Voices January 2019

Things are looking up for Nathaniel* since Oxfam installed the new water supply in his village in Papua New Guinea.

Thanks to you, we’ve reached 22.3 million people like Nathaniel in the past year with life-saving emergency aid or life-changing solutions to help tackle poverty. Below are just some of their many stories.

Photo: Patrick Moran/OxfamAUS. * Name changed to protect identity.

A haven from harm

Since the Rohingya refugee crisis began, around one million people have sought shelter in sprawling, makeshift camps in Bangladesh — people like Asia Bibi*.

“We came here because we needed to save our lives,” she says.

For people like Asia Bibi and her children, the future is uncertain.

“When we first arrived in Bangladesh, we didn’t have any food or money,” she recalls. “I had to ask for help from other refugees in order to feed my kids. We suffered a lot at that time.”

Thanks to you, our teams are working hard to improve living conditions for the many families forced to call the camps “home”.

Asia Bibi says, “I got solar panels from Oxfam, so we have electricity for lights at night. Oxfam also gave me some clothes and underwear — because I left Myanmar with only the clothes I was wearing — as well as things like toothpaste and soap.”

“The toothpaste has made a big difference. The children are very enthusiastic — they clean their teeth four times a day. They have been scrubbing so much I have to tell them to stop, otherwise they can’t eat the rice because their gums hurt.”

She adds, “We also use the latrine and water pump that Oxfam built nearby.”

* Name changed to protect identity

These vital relief efforts are powered by kind people like you. To send urgent support to families in need, visit www.oxfam.org.au/rohingyacrisis

Ready for the rains

Every year, like clockwork, monsoon season brings devastating floods to Devki and Phulo’s village in Nepal. But now, they have a watertight plan.

In the floodplains of Saptari, their community has endured flooding for generations.

“When it rains, it becomes difficult to do daily work,” says Phulo.

“Life becomes really hard … The roads are filled with water, and all muddy. The children can’t walk on them. Our livestock and goats die because they cannot get anything to eat.”

“This year the flooding was heavy,” she adds. “Water entered the house and we were hungry for six days …The water was up to my chin.”

But thanks to you, we’re helping them survive the annual floods. We built an access road and evacuation shelter, provided life jackets, and trained Phulo how to evacuate the village when floods are imminent.

She feels good about her role in the disaster management committee: “After giving [the villagers] information, men, women, children, pregnant women and the disabled, all can be evacuated … If not for our information, they would suffer a lot — so I feel proud.”

When recent floods arrived, no lives were lost because a sound evacuation plan was in place. Phulo explains, “When the taskforce blew the siren, people went to a safe place.”

Devki also received training and joined her local first aid group. She says, “We go door-to-door to give first aid to pregnant women, disabled people and those who get injured while running away.”

Smiling proudly, Devki adds, “The community has benefitted a lot from me.”

Oxfam teams work 24/7 to help communities around the world survive disasters, conflicts and emergencies.

To support these life-saving efforts, all year round, visit www.oxfam.org.au/emergency365

Port Vila, Vanuatu: Launch of Leleon Vanua Democratic Party

Let the party begin

Something is stirring in Vanuatu’s halls of power. It’s the welcome sound of women stepping up to claim their rightful place in the political landscape.

Though women make up 49% of the population in Vanuatu, the National Parliament is currently entirely male. But Jeannette Lini-Bolenga (pictured below) wants to change that. She runs Oxfam in Vanuatu’s Governance, Leadership and Accountability program (GLA), which equips women with the skills to participate and excel in politics.

“We are working to break the cycle of inequality and discrimination against women and girls,” Jeannette says. In 1987, Jeannette’s sister Hilda Lini was one of the first two women ever elected to Parliament in Vanuatu. Only one woman has since held a seat — until now.

“We want to empower women and girls to know who they are, as indigenous ni-Vanuatu, with the same rights as men and boys in custom, church, and as leaders and potential leaders at all levels of decision-making.”

Last year, the program mobilised more than 18,000 women and Jeannette expects to reach 40,000 more in the year ahead.

“Knowing their rights and responsibilities will improve women’s knowledge, increase their understanding, and boost their confidence to accept leadership responsibilities beyond the self, family and community,” Jeannette says.

