Thursday, December 8, 2011

An economic lifeline for women in rural Haiti

“Unemployment is the only thing we have here”, declared Dumel Deralus, smiling grimly as we sat in the shell of a concrete building that will soon be a new expanded home for the Organisation for Community Development in Thomazeau, (ODECT), an Oxfam partner working to improve economic and social conditions in the town, about two hours drive north-east of the Haitian capital Port au Prince.

Dumel Deralus

Thomazeau is a rural area in western Haiti, home to about 52,000 inhabitants and picturesquely surrounded by mountains, little-touched by the earthquake two years ago. In fact, it was an area that saw a large influx of arrivals from the capital, Port au Prince, immediately after the quake. But it is also economically deprived. Most people here are “planteurs” – small-scale farmers living off their land and selling what crops they can. But poor roads are a major problem in getting goods to markets. And, as Dumel told me, there are few economic opportunities available in the community.

That’s also true across Haiti, where an estimated 75 percent of the population are not in salaried employment, and jobs are scarce. Unemployment is especially hard in rural areas, where there are few economic opportunities available, even the most casual of jobs. This was a major issue in Haiti, as much before the earthquake as now. But, after the quake, it’s also hampering people’s ability to rebuild their lives. According to an Oxfam survey last year, finding work is the top priority for most Haitians.

And that’s why a project which Oxfam supports in Thomazeau is raising the hopes of many women.

The women have their own section within ODECT known as RAFARE, or “Rassemblement des Femmes pour l’Accès aux Ressources Économiques” : Rallying Women to Access Economic Resources, to try to improve their economic status. The group owned one milling machine and earnt money processing grain brought into the centre by farmers and merchants. Oxfam hired them after the earthquake to help provide milled cereals which formed part of food kits that were distributed in the outdoor camps where people had sought shelter after the earthquake.

Marie-Claude Estenfile

Oxfam is now helping the women again - with funds and training, including enlisting the help of expat Haitian experts with specific skills - as they move to a new phase. The group are modernising their service centre and expanding their operation. The small building where they’re currently located will double in size, allowing them to have storage facilities where they can stock processed and unprocessed grains; buy and market milled cereal grains. Oxfam has helped them to purchase two new grinding machines and is providing training and other equipment.

The goal is to enable the women to run their operation as a proper business. They will buy and sell locally produced grain throughout the year, rather than just seasonally; and during lean times, in between the harvest periods, the surplus stocks can be released and sold in the local market.

“It will bring more economic opportunities here; there will be more jobs and more money coming in”, said Marie-Claude Estenfile, general secretary of RAFARE “There was always a shortage of grains being sold in the local markets from April to June; but we will be able to provide processed grains during that period.

“It means people won’t have to travel an hour or more to some of the markets, like in Croix de Bouquets, 24 kms away, to buy what they need. It will be easier to purchase food locally and we will help to strengthen the supply chain. The markets will be busier; the money will benefit the local economy”.

Having proper storage facilities and being able market their own cereals will enable the women to work all-year round, and not just stay open for business during the busy harvest period.

For Dumel Deralus, co-ordinator of the project and of ODECT, the project will create new jobs and improve people’s access to food. “It will guarantee people’s food security here. During the lean periods, people would have to buy imported rice and grain from other places. But we will have stocks to sell and supply to the local markets.”

RAFARE’s members are excited about the project, which has only just got underway. “It gives me hope for the future”, said 40 year old Hermircie Alfred. “I hope we can buy and sell the grains locally all year round; and we can make more profits.”

“There are very few job opportunities here”, said mother of eight, Alexina Augustin, 45. “The only jobs we can really find are selling cereals and this project will help us.

Alexina Augustin

“I lost my home and land a few months ago during flooding and now I can’t send my children to school. This will be a lifeline for me” she said.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Between a rock and a hard place

Every few minutes, a gust of wind blows, forcing people to screw up their faces in pain against the fierce sand-dust that tears into their eyes, and forces its way into their mouths, ears and noses. Only the large scarves traditionally worn by women for modesty offer any protection against the dust which covers everything in a thick layer of yellowish brown in a few seconds.

Around a thousand Somali refugees arrive each day at this camp, Hiloweyn, in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia, just a few kilometres from the border with Somalia. They’re been moved here from a transit site about an hour’s drive away. Many have walked for days by foot. They’re weak and nearly everyone is malnourished.

Their new home is a dusty, rocky and windy spot. It might seem the last place on earth that anyone would want to stay. But for these refugees, who have fled extreme drought, famine and conflict, for now at least, its much better than what they left back home in Somalia.

Fifty year-old widow, Habiba Abdullahi, left her home in Dinsor, Baidoa region, walking for eight days with her son, a farmer, and his family. She told me that they used to own nearly 20 cows but that they had all died in the drought. There had been almost no rain over the past three years, she said, and it was impossible to grow crops. Their decision to leave Somalia, she said, was a decision to leave for good – as there was “nothing left for us to go back for”.

