I am really excited to be writing my first post for the charity, Oxfam, which does some pretty amazing work around the world to improve lives and eradicate poverty. Its a charity that fits well with the NMC ethos (NMC = needsmorecushions – I’m still working on making it a thing, do keep up) as it works closely with local people in far flung places, teaching them key skills like sewing and basket weaving whilst lifting them out of poverty and giving them a useful new skill. Oxfam also provides other means of support to communities to help them deal with environmental impacts, such as flooding and famine.
Its great to be able to share with you some of the inspiring stories that Oxfam have told me about the projects they are undertaking around the world. And I am thrilled to be participating in their Bloggers Against Poverty Project, by raising awareness of their work. But, fear not, fellow readers, this isn’t a post full of doom and gloom! Quite the contrary. The people Oxfam are helping are driven, entrepreneurial and, frankly, inspirational. As such, I know that you’ll enjoy reading about them and their journeys. Enjoy!
How Oxfam is helping an enterprising couple in Bangladesh
Golna is a Char (sand island) village, in Bangladesh, accessible by boat. Being so close to the river, the low-lying chars are constantly eroding, regularly forcing the local population from their homes. Seasonal flooding also isolates communities, destroys crops and livestock and contaminates food supplies and wells. This makes it a pretty difficult place to try to build a life. Here, Oxfam run an emergency food bank insurance scheme. This provides local people with food-security in times of flooding.
Fozli Begum set up a weaving business creating handmade baskets and mats from a one-off cash grant. Thanks to the food bank insurance scheme that Oxfam set up, she now has a safety net for when there’s a flood or cyclone. When she was younger, Fozli’s mother taught her the basics of basket weaving, a method of textile production, similar to knitting. In essence, it consists of interlacing two distinct sets of material at right angles to form a basket or mat. When she received her cash grant, Fozli spent some of the money on bamboo to make her handmade baskets and mats which she sells in the local market. She also put some of the money in the bank.
“I always did a little weaving but since we’ve had the cash grant we’ve been able to scale up our operation, which has made us financially stronger.” – Fozli Begum
The whole family are now involved in Fozli’s business, including her husband Jamal Sheikh and daughter-in-law, Abida, who is responsible for the accounts. The couple put money aside each month into Oxfam’s emergency food bank insurance scheme. This gives them piece of mind as it provides food-security during times of flooding – something that happens often and that can also require the couple, along with many of their neighbours, to move when their homes become uninhabitable.
Oxfam’s support helped to bring Fozli’s weaving abilities to the fore and enabled her to build a family business from scratch. The sales of the baskets have enabled Fozli to buy a cow as well as contribute regularly to the emergency food bank resulting in a safety net if there is a flood or a cyclone.
“The thing was, I knew how to weave but I had no capital. I learned from my mother. Now we are completely self-sufficient.” – Fozli Begum
Oxfam calls these activities livelihood interventions. I love that this approach offers a really sustainable and meaningful way to support local communities. It’s not just a case of providing short term support that ends as soon as the money runs out, leaving the community little better off than before. The thinking behind the concept is that by boosting people’s incomes (say, by offering financial support like in the example above), this results in greater local resilience to climate disasters. This provides families with confidence and a contingency plan in the event of a storm, flood or cyclone.
Sewing in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)
As many of you will know, the DRC has suffered from years of conflict, and whilst things have improved over recent years, violence is still an unfortunate fact of daily life for many. This means that people are often forced to leave their homes for temporary camps and shelters, and often have little in the way of skills or income to support themselves. In the Kibati camp in the DRC, over 55,000 people have sought sanctuary – many with no possessions of their own as a result of leaving in a hurry. We’ve all seen the conditions that many people fleeing conflict have to endure in makeshift camps, where comfort, privacy and sanitation – things that we take for granted – are in extremely short supply, if they exist at all. Oxfam provides support to the people in Kibati camp by providing safe water, sanitation equipment and other key supplies. That’s all well and good for the immediate term, but the other key thing Oxfam offers is training sessions in sewing, basket weaving and tailoring for those forced to flee their homes – livelihood interventions.
Marceline Habyarimana fled the conflict with her Singer sewing machine, carrying it on her head whilst her husband carried the table with the foot pedal that operates the machine. Marceline knew that her sewing machine offered them a lifeline and potential income, as tailored clothes are especially popular amongst the Congolese. Using her machine, Marceline is able to charge residents from the nearby town of Goma for the garments she makes for them. Usually they provide the cloth – often bright, wax printed fabric – and Marceline provides the tailoring. Others in the camp offer similar services such is the demand, though fellow residents of the camp are unlikely to be able to afford to hire Marceline’s services.
Hubert* also made the decision to take his Singer sewing machine with him to the Kibati camp. It was a difficult decision for him, as the heavy machine would weigh him down during his journey. But he concluded that it would offer him and his family a potential lifeline. When Hubert and his family left their home in Kimbumba, shots were being fired and the decision to leave was taken quickly. Hubert now uses his sewing machine to support his family, by mending old clothes for a small fee.
“I knew I had to take it with me, how else would I put food on the table? I was here back in 2009 without any means to survive and I did not want to put my family in this situation again. Business is not good here because people have nothing. I charge very little, 100 Congolese francs (approx 8p) for my services but it is at least enough to make sure my wife, my two children and my mum all eat once a day.” – Hubert
It’s really rather amazing when you think about it. I mean if I had to leave my home in a hurry, would I be thinking straight enough to consider how I would support myself once I’d left? Nope. Would I have had the sense, or the strength, to carry a heavy sewing machine with me? No again. It just wouldn’t cross my mind because I am able to take so much for granted: house insurance, political stability and trust in the Government and the police. As such, its hard to imagine the lives that people like Hubert and Marceline are living on a daily basis. But they are survivors and have a burning desire to provide for themselves and their families. This is truly inspirational and makes me feel rather inadequate to know that I struggle to make a simple cushion cover. One day…
In all seriousness though, what I love about these stories from Oxfam is that they are genuinely uplifting and inspiring. People like Hubert and Marceline, and Fozli and Jamil, have every right to be victims and to want to sit back and depend on charities such as Oxfam. But they aren’t, and they don’t. They battle on with purpose and dignity, making use of the support that Oxfam provides to help them achieve the improved existence they dream of, without being entirely dependent upon it. And that is something that makes me want to make a regular donation to Oxfam so that they can continue to provide immediate disaster relief, but also tackle the longer term problems, including the root causes of poverty.
I hope that you’ve found today’s post interesting and enlightening. I certainly did writing it – I do love a post that makes me think a little bit. And I know it’s not the usual light-hearted fare, but I wanted to highlight the wonderful work that Oxfam undertakes without making light of the struggles of the people whose stories I have featured. It’s a tricky balance to get right and I just hope I’ve done it justice!
All my posts end with a question or a request for you to do something, and today’s is no different. I want to ask you to consider making a regular donation to Oxfam in order to support enterprising individuals and families around the world make their dreams and aspirations a reality.
As little as £2.50 can provide 25 water treatment sachets to a family in an emergency – enough to make around 500 litres of water safe, lasting a family of four for a month. And £5 can provide 20 Award winning ‘Oxfam buckets’ which allow people to access clean water without risk of contamination by dirt and disease, as it has a closable lid and a tap. This is a pretty small amount per month for us, but just look at the difference it can make in countries like Bangladesh and the DRC. Amazing.
Happy travels, and shopping