Recent GLA activities led to the formation of the Leleon Vanua Democratic Party — a political party that aims to achieve gender equity in the national parliament.

Members of the Party are already contesting elections, and Jeannette is confident that these empowered women will follow in her sister’s footsteps.

Filled with hope, she says, “We dream of a world where we, as ni-Vanuatu women, can have a real say in the important decisions that shape our lives.”

Making good cents in Zimbabwe

Proudly perched at her store window, Thulekile Gwebu has good reason to smile. This unassuming tuckshop has given her the stability she needs to beat poverty.

Thulekile and her daughters have had their share of hard times. But their fortunes turned around when Thulekile joined an Oxfam savings group.

“Before joining the group, life was difficult,” she recalls, “I was not managing, I did not have any cash, and most of the time I would be broke.

“Before we could only afford one meal per day — but now we are able to have three meals per day. It has really transformed my life.”

The group helped Thulekile save enough money to cover her daughter’s school fees. That’s when she knew she was onto something great.

She says, “I feel happy that I am part of this group. I am also excited to assist the next person who also wishes to be a member of the group and wants assistance.”

Now, Thulekile has unprecedented access to finance, which has empowered her to start her own business. At first, she borrowed just enough money to stock the shop with essential items. But as the business has grown, so too has her inventory.

She says, “Now, I can afford to buy quite a wide range of items that are required by the community. I sell things like cooking oil, rice, salt, sweets, biscuits.”

Thulekile has big plans for her little store. She says, “My wish is to [expand] my tuckshop, have a bigger shop so that I could sell bigger items, like mealie meal and other things.”

Inspired by her success, Thulekile wants to give back to her community: “If I were to have bigger shops, I would focus on assisting our local school.

“I want to help those in need; those who are failing to go to school due to different challenges, like school fees, or failing to buy the requirements, like ballpoint pens. I want to assist the underprivileged at that school.”

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh: Forced to flee their homeland, around 1 million Rohingya people live in sprawling, makeshift camps in Bangladesh, with little or no food, shelter, sanitation and clean water. As monsoon season approaches, the risk of waterborne disease is alarmingly high. Photo: Dylan Quinnell/OxfamAUS.

Finding purpose in chaos

Finding purpose in chaos Across the globe, more than 68 million people — almost three times the population of Australia — are displaced from their homelands due to war, persecution, natural disaster, land grabs, drought and other impacts of climate change.

For many, the refugee journey entails unimaginable risk, danger, loss and psychological harm. The decision to leave everything behind is not a decision one makes lightly. There are no guarantees for those who flee; only the humble hope that things will get better. Thanks to you, we work with vulnerable refugee communities around the world, creating opportunities to work and earn a living, so displaced people can rebuild their lives and thrive.

A clean start

“Now, I work as an Oxfam volunteer, I tell people how to maintain good hygiene and I tell people what to do to have a good life.” — Ayesha* (pictured left), Bangladesh

A mass exodus of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh has turned Cox’s Bazar into a sprawling refugee settlement with barely enough toilets and clean water for the growing population.

Oxfam public health promoter Iffat (pictured right) teaches residents about hygiene to help prevent disease outbreak.

She explains, “There has been an increase in cases of severe diarrhoea among refugees — this can be life threatening, especially for very young or malnourished children.”

Iffat shares vital hygiene tips with residents, “like washing your hands with soap after going to the toilet and before eating”. She adds, “We train Rohingya volunteers so they can teach other refugees and spread good hygiene messages far and wide. We estimate we have reached 11,000 people in the camps so far.”

Ayesha* is one such person. She fled Myanmar with her mother and siblings when their father was killed in the violence. She says, “Now, I work as an Oxfam volunteer, I tell people how to maintain good hygiene and I tell people what to do to have a good life.”

“After I started this work, people are listening to me, changing their [hygiene] behaviour and feeling better. I feel good about it.”

* Name changed to protect identity

Growing hope in Tanzania

“I feel very good. I feel very relieved. This is what we used to do in Burundi and now I can do it again here.” — Everest, Tanzania

Life in Nyarugusu refugee camp is not without its challenges. Living quarters are cramped and unsanitary, and nutritious food is scarce.

Everest is the Chairman of an Oxfam-supported farming group — and he’s flexing his green thumb to beat the nutrition problem.

