At the end of last year, I was invited by Oxfam GB to visit one of their international projects, following an application I made to their ‘see for yourself’ initiative. The scheme allows Oxfam supporters to personally observe the affect Oxfam is having on the lives of millions of people around the world. Having been an avid Oxfam supporter and fundraiser for a number years, I was being given an insight into the world of Oxfam where it really matters. The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief was founded in Britain in 1942 and campaigned for food supplies to be sent through an allied naval blockade to starving women and children in enemy-occupied Greece during the Second World War. Oxfam International came into being 53 years later, having been developed by a group of international non-government organisations who aimed to work in collaboration to reduce poverty and injustice across the globe. The next two weeks will afford me the opportunity to witness if and how effectively our donations are being used by Oxfam to achieve these goals in Nepal.
When an earthquake struck Nepal in April 2015, it was the worst the region had witnessed since 1936. Nine thousand people lost their lives; 22,000 were injured; over half of the country’s regions and 8 million people, one third of the country’s population, were affected. People not only lost their loved ones, they lost their homes, their possessions, their land, their crops, their livestock and their livelihoods. Above all they lost that independence and self-determination that all these things command and overnight they were let destitute.
Currently Oxfam are involved in facilitating 4 main programmes in Nepal around food sustainability & livelihood, water, sanitation & hygiene (WASH) and water governance, women’s empowerment and humanitarian & disaster risk reduction & climate change adaptation. Kharanitaar is a small village development in the district of Nuwakot that provided homes for those displaced following the earthquakes. But the homes did not materialise overnight. Oxfam worked with local NGO’s, politicians and most importantly the community itself to establish homes for the newcomers and make them feel part of a wider community. The target is to build 70 new homes and to date 24 have been completed. Whilst raw materials and support was provided, so was training and both men and women were able to receive training in masonry to enable them to not only build their own homes but for others as well. I was completely taken aback when I saw Kayli in her hi-vis jacket, hard hat and shovel in hand digging away alongside the men. I asked Kayli if she was building her house and she informed me that no, her house had been built, she was now supporting her brothers in building homes for other people. I asked her why and she responded with a smile and said “why not? They built a home for me – if I have the strength and the ability to support my brothers in building homes for others, why shouldn’t I?” I tried my hand at brick building – it seemed so easy, the ease with which the men were shovelling the mix into the mould and compressing the plates to form the brick. It was not easy. Each house uses 2000 bricks – so they had 92,000 left to go.
Walking through the village, I came across two little girls at the water pump. Aged 10 and 13. I remembered my daughter at that age, running around the garden, laughing and being teased by her brothers. She had what most would describe as a normal childhood. Actually, our children have a very privileged childhood – these girls were doing the households washing. One was rinsing the clothes, the other soaping them and passing them back for rinsing before hanging them out to dry. I wonder, how many 13 year olds in middle England know how to operate the washing machine let alone wash clothes by hand?
I stopped and sat with Shanti Maya who was cradling a young sleepy child. Throughout our conversation she had a beaming smile on her face. She told me she was happy. Before the earthquake hit Nepal, there had been a landslide and her home along with all her possessions, had been washed away down the mountainside. They were left with nothing. Thanks to Oxfam and partners, she now had a house with a proper roof as opposed to the tin one her old house had. She no longer worried that the houses further up the mountain would collapse on top of hers. Her children could walk to school within 10 minutes and she did not have to worry about them walking through the jungle areas. She had running water right outside her house, she had a small plot of land to grow vegetables and was breeding chicken. As an only child, she needed to care for her elderly parents, one of whom was housebound and blind. But she again described herself as happy and grateful for what had she now had.
“The great Oxfam provided crucial support in the immediate aftermath of the earthquake and the theme of partnership working continues. Efficient working, effective working and above all transparent”
I was informed that without the support provided by Oxfam, there would have been total destruction and poverty. Oxfam have provided food distribution and construction, they have worked collaboratively and continue to provide support.
In Dhading we were able to see how running water has been provided to the remote village communities. I spoke to Swaraswati and Bima, two fiercely independent women who have both benefitted from the instalment of water tanks that now provide safe water to 320 households. Before the instalment of a water tap for every household, Swarswati’s day could start as early as 4.00am, with one hours walk to the water collection point. Once in the queue, she could wait up to two hours before it was her turn to collect 25 litres of water, that she would then carry home, on her back, with another one hours walk. Most days Swarswati could do this same journey 4-5 times a day. When I asked her what difference the tanks had made she said she now had so many extra hours in which she could look after her children, maintain a better level of hygiene, grow more vegetables and water her livestock. The water meant the vegetables she grew were enough for the family leaving some to sell in the market. Both Bima and Swarswati had married their husbands at the age of 14 and 15. Bima’s health was deteriorating and not having to spend hours carrying water meant she could take more care of herself and have some time to relax.
I have been privileged this week to meet some incredibly dedicated and committed Nepalise, people who work for NGO’s, Oxfam Nepal, local government officials and community representatives. But nothing has been as gratifying as meeting the numerous women who have taken the lead in establishing and securing safe and comfortable homes for their families. The all-women’s management committee in Aanptar that have been running planning and organising the safe water project have indeed become my ‘sheros’ for International Women’s Day 2019. I witnessed the women in action, the no nonsense approach to ensuring that in their community, water, the most basic requirement for survival, would not be seen as a luxury but a necessity easily accessible to everyone. And everyone would and should participate actively in ensuring that the water supplies were set up as quickly as possible.
The work being undertaken across Nepal by Oxfam should be seen, not just as a great achievement of Oxfam and their partners. It should be recognised as an achievement of every single individual who contributed to the Nepal earthquake appeal. It should be acknowledged that without the funds, support and training provided by Oxfam all this could not have been achieved. And every single individual who has ever made a contribution to Oxfam should be uplifted in the knowledge that their donations have been put to good use. But just as the communities cannot achieve anything without Oxfam and their partners, so too Oxfam cannot survive without funds and fundraisers. Without funds, nothing will be achieved. Communities will not receive the assistance whether monetary or otherwise they require to get out of the cycle of poverty. There are many ‘Nepal’s’ across the world that still require that uplift and we have a duty to them. As Kayli said, if you are able to do it, why wouldn’t you?