First Person Blog

Voices, video, and photos from Oxfam's fight against poverty

Hey #StopKony fans, over here!

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An Oxfam volunteer at the Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee. Photo: Bob Ferguson/Oxfam America

You don’t have to lose your passion or enthusiasm over the closing of Invisible Children. You can redirect it to where it’s needed most.

Your mission was unmistakable. There was this bad guy in Uganda, Joseph Kony, and you were told that you could be part of bringing him to justice. You were enraged, sad, empathetic, connected all at once – the very things that make us human and that motivate us all to act, learn, or even care. You were part of a generation that was making a difference in the world.

What a disappointment it must have been to learn that Invisible Children was closing its doors last month. (See news coverage herehereherehere and here.)

You lent your voice because you didn’t want to see any more needless suffering in Africa. You gave your precious time and money. There was no doubt about your marching orders.

So what do you do now?

Whatever you do, please don’t give up on making a difference. Please don’t become discouraged or cynical about your role as a global citizen.

You see, the fight to right the wrong of poverty is a long one…and we don’t want to lose you.

As an “old school” campaigning organization, we watched in awe (and envy) in 2012 as the Invisible Children video became the most popular YouTube had ever seen. The momentum was astounding.

We’ve seen the power of that momentum at Oxfam too. We believe that together we can change the laws and practices that keep people trapped in poverty. So come on! Help Oxfam raise awareness and inspire action on some of the world’s most urgent issues.

But before you sign on to support us, I have to disappoint you.

Firstly, Oxfam doesn’t focus on one single, or even simple issue. I know this can be confusing, even frustrating, at times. “What, now Oxfam’s talking about a gold mine in Burkina Faso? What about the small farmers from Cambodia from last week?”

But those two issues are connected at their core, believe it or not. Let’s say rural people’s land is seized by the government to make way for a new mine. Their very livelihoods are threatened. Less land to grow food means less money and less choices for a family – having to forego meals to cover medical expenses or keep a child in school, for example. They move to the city to find work. Their rights are violated when a landlord kicks them out of their home, but the police aren’t any help. You see the cycle, right? Even when people find the time or energy or desire to take the next steps out of poverty, another obstacle presents itself.

What does this all mean? Fighting global poverty means Oxfam doesn’t often have the luxury of focus, and that’s ok by us. Long-standing, inter-related issues, with no easy answer – that’s our bread and butter.

Everything Oxfam does isn’t always faultless either. It’s called failure. And it happens to those with even the best of intentions. Every Oxfam program isn’t an instant success, but we work hard at measuring our impact. We strive to be more and more transparent about it. We know that we’re accountable not only to our donors and supporters, but also to the people on whose behalf we work. We may not be perfect, but we are continually adjusting our approach for greater impact.

We want you to think, not just act and react. The problems we all face are interconnected by context, history, policy decisions, and local realities and we want to provide opportunities for you to learn about this, from the people most affected, along with us. So we do our research. We can’t help our wonky selves. We even have an entire detailed side of the Oxfam America website devoted to our programs, research and policy work with all kinds of information to explore!

We also want you to share our energy and excitement!

We make change happen. Whether it’s pushing the US government to ratify a global Arms Trade Treaty or ensure gifts of money from family members can continue to flow into Somalia through the banking system, so that people can maintain financial support to their loved ones, Oxfam is standing in solidarity with the everyday citizens that need a clear pathway to holding those in power accountable. That’s why we support activists that oppose mining in El Salvador and Guatemala, or that fight for transparency in Rwanda, or improved health care in Malawi. It’s why we can’t turn our back on Syrian refugees or hunger in the US among working families. It’s why we march for climate justice with people from all over the globe.

We provide you opportunities to connect with people, real people, all around the world, who are working to make changes in their own communities. And here’s the really good news! I have found that that’s where motivation and inspiration truly lies.

When ordinary people are knocking on the door of the institutions that govern their everyday lives and demanding more from their leaders – that is when you see true transformation. Oxfam works to ensure that all individuals can see themselves as part of the solution and part of the future that they are building.

We’ll offer lots of resources for your campaigning, all free of charge. Demand peace in South Sudan. Host an Oxfam Jam or slam. (Oxfam still offers a little “cool” factor I hope.) Run an information table at a concert, festival, or a farmer’s market. Attend an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet or skip a meal. Fundraise to fight Ebola. If you’re a student, we can help you make a mark on your campus!

We’re not going anywhere. A group of Quaker social activists and Oxford academics started Oxfam in 1942 in response to the plight of refugees in Greece. As the situation in Europe improved after the war, Oxfam’s attention shifted to the needs of people in developing countries. Then 28 years later, a group of volunteers founded Oxfam America in 1970 in response to the humanitarian crisis created by the fight for independence in Bangladesh.

Global poverty and injustice are persistent, intractable problems. So we must be. You are always welcome here.

 

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  1. danp314@hotmail.com'Dan

    I am a supporter of Oxfam, and I think you guys do great work. However, I feel this article seemed to unnecessarily jab at Invisible Children and try to differentiate yourself from them. The only differentiation that looked valid to me is that you focus on multiple issues and that doesn’t make it any better, just different. All the rest of the examples of differentiation don’t seem based in reality on what Invisible Children really did. They did educate, connect to real people, and let people be involved in all kinds of free events and activities. Last of all, they definitely made change and help legislation get passed.

    Reply
    1. Jennifer Lentfer

      Dan,

      Thanks for your support of Oxfam. I was not attempting to criticize IC, but rather highlight that there’s still a place for IC supporters in the fight against global poverty and injustice. #StopKony demonstrated that people respond well to messaging that offers an us/them, black/white solution that can be acted on quickly. But from my experience, this is not the reality of how social, political, and institutional change works anywhere.

      Millions of people around the world are creating a sound future for their nations and their neighborhoods. I’m proud to work for an organization that stands in solidarity with these leaders. We’re always asking the hard question: “How can we portray the realities of people’s lives, their struggles, their strengths, our roles and our mistakes in a ‘silver bullet solutions’ world?”

      As writer Courtney E. Martin once wrote, “When [we] actually reflect back the world as it is — horrible and beautiful, tragic and smart, corrupt and innovative — then individual people won’t have to face the damned if you do, damned if you don’t decision…They will feel the desperation that surrounds us all, but also the potential for transformation. That’s not fluff to comfort. That’s not shock-and-awe to sell papers. That’s real and it’s fortifying.”

      Reply

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