“The community are very happy seeing us come here,” Everest says. “When we have surplus seeds, we share them with them. People are very interested in joining our project, thousands of people actually. It’s because there’s a lack of resources in the camp.

“People are very interested in coming here to our garden to buy vegetables because they are hot items. People keep coming here every day, asking if the cabbages are ready yet. Even people from the host community come here.

“I feel very good. I feel very relieved. This is what we used to do in Burundi and now I can do it again here. I feel very good doing something with my fellow Burundians.”

Something from nothing

“When I joined the project, I was very excited ... the idea of turning tents into bags is very creative.” — Fatima, Jordan

When war broke out in Syria, Fatima fled to Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan, leaving everything behind. She recalls her old life: “Syria was as beautiful as paradise. We were farmers and there were many orchards, where we planted oranges, watermelons and many other fruits and vegetables ... and I used to sell handmade baskets for women to carry their olives.”

Fatima has many skills — yet finding work in Za’atari is hard. She explains, “It’s been six years and many haven’t had the chance to work yet.”

“If [we] were given opportunities to work, it would help us to heal and grow after all the destruction and loss we suffered.”

Oxfam launched a project in Za’atari, teaching more than 250 Syrian women how to upcycle old tents into tote bags. Fatima says, “When I joined the project, I was very excited ... the idea of turning tents into bags is very creative.”

Around 2,500 bags have been sold locally and in Europe. Beaming with pride, Fatima says, “I would love to teach other people how to create art from trash and old material.”

Baking away the heartbreak

“The bread-making business is the best thing to happen to us [here].” — Rebecca*, South Sudan

“Women here die of heartbreak,” Rebecca* says. “[They] stay in their house — they think about the loved ones they have lost in this war: their husbands, their sons, their daughters. And then one day, the women would just be found dead in their homes. They die of heartbreak.”

Rebecca lives in a crowded civilian protection camp in South Sudan. The camp was meant to be a temporary safe haven. But four years on, she’s still here, living in limbo.

“The world doesn’t think about what we are going through,” she says. “The world has forgotten us.”

We started a baking group in the camp, so women like Rebecca could connect and make a living. She says, “The bread-making business is the best thing to happen to us [here].”

“Not only do we keep ourselves busy and earn money, we also fostered solidarity among us. We share our hopes and dreams; we share our experiences, our sadness and our happiness. Being together is helping us cope with the stress of living inside the camp.”

* Name changed to protect identity

Kathmandu, Nepal. Photo: Abbie Trayler-Smith/OxfamAUS.

From Kathmandu to you

Before our hand-woven bed spreads and throws make their way to the shelf of your nearest Oxfam Shop, they are loomed, dyed and handmade with love by this amazing team of artisans in Nepal.

“I feel proud that I am able to provide employment to those who didn’t have work.” – Durga, Nepal

Durga Maharjan (pictured third from left) has been weaving since childhood. But it wasn’t until she connected with Association for Craft Producers (ACP) that she found her knack for business.

Our partner ACP offers design, marketing and management support for Nepali artisans, so they can build their own businesses, making arts and crafts from home. Teaming up with ACP gave Durga the skills and confidence to set up her own workshop at home and teach her sisters how to weave.

“I convinced them that we had to learn,” Durga says, “and that this is our way of earning income … They didn’t know what thread was. I taught them here.”

Durga’s business is a real family affair. She says, “There are nine women that work here with me. All are my relatives, the wives of my brothers. Some are my own sisters, some are my brothers’ wives and some are my cousins’ wives.”

“They are all working well — and I am happy about that.”

“I feel proud that I am able to provide employment to those who didn’t have work. Rather than looking for farm labour work, we can work together and be together. We can share our ups and downs of life, and also work. I am happy with that.”

From their little workshop in Kathmandu, the hardworking team makes beautiful yak blankets that are sold in Oxfam Shops. Durga says, “If it wasn’t for [Oxfam], we wouldn’t get this work. So thank you very much for buying.”

“Because of them, we have been able to have two meals a day. Without work, we won’t be able to feed ourselves.”

From luxurious bedspreads and yak blankets to handcrafted ceramics and jewellery, browse our full range of Nepali Fair Trade treasures at https://shop.oxfam.org.au/nepal

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