the outbreak. We have a team of about 25 staffers working in an area called Petite Riviere, with a population of around 100,000. We’ve been distributing water purification tablets and powder, soap, buckets, and oral rehydration salts to about 40,000 people. We’re also carrying out a massive education campaign on how to prevent the spread of the disease. Good hygiene and access to clean drinking water are key.

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Hundreds of activists run for Darfur at Halloween 5K

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Oxfam employees joined Holy Cross students and others at the Northhampton Halloween 5K to benefit Oxfam's work in Darfur.
Oxfam employees joined Holy Cross students and others at the Northhampton Halloween 5K to benefit Oxfam's work in Darfur.

We have great news to report. The second annual Northhampton Halloween 5K was a smashing success. Oxfam’s own employees were among the 270 people who took part in the run, which raised more than $25,000 to support Oxfam’s work on the ground in Darfur to provide job training for women.

Nessa Stoltzfus, youth engagement manager at Oxfam America, said she took part because she wanted to show her support for the people of Darfur and the organizers of the run itself, the service organization Calling All Crows, which was founded by Chad Stokes of State Radio and tour manager, Sybil Gallagher.

Runners, some in costume, gather for the race. Photo credit: Steve Rosenfield, Ganesh Photography.
Runners, some in costume, gather for the race. Photo credit: Steve Rosenfield, Ganesh Photography.

Nessa said: “The Northampton 5K was a concrete action that we could take outside of the office to raise awareness and connect with community supporters about our work in Darfur. State Radio and Calling All Crows did an amazing job of fundraising for us, so it’s great to support their event and let them know how much we appreciate their efforts to fundraise, raise awareness, and get people to take action.”

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Rebirth among the flood ruins

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Families in the Dadu district of Pakistan's Sindh province are still battling flood waters that keep their villages submerged. Photo by Caroline Gluck/Oxfam
Families in the Dadu district of Pakistan's Sindh province are still battling flood waters that keep their villages submerged. Photo by Caroline Gluck/Oxfam

Oxfam’s Caroline Gluck reports from Sindh.

The road heading towards Qaimjatoi, in Dadu district in Pakistan’s southern Sindh looked like it was disappearing into the river.  A week ago, it was impassable; now, it was still surrounded by flooded rice fields, but most of the road had, at last, re-emerged from the waters. 

All around us, rice fields and trees were submerged.

We were going to meet 18-year-old Sakina Ghaincha, living with hundreds of other displaced families on a narrow ridge of an elevated embankment.  The families are living here in makeshift wooden shelters, with straw mats hung over the top as a roof. Colourful hand-stitched patchwork quilts, called rili and made locally, were strung along the sides of some shacks, affording families a little privacy and also some warmth when night temperatures drop.

Many people could see their flooded villages from the elevated bank, but couldn’t get back to them yet because the flood waters were still several feet high.  For most, boat travel remained the only way in and out.

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