Brick by Brick – Seeing it for myself with Oxfam in Nepal Part 1

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?

 

 

 

A big thank you from Stafford’s skydiving granny!

Have you ever looked up at the sky and wanted to touch it? Have you ever looked at the cloud formations and looked for signs and images and wondered what it might feel like to touch a cloud? Have you ever looked at a bird and wished you had the gift of flight, to glide through the skies and get a ‘birds eye’ view of the world below?

I’ve never been afraid of heights – whether that was climbing up a ladder into the loft or looking down from the Empire State Building. In fact i’ve always wondered what it would be like to jump from a high place (no I do not have suicidal tendencies, this is just the effect of something called cognitive dissonance apparently – look it up!) Doing a skydive is something I’ve always wanted to do, to experience that thrill, that fear of falling through the skies. And last week I did just that.

I decided to combine this crazy idea of mine with raising some funds for charity and decided to support an organisation I have admired for a very long time for the work they do worldwide in alleviating poverty and giving hope to those most in need, Oxfam. I also decided to support a women’s charity, Hestia, a London based organisation working with victims of domestic abuse and modern day slavery.

For almost two months I have harassed, cajoled and practically trolled friends, family, colleagues, followers and complete strangers in every possible way to *encourage* them to make a donation by way of sponsorship. I really am sorry and I hope you will forgive me, but it was for two very worthwhile causes! Thanks to everyones generosity and kindness, after gift aid was added we reached a grand total of £6195! All this money has now gone to the two charities and I have no doubt will be used to benefit those most in need.

As for the skydive – well that was quite an experience! I was delighted to be supported by family and friends on the day, the sun shone for us and the whole experience was one I can highly recommend (so long as you’re not afraid of heights!). Having seen the footage there are some moments which generated a sharp intake of breath, some of hilarity and others which renewed my faith in God! However there are three comments caught on camera that will forever sum up how much love I have been blessed with. The first is the sound of my husband, on seeing me land ask “is she ok?”. The second is my daughter exclaiming “oh my God, that was so stressful”. And lastly by granddaughter holding her arms out to me and saying ‘daado’ ”

Thank you again everyone for supporting me and my crazy venture. Thank you for helping me remind Oxfam that there are still many of us who value the work that they do and will continue to work side by side with them in their endeavours. And thank you for helping me help Hestia support some of the most abused and tormented in our society.

Enjoy the pictures – now what shall I do next year?

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“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter”

A sure fire way to see who your real friends are, is to see who sticks around to help you when the chips are down. 

On the 21stJuly, I will be doing a tandem skydive in aid of two charities. Oxfam, a world-renowned organisation that supports people in over 90 countries, providing millions with the support they need to escape the vicious cycle of poverty.  And Hestia a London based charity that supports adults and children in times of crisis. Last year alone they supported more than 9,000 people, including victims of modern day slavery, women, and children who have experienced domestic abuse.

The most frequently asked question since I made my intentions known has been “why Oxfam”? A question that I have been answering with a simple “why not”? However, perhaps it is time I actually made it clear as to why I have supported Oxfam and why I will continue to do so.

A report earlier this year in the media, that some members of Oxfam staff, including the Country Director, had paid women for sex during their emergency response to the Haiti earthquake in 2011, left many people saddened and disturbed as to what had been happening within an organisation trusted by millions. I am not going to dwell on who said what and why certain incidents occurred as I feel that more than sufficient column inches have been dedicated to this over the last 3 months. However what I will say is that as a consequence of the 2011 incidents, Oxfam have stipulated that they have been working hard to ensure the mistakes of the past are never repeated. After the initial revelations related to the sexual misconduct in Haiti, Oxfam conducted internal investigations and subsequently improvements were made to their own procedures. This included the establishing of a whistle blowing hotline and the setting up of a dedicated safeguarding team to ensure that vulnerable individuals around the world were protected, with mechanisms in place to ensure reports of any misconduct were dealt with immediately. However Oxfam also recognise these processes did not go far enough and since February they have been working closely with the Government and the Charity Commission to expand their safeguarding capacity globally to better protect the very people they serve, ensure they are listened to and look after those who come forward as a result of the new measures. They are looking to establish an Independent Global Commission to review their approach to safeguarding and improve the organisational culture to safeguard women from sexism, discrimination and abuse. These are just some of the changes that have been put in place. Oxfam is committed to the work they do and are unswerving to ensure this never happens again.

Nevertheless, what probably shocked me just as much, was the reaction in the mainstream media and the unleashing of what can only be described as a massive media campaign to discredit one of the largest and most effective charities in the world, to prevent them from executing their work abroad. It appeared to be little more than a concerted attack on an agency that supports millions in more than 90 countries across the globe, not just with emergency aid, but also with their long-term goals – to alleviate poverty, run education projects and campaigns. Goals that ultimately focus on saving lives and improving the quality of life for many people. The media campaigns attacked international aid and ultimately affected Oxfam where it would hurt them the most. Fundraising.

The atrocities in Haiti were not committed by an organisation. Individuals who, unfortunately, worked for the charity committed them. Over the last couple of years, we have seen a number of very high profile cases in the media involving actors, philanthropists and politicians who have been accused of sexual abuse and harassment. At no point have I seen the media attack the companies or political parties they are associated with, with the sort of venom I saw the media attack Oxfam. Maybe that has to do with the nature of the organisation. I am inclined to believe it has more to do with those groups and individuals who for whatever reason do not belief in international aid. Those who do not believe that as a rich, first world country, we should be contributing even 0.7% of our GDP to the poorest of nations providing a hand up and supporting them getting out of the cycle of poverty they find themselves in.

I have been supporting Oxfam for many years, because they tackle the very root causes of poverty, making changes that will not just provide someone with their next meal but many future meals. They support people with no shelter, no food, no clothes and no clean water. Oxfam have provided millions with the opportunity to escape the vicious cycle of poverty and has given them hope. I am a friend of Oxfam and if I can support them in raising some much needed funds to help the poorest in our world I will continue to do so. So I’ll be sticking around to support Oxfam for a while – will you?

A sure fire way to see who your real friends are, is to see who sticks around to help you when the chips are down.

Thanks for taking the time to read this – if you feel able to support my chosen charities, please click on the link below and donate whatever amount, big or small. It will be gratefully received.

https://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/fundraiser-display/showROFundraiserPage?userUrl=HifsaHaroonIqbal&pageUrl=1

 

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” Martin Luther King 

 

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