What Oxfam is doing
All across Central America, new leaders are emerging. Women, rural communities, and small farmers are raising their voices to defend their rights, improve their incomes, and protect their lands and livelihoods. Oxfam supports and strengthens these new leaders and their organizations.
Reducing vulnerability to disasters
Central America and the Caribbean are among the highest-risk areas for natural disasters in the world. A natural disaster, however, cannot be viewed as an all-powerful event over which we have no control. Deforestation, lack of regulations to protect fragile areas, and sub-standard construction practices have dramatically increased the region's vulnerability. Global warming aggravates this condition even more.
Oxfam and its partners are reducing vulnerability by preparing communities to respond to crises. Through grants and technical support, Oxfam is helping communities develop evacuation plans and early warning systems, reduce the impact of flooding and landslides, and advocate improved government policies for disaster prevention.
When a disaster strikes, Oxfam and its national and local partners move quickly to provide assistance, such as clean water, medical and sanitary kits, and blankets, for those in need. At the same time, together we advocate for improved quality and standards of governmental humanitarian assistance.
Preventing violence against women
As in many parts of the world, women in much of Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean struggle against systemic discrimination—a major cause of poverty. Oxfam maintains that gender inequality cannot be treated as just a "women's problem." Rather, true equality requires a fundamental change in policies, practices, and beliefs. Working in the smallest villages, the capital cities, and everywhere in between, Oxfam's partners are training women leaders and elected officials, and campaigning for expanded legal protections for women. Together with the Ministry of Education, Oxfam educates youth through a jointly developed methodology, which is reproduced for public schools nationwide.
Expanding opportunities for small farmers and women entrepreneurs
In an increasingly globalized economy, small farmers and entrepreneurs are vulnerable to international trade agree¬ments. Treaties like the Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) and the European Union – Central America Association Agreement (AdA) threaten to flood domestic markets with cheap foreign imports and goods produced with US and European government subsidies that other countries can't match—making it impossible for local producers to compete.
How Oxfam is tackling these challenges
- The Agrarian Policy and Trade program supports local, national and regional organizations monitor and document the impact of current international trade agreements, so they can develop strategies and actions that call for government policies favoring producers and workers. At the same time, it helps civil society organizations challenge governments negotiating new agreements by strengthening their proposal capacity and voice to demand more just rules for workers and small producers.
- The Saving for Change initiative organizes groups of women, encouraging them to save as a group and give small loans from those savings. Working together, women evaluate business opportunities and generate savings to pursue them. This self-help approach enables women to build a financial and social capital, which directly benefits families and communities.
Protecting indigenous and community lands
Central America is rich in natural resources, such as oil, natural gas, and minerals—hot commodities for mining. But mining can destroy farmland, cause deforestation and erosion, and pollute waters. Too often, the negative environmental, societal, and cultural impacts exceed the financial gain.
Oxfam is supporting community organizations that are defending community rights to decide if, when, and how a mining project enters their lands. Together, these organizations are creating a broad movement that is helping local people get the information they need to manage their lands and negotiate for safeguards and adequate compensation. As a more permanent solution, Oxfam's partners are helping communities learn to develop proposals for the much-needed legal reform necessary for establishing lasting protections.
Accurate information and research are key for just decision-making. Oxfam influences public opinion and policy makers through research and publications.
In 1998, the Category Five Hurricane Mitch unleashed 180 mile-per-hour winds and deposited more than six feet of rain on Honduras, Nicaragua, Guatemala, and El Salvador. Some 9,000 people were killed and more than 700,000 left homeless. Schools, bridges, water systems, and roads were destroyed. It was one of the most destructive hurricanes in history.
The conditions in which poor Central Americans live made them especially vulnerable to the storm—in houses made of sticks, mud, and grass on eroded land stripped of trees and topsoil. Those in remote regions, without access to televisions, newspapers, and radios, were the last to receive warnings.
In the first few months after Hurricane Mitch, Oxfam helped people to rebuild their homes or to build new homes designed to withstand future hurricanes. Our funding also helped farmers replant their fields and improve their irrigation systems so that they could quickly grow another crop to replace food lost in the storms.
Today, Central American organizations are developing contingency plans to respond to emergencies immediately and effectively. Oxfam helps communities secure radio communication networks, identify evacuation routes, and designate responsibilities.
In a region with little government support for disaster mitigation, this planning helps organizations implement their own solutions and save lives in the crucial first moments following any disaster.
Overcoming discrimination and exclusion
Five centuries after the Spanish conquest of Central America, there are still marked divisions between the indigenous, predominantly Mayan, population and the ladino people. There is a much higher concentration of poverty in Mayan communities, and widespread ethnic discrimination prevents them from meeting their basic needs for education, employment, and decent living conditions.
Indigenous people, who represent as much as 70 percent of the population of some Central American countries, have limited access to electricity, drinking water, and sewerage, and suffer from high rates of chronic malnutrition and disease. Many of these problems are shared by other low-income communities in the region.
Oxfam America has initiated a two-year program in El Salvador to foster democracy by creating a bridge between the historically closed Salvadoran government and the majority of its citizens. Today, 13 Oxfam partners, including small producer cooperatives, youth groups, and humanitarian organizations, are learning how to present their interests to local and national governments. Women are the focus of almost half the project's $1 million budget.
The project includes efforts to change media laws and promote local radio programming and other measures that will open up the media to diverse voices, and encourage a healthy public debate of social issues.