2017: How you and Oxfam are making a difference

All year long, we reach out to you with news about some of the world’s poorest people and the challenges they confront, whether triggered by disaster or entrenched in the social injustices of day-to-day life. And all year long you respond with compassion for those people and support for the Oxfam programs that help them help themselves. Here are stories about how your generosity is making a difference in countless lives.

Sign up to join a movement working together to end the injustice of poverty.

Thank you!

By joining our community, you’ll receive the information and tools you need to take on the injustice of poverty.

People fleeing poverty and violence: Of the 65 million people displaced around the world, 22.5 million men, women, and children are refugees facing new vulnerabilities and challenges.


Watch at:

Standing up for refugees

The biggest driver of the refugee crisis is Syria, where more than six years of war have forced more than five million people to flee the country. Conflict has also played a devastating role in the lives of South Sudanese, nearly 4 million of whom have been driven from their homes. By late August 2017, more than one million had fled across the border into Uganda where Oxfam and its partners are supplying water to more than 89,000 people at the Bidi Bidi refugee settlement. Sheltering more than 270,000 people, it has grown quickly to be the largest in the world.

As election-fed xenophobia tested the welcoming values on which our nation has long stood, you joined us in vigorously defending the rights of refugees to resettle and pursue lives of dignity in the US and other countries. In partnership with Vanity Fair and Creator Julie Anne Robinson, we worked with celebrities to bring heartbreaking stories of Burundian, Syrian, and other refugees to more than a million viewers through our “I Hear You” video campaign.

We developed an immersive experience–Refugee Road–to help participants understand the many impossible decisions families make in search of safety. And we joined with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Massachusetts attorney general’s office to bring a lawsuit challenging President Trump’s discriminatory executive order barring Syrian refugees from entering the US indefinitely while suspending all refugee admissions for 120 days. As the case makes its way to the Supreme Court, we have been preparing an amicus brief on the issue. Inspired by all of this, more than 31,000 of you signed one of our refugee petitions and became new Oxfam supporters and activists.

Active citizens: The power of people to overcome poverty and their right to hold governments accountable

In El Salvador, water and people’s right to decide wins out over gold

Oxfam and its partners in El Salvador celebrated two important accomplishments in the last year: First, in October 2016 the International Court for the Settlement of Investment Disputes at the World Bank upheld the country’s right to deny mining permits to the Oceana Gold mining company. This concluded a seven-year legal battle. During this time there were numerous violent incidents including the deaths of four opponents of mining. Winning the case saved El Salvador from a $300 million claim by the company.

In March 2017, El Salvador’s legislature passed a law that bans metal mining, citing water pollution and other environmental and social concerns. “This is an historic day for El Salvador and our right to decide our future,” said Oxfam’s El Salvador Country Director Ivan Morales. “Mining is not an appropriate way to reduce poverty and inequality in this country. It would only exacerbate the social conflict and water pollution we already have.” The country became the first in the world to institute such a ban.

Oxfam supported a consortium called the Mesa Nacional Frente a la Minería Metálica: nine organizations all working to block mining proposals that threaten to take land and natural resources away from farming communities. The Mesa, as it is known, also kept up a steady campaign for legislation to ban metal mining altogether, with support from the Catholic Church. Oxfam provided early grants to establish the Mesa in 2004, published research questioning the economic and environmental viability of mining as an engine for development in the region, and worked with the Center for International Environmental Law to file two amicus curiae briefs to support El Salvador’s defense of the case at the World Bank.

Empowered women can change the world: Advocating for the rights of women and promoting their role as agents of change

Toiling on the streets of Hanoi, a leader emerges

Two years ago, you might not have recognized Pham Thi Hâu. A street vendor who spends long days crisscrossing Vietnam’s Hanoi with a cart full of brooms for sale, she was a poor woman from outside the city with little awareness of her rights and even less inclination to draw attention to herself. But that was before she joined the Oxfam–supported STONES project.

Not an acronym, the project is named for the key element in a roadway. Like migrant workers, stones are often overlooked, but are essential to the life of the city. The project tackles the social and economic marginalization experienced by many of those workers, up to half of whom in Hanoi are women. Managed by our partner, the Institute for Development & Community Health–LIGHT, the project aims to ensure that scrap collectors and street vendors like Hâu have the information and skills that will ensure their health and security. It has reached about 4,000 people. Oxfam has also been helping the institute with organizational development and networking.