Habiba Abdullahi

“We had no rains and no food. We feared for our lives because of the drought. We were living in unstable conditions. We decided we had to leave after the farmland dried up, and our few animals died. There was nothing for us. Life and our survival was becoming fragile and things looked fatal”.

Daily life here is difficult. Families are given a tent which is hot in the day and cold at night; there is no vegetation providing any precious shade, apart from some small shrubby, thorny bushes.

Oxfam is helping to provide clean drinking water for the refugees. But as the camp swells in size and has been created from nothing, water is still rationed and not available 24 hours a day.

“I cannot predict how long we will stay here. But I think it will be for the rest of my life”, Habiba told me. “Whatever conditions are like, even though things are very harsh here, we have no option. Its still better for us to live here than back home.”

“There were no schools back there where we lived. There was persistent drought and nothing to eat. The crops had all dried up. Our animals had died. We need to begin a new life here and I think it will be a better life for my grandchildren.”

30 year old Nishe Hussein, a mother of four, left her home in Lug. She used to sell tea at a hotel. But the night it was bombed, and two people were killed she decided that there was no future for her in Somalia.

“We came here looking for food. If the food rations we get now improves, I will never go back to Somalia, because there is lawlessness and no government. I hope that now we are here, my children can go to school and get an education.”

Nishe Hussein

Mother of two, Sarura Mohammad Ibrahim, 24, from Dinsor, Baidoa,came to Ethiopia while she was heavily pregnant, travelling by donkey cart. She has now sold the donkey and cart and runs this small shop. She says she has no intention of returning to Somalia and that Ethiopia offers a better future for her and her family.

“Security is better here; also we have food and shelter provided by humanitarian organisations. Back in Somalia, we don’t have those things.”

Sarura Mohammad Ibrahim

Oxfam is providing clean water, building latrines and giving hygiene training for ten thousand people who are currently in the camp. It’s a race against time to install water tanks and tap stands so people can access water as the camp swells in size

Gathering water at Oxfam tapstand

There is a serious risk of disease spreading in the camps. And providing clean water, soap and toilets is essential to prevent that from happening.

“Oxfam is responding to this emergency crisis now by providing clean water and sanitation for people which will save lives but it also really improves the dignity of people”, said Oxfam’s Chief executive, Barbara Stocking.

“The work that we are doing isn’t going to be over very quickly, though, it will take months of work and we really would appreciate more funds coming in. It’s not also just the saving lives now that is the issue, but we need to work in the long term so people develop their own resilience and can cope with the sort of disasters that face them such as when drought comes so there’s a real need to keep this work going in the whole region to make sure that we don’t have these sort of crisis in the future; so there will be a need for funds in the long term as well. “

Oxfam has been working in the camp for the last few weeks. Its one of four in Dollo Ado, which is now sheltering more than 100,000 Somali refugees.

The aid agency, which in July launched its largest-appeal for Africa, is aiming to help 3.5 million people across Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya – areas that are all affected by the severe drought

While aid is reaching affected communities, the worry is that the situation is worsening. Predictions of lower-than normal rains in the coming months could mean that this emergency continues well into 2012. People are going to need our help for months to come.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pakistan floods - one year on

As Pakistan marks the one-year anniversary of the worst floods in living memory, the aid agency, Oxfam, has warned that country is still unprepared for the monsoon season.

In a new report “ Ready or not? Pakistan’s resilience to disasters, one year on from the floods”, Oxfam said that families had not fully recovered from last year’s disaster and were likely to fall even deeper into poverty if hit by floods again. Oxfam is calling on the Pakistan government and donors to invest more in more in measures to reduce the impact of disasters.

This could include flood resistant housing, and effective early warning systems – especially at the village level. The cost of reconstruction for last year’s floods is estimated at more than ten billion dollars; but investing an initial 27 million dollars, backed up with yearly top ups, to improve disaster management would make a huge difference in making Pakistan better-prepared for future emergencies.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

An emotional moment

Oxfam's goodwill ambassador, Kristin Davis, breaks down in tears as she describes her visit to Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp where thousands arrive every day, escaping drought and hunger in eastern Africa. Its a very moving interview.

