First Person

2008 in Photos: Part One

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As 2008 draws to a close, we’re highlighting some of the photos that we thought best captured Oxfam’s work this year. Here are my own personal picks; more to come from others.

Steve Thackston / Oxfam America
Photo: Steve Thackston / Oxfam America

This portrait of Biloxi, MS resident Mary Meltz appeared in Mirror on America, Oxfam’s report on the state of US Gulf Coast recovery three years after Hurricane Katrina. Meltz stands in front of her new home, where construction is nearly complete, thanks to the efforts of her son Michael (an artist who covered the walls with elaborate murals), community groups, and teams of volunteers. Visible over her shoulder is the FEMA trailer where Meltz lived for nearly three years.

To me, this divided image–and Meltz’s look of weary, patient hope–captures the in-between state of many of the people I met when I visited Biloxi in June. Three years after the storm, they are still struggling to rebuild their lives, even as they look to better times ahead.

Nikki Eads / Oxfam America
Photo: Nikki Eads / Oxfam America

Shikha Gupta, an Oxfam America CHANGE Leader from University of Texas, Dallas, writes a handwritten letter to her US representative during the July 2008 CHANGE training. The letter calls for support of the Extractive Industries Transparency Disclosure Act, a piece of US legislation that could help communities affected by oil, gas, and mining by requiring companies to disclose the payments they make in the countries where they operate. Oxfam supported this legislation in 2008 as part of our Right to Know, Right to Decide campaign; though the bill is on hold due to the presidential transition, look for it to come up again in Congress in 2009.

At the CHANGE training and elsewhere, I found it really inspiring to see young Oxfam supporters like Gupta in action this year. They are smart, motivated, enthusiastic, and ready to transform the world.

Photo: Chau Doan / Oxfam America

Farmer Vo Thi Be, of Long Hoa, Vietnam, collects fish in her pond. This image comes from my colleague Andrea’s trip to Vietnam, where she visited an Oxfam-funded conservation project that teaches Mekong Delta communities like Long Hoa how to preserve the mangroves growing along the seashore. The replenished mangrove trees not only help people improve their livelihoods and catch more fish, but also form a living barrier that protects villages from the natural disasters caused by a changing climate.

I like how the farmer’s hat and the bowl seem to reflect each other, creating a feeling of balance and harmony. As climate change becomes more and more pressing for poor communities, adaptation projects like this one–built in harmony with nature and with existing cultures–could be the key to helping poor people survive.

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