Through STONES, Hâu learned that she was entitled to better treatment, and she took the lessons to heart. Today, she has emerged as a leader among her peers, running a self-help group—one of 17 launched through STONES—and advocating for the rights of migrant workers with government representatives at all levels.

“I educate my community on vendors’ legislation, workers’ rights, reproductive rights, and traffic safety,” Hâu says. “This way we avoid harassment from the police, like unnecessary attacks, or the repercussions of [unknowingly] breaking the law.”

And the program goes even further, says Nguyễn Thu Giang, the institute’s deputy director. “It’s not just about individuals, it’s also about setting up a system where women have a role in advocacy, working with policy makers,” she says.


Watch at:

A decent livelihood: Investing in small farmers, fair labor practices, and responsible stewardship of natural resources


Watch at:

Poultry plant workers get a break–finally

When Oxfam launched the poultry worker justice campaign in 2015, we identified three essential problems: low pay, dangerous conditions, and a climate of fear. However, as more and more workers spoke out, it became clear that what weighed on them most heavily was simple: the routine denial of bathroom breaks. It was painful and dangerous—and profoundly humiliating. Again and again, poultry workers told us they were stripped of dignity and humanity, and treated like robots.

We focused on this one aspect in a report (No Relief) published in May 2016. And it sounded a thunderous clap. As media outlets and social media channels scrambled to share the story of workers wearing diapers and urinating on the production line, millions of consumers were exposed to the labor behind their cheap chicken–and shocked enough to become engaged.

Pressured by this new level of outrage and scrutiny, the top four poultry companies responded– and took action. Many workers report that conditions have improved significantly.

When Tyson Foods made the strategic decision to take the lead on sustainability on a number of fronts, the company reached out to begin serious negotiations about improving conditions and compensation for processing workers. Specifically, Oxfam worked with Tyson to draw up an agreement in which the company committed to higher wages and benefits, safer conditions, and more opportunities for workers to participate in the plants and speak out without fear of retaliation. In the spring of 2017, Tyson publicly announced these commitments.

Saving lives and strong local leadership go hand in hand: The best first responders have the deepest local knowledge

In Darfur crisis, local aid group is first on the scene

In early 2016, violence erupted in Darfur’s mountainous Jebel Marra region—the latest chapter in an armed conflict that since 2003 has killed hundreds of thousands of people and uprooted millions. Of the more than 100,000 people who fled their villages, more than 22,000 gathered for safety around the base camp of international peacekeepers at a remote outpost known as Sortony. The first humanitarian agency to arrive on the scene? Oxfam’s local partner KSCS, the Kebkabiya Smallholders Charitable Society. As families began building makeshift homes out of stalks of millet, KSCS trucked in drinking water and other essentials, traveling miles each day over treacherous roads to deliver life-saving aid.

NGOs like KSCS that are located in dangerous areas of the world can be the most effective humanitarian responders, because they understand how to navigate the geographic and political obstacles to emergency response.

“In the past five years, there have been four major crises in the area of Kebkabiya,” says KSCS program coordinator Mohammed Mohammedian. “In each case, we were the first aid agency to arrive with help.” And now they are in charge of coordinating aid to Sortony camp.

Oxfam is working hand in hand with KSCS in Sortony, but our longer-term role has been to help this and other local partners become skillful, strong, and independent.

“We don’t just hire local organizations like KSCS to help out in emergencies,” says Oxfam America humanitarian director Nahuel Arenas. “We provide ongoing support to sharpen their skills and readiness, and to strengthen their leadership. It’s a strategy we believe is saving lives.”

Evaluating our work: Every initiative presents an opportunity to learn, correct our mistakes, and improve what we do

Where do the revenues go? Who decides?

There’s an important question facing poor countries that are rich with oil and natural gas: How can they use revenues to fight poverty? Oxfam believes part of the answer lies in mobilizing citizens to hold their elected representatives accountable for transparent management of natural resources. Oxfam secured a grant from the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) to work on this in Mozambique, Tanzania, and Ghana.

The focus was on promoting better use of information to hold governments accountable, and help communities affected by new oil and gas projects to learn about their rights. In all three countries Oxfam trained reporters to promote more balanced and transparent media coverage of the energy sector and the ways it affects people.