Oxfam is one agency that's launched a massive appeal to help those affected by drought in East Africa.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Making local music popular with new generations

In Pakistan, there's a great tv series Coke Studio which features live performances from musicians from all all over the country. I love it.... this is one of my favourite songs at the moment..Ith Naheen, performed by singer Sanam Marvi. Found the English lyrics too..its really haunting

Title: Ith Naheen – – If Not Right Here

Language: Urdu, Siraiki

Poet: Sachal Sarmast (d. 1829)

tu mila bhi hai tu juda bhi hai

You are merged, You are also apart

tera kya kahna

You defy description!

tu sanam bhi hai tu khuda bhi hai

You are the idol. You are also God

tera kya kahna

You defy description!

kya kahna

defy description!

ith naheen te kith naheen

if not right here, then nowhere

ith naheen te kith naheen

if not right here, then nowhere

eeho kaun pya bolainda

who is this who is speaking


is speaking


is speaking

ith naheen te kith naheen

if not right here, then nowhere

kanjari waali soorat ban ke

assuming the appearance of a dancing girl

sachal naam saenda

“Sachal, the Truthful’ is he proclaimed as

he is proclaimed as “(Sachal) the Truthful’


proclaimed as


proclaimed as

ith naheen to kith naheen

if not right here, then nowhere

Friday, June 3, 2011

India - broken food system

I travelled to India to collect material for the launch of Oxfam's GROW campaign aimed at ensuring everyone in the world has enough to eat; and why the numbers of those going hungry is now increasing...

A broken system

Hunger, death and disease:

Impact of rising food prices

Oxfam launches campaign to ensure a world where everyone has enough to eat

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Pictures of the Ivory Coast refugee crisis - refugees in Liberia

More than 120,000 Ivorians have fled -- and continue to flee -- into neighboring Liberia.

In the past week alone, its estimated that more than 9,000 refugees arrived in the southeastern Liberian coastal city of Harper, in Maryland county, after many villages were attacked.

This abandoned school building on the outskirts of the city is now home to more than 4,600 people. The site was designed as a temporary transit center for 1,500 people -- but is now bursting at the seams.

The early arrivals got tents; but those who arrived more recently have to sleep on the floors of the derelict schools; others have built makeshift wooden shelters themselves; using leaves as a roof to try to shield them from the searing sun and the occasional rain.


Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The birth of a nation and challenges for the future

The people of southern Sudan have voted overwhelmingly in favour of independence

Election officials confirmed nearly 99% of voters who took part in a landmark vote in January favoured separation from the north. The move will pave the way for the creation of the world's newest nation by July.

In the past few months, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese have been returning home; most had been living in the north, some for decades.

Oxfam's emergency, preparedness and response team (EP and R team) has been intervening in some of the most crowded areas to help prevent the spread of disease. The team, funded by the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department, ECHO, has been working for the last few weeks in Leer county, Unity State, to provide some basic water and sanitation services to the local communities as well as the new returnees.

Southern Sudan remains one of the poorest and least developed regions in the world, and only recently emerged from decades of civil war.

After decades of war, southern Sudan needs to be built almost from scratch, and there are enormous challenges. Most people do not have access to clean water, sanitation, or adequate schools or healthcare.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Strangers back home

Martha Bol, a widow, and her children, spent their first night back in Leer county in southern Sudan sleeping outside in the cold. It wasn’t quite the homecoming she was expecting, but she was still excited to be back after spending the last two decades living on the outskirts of Khartoum, in the north of Sudan.

“I was born here and I will stay here”, she said. “This is our land and our chance to be free.”

Martha and several other families had temporarily camped out in the yard of a government building in Leer town. Their household belongings, all they could carry with them, were scattered all around. A few mats, some blankets, a few pots and pans. Suitcases. Recently-laundered clothes hung on bamboo fences to dry in the afternoon sun.

The families were all originally born in the south but left during Sudan’s decades-long civil war, which finally ended in 2005 after claiming more than two million lives. Their journey back by boat, chartered by the Government of Southern Sudan, had been delayed many times and eventually took 11 days. Too late for them to register to vote in the landmark referendum – in which southern Sudanese will decide if they want to remain part of a united Sudan or secede and become the world’s newest nation.

The families are among tens of thousands of southerners who had been living in the north and who have returned to the south in the last few months. Thousands more are likely to follow.

For many like Martha, they’ve been away for so long that they either can’t remember where they lived or their houses no longer exist.

Huge challenges lie ahead. The family will need to find land to settle; work out how to earn some money and adjust to a new way of life.

They are returning to one of the least developed regions on earth, and putting additional strain on villages and communities that already struggle to find enough water and food. 80 percent of adults cannot read and write; there are few paved roads, and limited numbers of schools and health clinics. Less than half the population are able to access safe drinking water.

Martha told me her husband, a soldier, died in the fighting. They used to be farmers, she said, but she’d long-forgotten that way of life and had no idea how she would earn a living and feed her family.

“Its been a long time,” she sighed. “I don’t even know the village where I used to live… if anything still exists.“

“You cannot compare life in the north to here. Khartoum is more developed, but things were not easy for us. I’m happy to be back even though we have no house, and no job”, she said. “I’m happy to be back”, she insisted again.

“I want my children to go to school; to live in peace and not experience the difficulties we had; to live a better life in the future.”