Take a look at our event calendar right now, and you’ll notice Oxfam events coming up at schools and universities around the country. Many respond to the current drought and famine in East Africa, whether by raising funds or raising awareness about the underlying issues. “[At] a huge school like Arizona State University, it’s very common to see students who have no knowledge of the global food crisis,” said Neekta Hamidi, a junior and Oxfam CHANGE Leader. “Usually, the only students who attend events are already aware of the problems.”
Hamidi and the ASU Oxfam Club plan to spread the word with an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet—an event that’s been the heart of Oxfam’s fall campaign against hunger for nearly four decades. Guests at a Hunger Banquet are randomly assigned to one of three different income levels; each group eats a corresponding meal, from lavish to sparse. Participants can also take on the roles of different people from around world and share their experiences with others.
Because of its interactive nature, “the Hunger Banquet appeals to students with all types of interests, majors, and backgrounds … anyone who just wants to learn something new,” said Hamidi. “And it’s easy to promote via Facebook or Twitter.” She noted that last fall’s event drew even more students than they expected, and that this year they hope to surpass those numbers.
So why does an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet inspire people to take action? Tsesa Monaghan, an Oxfam CHANGE Leader from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, said the answer lies in challenging preconceptions about hunger.
“Our minds are wired to think on individual levels, not statistics of billions or millions or even hundreds. So while you can know the numbers, they’re pretty abstract,” said Monaghan. “But when you’re in a room and see your friends and peers sitting on the floor, representing those in poverty, it makes the matter so much more personal.”
When Aniceto López looks out on the mine pit at the Marlin Mine, he sees what used to be there: forests and animals, an area he says was “full of life.” Now he says it is disgraceful what has happened to the area, as massive trucks take a steady supply of ore up and out of the pit gouged out of the side of the mountain.
López is the coordinator for FREDEMI, the Frented de Defensa Miguelense or San Miguel Defense Front. Members of FREDEMI, and of other groups in the area that are critical of the mine, are urging the government to suspend operations there. This is putting many of them at risk: People have been shot, beaten, arrested on dubious charges, and endured intimidation via death threats and near misses from gun fire. It’s a tense situation in all the areas around San Miguel Ixtahuacán in Western Guatemala.
We caught colleagues Karina Copen and Enrique Garcia on the phone in El Salvador this morning before they headed out the door for a day in the field.
The flooding and landslides in Central America this past week have been disastrous – the result of rainfall so heavy that it’s outstripped even the catastrophic hurricane Mitch of 1998. In El Salvador, landslides are occurring by the hundreds, and nearly 50,000 people have taken refuge in shelters.
But thanks to a carefully positioned warehouse packed with supplies and a network of trained partners, Oxfam was able to reach thousands of people with aid by the time a national state of emergency was declared. The warehouse is more or less empty now, but that’s a good thing, said Karina. “What people needed was what we had.”
After updating us on the latest events, Karina and Enrique talked about the past, present, and future. Years of work to help communities, partners, and the government prepare for emergencies are paying off in lives saved: the death toll from this massive storm doesn’t compare to Mitch. But the loss of homes and crops could be devastating for those who can least afford it.
“We need to keep addressing hazards,” said Enrique, “but also the issues that put poor people at such risk in emergencies.”
“The good news,” said Karina, as they signed off, “is that the sun’s out.”
Sri Lanka is the latest country to join Oxfam’s global efforts around World Food Day. Oxfam’s Sandun Thudugala sent us this update about a World Food Day event yesterday in Colombo, which brought together leaders from government and local communities to talk about solutions to hunger:
“This week, we celebrate World Food Day (16th October) at a time when world is facing one of its biggest food crises in history … [and] around 4 million Sri Lankans are undernourished. This is a great challenge in Sri Lanka where expectant mothers and children [are] the most affected by malnutrition. Almost one in five children has a low birth weight and around 500,000 children under the age of 5 are reported to be underweight. Global food price increases and extreme weather events are already having an impact on vulnerable communities in the country.
In a country like Sri Lanka, this is an unacceptable situation. Being a country blessed with all the natural resources necessary for food production, Sri Lanka has the potential to build a sustainable food system that can be a model for the rest of the world.
Oxfam in Sri Lanka is working with a large number of organizations, from grassroots level to national level, to support small scale food production … [and] the rights of and access of small scale food producers to resources and services. Oxfam’s GROW campaign will support the efforts of women, men, community groups, and the government of Sri Lanka to build … a country without hunger.”
He had the skinniest legs I think I’ve ever seen on a 15-year-old boy and one of the most disarming smiles, though it took a few minutes for that to appear. Being the mother of two boys and now, too soon, an empty-nester, I can’t help but notice these things.
