Monthly Archives: January 2009

Poverty Porn?

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Last night I was trolling around the web, reading up on the Academy Awards nominees. I found an article about “Slumdog Millionaire” the movie about a poor boy who grows up to become a contestant on India’s version of “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?”  As I was reading about the movie, I clicked on a link about the controversies surrounding the film. One is that the movie is less a realistic view of poverty in India, and more an exploitative look at the country’s slums.

A columnist from Britain’s Times calls the movie “poverty porn” and writes: ” … the film is vile. Unlike other Boyle films such as Trainspotting or Shallow Grave, which also revel in a fantastical comic violence, Slumdog Millionaire is about children. And it is set not in the West but in the slums of the Third World. As the film revels in the violence, degradation and horror, it invites you, the Westerner, to enjoy it, too.”

Hmmm. I don’t know that I agree with that summation. In fact, I think using the term “poverty porn” is, in its own way, exploiting poor people for the sake of selling newspapers. But I can see how someone who watched the movie might have felt uncomfortable watching it. Continue reading

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Lilly Gets Her Legislation

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Lilly Ledbetter sued her employer Goodyear 11 years ago because she found out she was not being paid as well as men in the same positions. But the Supreme Court threw out the case because she did not file it within six months of when the discrimination had occurred.

I just saw her on television standing next to President Obama when he signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, which according to this story in the Washington Post will “[expand] the time frame in which workers can sue for discrimination they have experienced based on gender, race, national origin or religion.” Continue reading

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No Going Back

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Jerry Galea / Oxfam
A woman walking in the Kup District of Chimbu Province, Papua New Guinea, where people are vulnerable to more frequent and intense cyclones caused by climate change. Photo: Jerry Galea / Oxfam

Yesterday, some friends of mine had a daughter, who they named Abigail Rose. In the photos I saw this morning, she looks impossibly miniature, almost too tiny to be real; yet up close, she also sports a lot of thick brown hair and an oddly thoughtful expression.

I don’t have kids, so I’m sort of an outsider on the whole process, and I find it just a little bit mind-boggling. Looking at the photos, I can’t help but wonder: What will life be like for someone born in 2009? How will Abigail’s world be different from ours?

Sometimes I worry about that world. Take a new study released yesterday, which found that the effects of climate change are now irreversible–or, in the words of Science Daily, “To a large extent, there’s no going back.”

Led by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the study found that even if all polluters stopped emitting carbon tomorrow, the effects of human-induced global warming could last for the next 1,000 years or more. That’s way beyond Abigail’s lifetime, her children’s, and even her great-great-grandchildren’s.

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Keeping the Faith

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Archbishop Oscar Romero's image in the courtyard of a church near San Salvador. Photo by Chris Hufstader/Oxfam America

Two years ago, I visited a charismatic woman known as Mama Grace in Soweto. She ran a South African community organization that serves meals to children in her cinder-block garage-turned cafeteria. She led us in a prayer before lunch and everyone bowed their heads—except me. I was watching Mama Grace pray. After we all said “Amen,” Mama Grace pointed at me and said “That one was looking at me and not praying!”

Busted.  Continue reading

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The Mine and the Mountain

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Jessica Erickson / Oxfam America
Photo: Jessica Erickson / Oxfam America

My colleague Jessica recently traveled to the Cajamarca region of Peru, where she visited communities that face threats to their land and water supply from the Yanacocha gold mine. Along the way she captured some great photos of the local people and the changed landscape.

While working with Jess to create an audio slideshow about her trip, I’ve found myself vividly remembering my own visit to the Peruvian Andes in 2006: the clean, cold, impossibly thin air; the wild green hillsides and silent stone ruins; the tall white clouds racing over the peaks.  Once you’ve seen these ancient landscapes, you never really forget them.

This power comes through in Jess’ portrait of Doña Maria Castrajón Flores (above). An indigenous Quechua speaker, Flores lives in near solitude on her family’s ancestral farmland, raising a few cattle and growing potatoes at over 12,000 feet above sea level.

As Flores looks out over her land, she also contemplates the presence of the mining company, which leaves its mark in the buildings and roads zigzagging along the distant hillside.

“I don’t want to sell my land to the mine, because I have nowhere to go,” Flores told her visitors. “My children were born and raised here on the mountain. I don’t want to move anywhere else.”

A Good First Day

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It’s a drum we bang a lot at Oxfam: Addressing poverty at home and abroad will create a better, safer world for all of us.

Well, this morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton started her first day on the job echoing the same sentiment.

According to today’s Washington Post, Clinton, who also oversees the US Agency for International Development, told her staff: “there are ‘three legs to the stool of national security — defense, diplomacy and development. We are responsible for two of three legs…. Robust diplomacy and effective development are the best long term tools for securing America’s future.'”

I hope the coming four years bring with them a more nuanced view of US policies, one that no longer contributes to poverty — but actually helps reduce it.

To read the full article, click here.

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Words to Change the World?

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Ephraim Freed
Oxfam America Boston staffers watching the inauguration. Photo: Ephraim Freed

Like many of you, I watched yesterday’s inauguration with a crowd: my Oxfam America co-workers, and a few of their kids and spouses, too. At noon, many of us clustered around the big TV in the lobby of our office, balancing our sandwiches on our laps as we watched history in the making.

Amidst all the rhetoric of the day, I was particularly struck by one quote from President Obama’s inauguration speech:

“To the people of poor nations, we pledge to work alongside you to make your farms flourish and let clean waters flow; to nourish starved bodies and feed hungry minds.

And to those nations like ours that enjoy relative plenty, we say we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders, nor can we consume the world’s resources without regard to effect. For the world has changed, and we must change with it.”

What do you think: Are we really waking up this morning to a world transformed? And if things have indeed changed, what must we do, as individuals, to keep up the momentum?

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A Family Meal

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Clara Herrero, a program assistant at Oxfam America, recently visited an Oxfam project in Cambodia. She traveled as part of Oxfam’s travel lottery, which sends two employees – who don’t get to travel outside the US as part of their jobs – to see our work on-the-ground in developing countries.

I recently went to Cambodia, accompanying my colleagues from Oxfam’s Humanitarian Response team as they learned more about a project teaching local communities how to adapt to climate change. It was my first time visiting one of our regional offices and my first “in the field.”

Early in my trip, I went to the Tuol Sleng Museum. During the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, the museum was a prison where millions of Cambodians (and many thousands of foreigners) were starved to death, tortured, and killed. It’s now a monument to that history and a place, which lists all the crimes of the regime.  One stood out in my mind. In Cambodia, families place great importance on eating meals together. During Pol Pot’s reign, they weren’t able to share meals with their family.

I thought a lot about this tradition as I traveled with my Oxfam colleagues, Latif, Kheng, Jacobo, and Miriam. Over the three weeks I spent in Cambodia, we began to feel like a family.

Oxfam Staff Clara Herrero, Miriam Aschkenasy, and Jacobo Ocharan take in the sights at the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.
Oxfam Staff Clara Herrero, Miriam Aschkenasy, and Jacobo Ocharan take in the sights at the ancient temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

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