Oxfam conducted a baseline study at the beginning of the two-year project, a mid-term evaluation, and a final evaluation, using independent evaluators who conducted interviews and document reviews in each country. Oxfam, our civil society partners, media, and others in Ghana played a vital role in making transparent management of oil revenues a central issue in the December 2016 presidential campaign, and in ensuring that the main political parties committed to accountability measures.

In Tanzania, civil society groups were active in proposing new legislation related to oil and gas development; 60 percent of their recommendations were adopted by parliament in three crucial laws. In Mozambique, Oxfam’s partners trained a network of community monitors to document the effects of the emerging gas industry on communities. Oxfam is now in a second phase of this NORAD-funded project, and is implementing a number of recommendations that surfaced in the evaluation, including encouraging public discourse on ways oil and gas projects affect women, and how women and young people can influence the ways countries spend oil and gas revenues.

In a major disaster, clean water, sanitation services, and hygiene promotion are essential


Watch at:

Drought and conflict bring severe hunger to millions of people

The numbers are so big they’re numbing: Tens of millions of people across five African countries and Yemen are facing severe hunger. Four of the countries are teetering on the brink of famine, and in parts of one of them–South Sudan–famine was actually declared in February.

The crisis has been long in the making. Though drought and climate change have played a role, the bigger drivers of this disaster are conflict, poor governance, and the painfully slow resolve on the part of world governments to respond.

“Famine does not arrive suddenly or unexpectedly. It comes after months of procrastination and ignored warnings,” said Oxfam Humanitarian Director Nigel Timmins shortly after news of South Sudan’s famine declaration broke. “It is a slow, agonizing process, driven by callous national politics and international indifference. It is the ultimate betrayal of our common humanity.”

Across the affected region, Oxfam and its local partners have been helping hundreds of thousands of people with life-saving assistance including the provision of clean drinking water and sanitation services, hygiene promotion, and cash and vouchers that allow families to buy food in local markets.


Watch at:

In hard-hit Puerto Rico, helping families get clean water

Weeks after Hurricane Maria hammered Puerto Rico, hardships for many people on the island continue as basic needs--like access to clean water--remain a daily challenge to meet. That’s why one of the initial emergency responses Oxfam has undertaken with the help of local partners has been the distribution of household water filters.

Called Big Burkeys, and as shiny as mirrors, these stainless steel devices promise to ease the anxiety families may have about the water flowing from their taps or other makeshift sources--water that potentially could be contaminated because of sewage runoff. With Oxfam’s support, The Foundation for Puerto Rico has purchased 1,300 of the filters and is buying 700 more. Oxfam, together with medical and public health brigades from the University of Puerto Rico, has been distributing the filters--accompanied by instruction sheets in Spanish and hands-on assembly with the users--in rural areas where people lack access to government water systems and in urban areas where the water system is unsafe and could present health risks.

All her life, Carmen Iris Camacho Colón has drunk the local spring water--until the storm came and her husband died a few weeks later after fixing water pipes from a spring into the couple’s home. His death certificate mentions Leptospirosis, a bacterial disease, spread by animal urine, that can spike following excessive rainfall or flooding. Infection can occur through contaminated water or wet soil.

After learning about Leptospirosis, she turned to bottled water for cooking and drinking.

“I became terrified,” she said. “I would tell my grandchildren’s parents: don’t let them touch anything.” Now, with Oxfam’s water filter, capable of removing contaminants eight times smaller than the one that causes Leptospirosis, she will no longer need to rely on bottled water.

Along with filters, we are working with the Foundation for Access to Justice to help thousands of families apply for assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and to replace vital legal documents the storm destroyed. And with the power still out in many communities, we will be expanding our distribution of solar lights in rural areas.

I’ve supported Oxfam since I was a school kid... We skipped lunches to raise awareness about world hunger. Today, what inspires me most about Oxfam’s work is the commitment to find solutions to root problems, to learn from mistakes and switch gears when necessary, [and] to focus on results—especially critical because lives are at stake.

Oxfam supporter
Impact Circle member and donor since 2008

Thank you to the many generous donors who support our work this year.

See donors

View our 2017 financial reporting, including our sources and use of funds.

See financials

Share this story


Make a tax-deductible gift.

Donate to Oxfam at www.oxfamamerica.org/donate

Oxfam.org Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+