He was standing next to a stretch of rough dirt road in front of a herd of cows so thin their ribs cast shadows on their hides. They were moving slowly in the heat of the morning, almost as if they were sleep walking. We were on our way to the village of Melka Guba in southern Ethiopia where drought has killed countless cattle and plunged millions of people into crisis. We had pulled over to wait for our colleagues who had stopped some miles back to repair a flat tire. When we finally turned our attention to our surroundings, there he was with his cows, studying our dust-coated truck. We were as curious to him as he was to us. We started to talk. Continue reading →
Nelly Velandia’s plans this weekend include a visit to an Iowa farmers’ market.
That’s not unusual; many of us stop by a farmers’ market as part of our regular shopping routine. I go to my local market for translucent gold tomatoes, earthy carrots still sporting their crown of greens, even locally-made Mexican-style chocolate.
But for Velandia, a community leader from Colombia now visiting the US, farmers’ markets are more than just a place to shop.
Meanwhile, Velandia joined with others to advocate for the rights of her fellow women and indigenous people. “It was always my dream to go back and work with the communities where I was raised,” she explained. “What we work on is influence: we want to ensure that rural women can influence government policies to resolve the problems that affect them.” That mission eventually brought her to the capital, Bogotá, where she joined the Communal and Small-Scale Farmers’ Committee for Dialogue (known by its Spanish abbreviation CICC).
Things came full circle for Velandia when CICC came up with a plan to organize farmers’ markets in Bogotá. Supported by Oxfam, these markets would help rural farmers sell directly to city consumers and earn better prices for their crops. Velandia’s group even convinced the mayor’s office to help cover the cost of setting up markets in parks and public squares.
Of course, Oxfam’s grassroots campaign against hunger is not really about us: It’s about you, the thousands of supporters nationwide who are hosting or attending events this fall. You are the ones who are hosting more than 200 Sunday Dinners for World Food Day, organizing Oxfam America Hunger Banquets on campus and in your communities, and coming up with your own creative ways to make a difference.
If this sounds like something you’d like to be a part of, check out our community calendar to find an event near you. Afterward, share your event with others by posting your pictures and videos to Oxfam’s Photobook. We’ll be featuring photos and stories from your events on this blog in the coming weeks.
Coco McCabe filed this report from Ethiopia, where she is reporting on the severe drought in East Africa. In August, she visited an area in northern Ethiopia – which has thus far escaped this year’s drought but has been devastated in the past – to report on initiatives to fight recurrent drought. Her reporting is featured in a World Food Day half-hour documentary special report from ViewChange and Oxfam: “ViewChange: Africa’s Last Famine,” which is available online at www.oxfamamerica.org and www.viewchange.org and broadcasts on Link TV on Friday, October 14, and Tuesday, October 18.
When we left Ethiopia’s capital of Addis Ababa for the long drive south to Yabello, the air that was cool at dawn turned dry as the sun inched higher—pucker dry, the kind that makes you lick your lips until they sting and leaves your fingertips feeling chalky. Maybe some of it was due to the dust in the air, a veil of topsoil whipped aloft by the wind and mixed with plumes of black smoke swelling from the tailpipes of trucks.
We stopped to stock up on water—plastic bottles of it covered with the brand name “YES” and a tagline that declared “for a better life.” As we pulled back onto the road all I could think about were the words of our driver: “On a long journey, water is better than food.” I reached for one of the bottles and settled it in my lap, taking long swigs as the sun grew hotter.
Climbing through coffee country around Yirgacheffee, we entered a stretch of respite from the sun. Clouds had massed over the hills and rain drops began to pelt the windshield. The wipers whisked them away, turning a morning’s worth of dust into a film of grime. We had caught the tail end of a downpour and through the side window of our car, I watched people watch the rain, standing alone in their doorways, peering out their windows, their faces solemn. I wondered how much they knew about the drought in the south.
In a small village in Ghana called Anwiam, Mary Amo shows us her house, or what’s left of it. A massive outflow of waste water from an underground mine shaft had submerged her neighborhood, washing away the entire back of her house. She and her mother and sister had taken some sections of metal roofing to build a make-shift wall, but did not have the resources to properly rebuild.
Amo had an opportunity to attend a workshop with Oxfam’s partner in Ghana, Wacam, about two years ago. She learned that having half your house washed away was a violation of her basic right to live in a safe environment, and how to engage in dialogue with the international mining company responsible for the outflow, AngloGold Ashanti. Before she and her neighbors understood their basic rights, Amo says “no one respected us here.”