Blog Action Day 2012: The Power of We

Campaigning for change article written on the 15 Oct 2012

Today, on Blog Action Day 2012, thousands of people are discussing the topic: The Power of We.

At Oxfam Australia we are part of a global movement of people, working to transform lives and fight the injustice of poverty. From our campaigns to field projects, Oxfam strongly believes in the Power of WE and collaboration.

Oxfam Australia has been working with communities for more than 50 years and has learnt that giving hand-outs is not the solution. Instead we work in partnership with people to provide them with the skills, tools and confidence to help them create their own solutions to poverty. We value strengthening community connections for the growth of all involved.

And all of this stems from the power of the very concept of we. “We” is a little word that sends a big message. Understanding our connection with others is often the most inspiring lesson we will learn.

As a 12 year-old girl, I met a 12 year-old boy living on the streets in Vietnam who changed the course of my life. It was his innocence that raised many questions for me around the vast disparity in our life opportunities and how that difference could be justified. As a child, my friend Millie turned to her mother to ask why she should eat her dinner while many went to bed hungry, wishing to mail her plate of food over to those living in poverty. A member of parliament stated that as a parent, regardless of living in the slums of Mumbai or mansions of Toorak, he had learnt that we can all relate to the common wish to create a better life for our children than we have lived.

Such a moment or collective moments build our understanding that we are part of a global society. Those we regard as ‘them’ are not always as different or distant to us as we imagine. At our core we are all humans, within the same world, with surprising similarities in our dreams, fears and drives.

This realisation is what enables us to discover that we not only should but actually can strive to ensure that the impact we have on others’ lives is positive rather than negative – that we not only have a moral responsibility but a remarkable capacity to ensure our actions support rather than infringe on the basic human rights of others.

The enormity of the issue of global hunger can often overwhelm us. But each and every one of us has a role to play in fixing our broken global food system. Collectively our actions, small or large, have the power to influence meaningful change.

Starting with a Fair Trade chocolate bar…
When we treat ourselves to a chocolate bar, we can also ensure that the small-scale farmers who grew the cocoa contained in it have been paid and treated fairly.

If you were to ensure that two of the chocolate bars you buy each month are Fair Trade, and this trend spread across urban Brazil, Spain, the UK and the USA alone, this would add up to over 12.5 billion bars made with Fair Trade cocoa being bought every year. And this would support the people, most likely on the other side of the world, who live and work on over 90,000 small-scale cocoa farms.

Your simple choice contributes to the stability of Fair Trade prices and the support offered by Fair Trade Organizations from one year to the next, allowing small-scale food producers to make long-term plans, for their farms and families, and to break the cycle of indebtedness. This helps grow rural economies while giving farmers and their children greater opportunities for the future.

Or a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise…
To cook spaghetti bolognaise for four people we may use a 500g packet of beef, which actually takes immense amounts of water to produce. If we choose to swap our spag bol for an alternative, such as beans or lentils which use significantly less water to produce, we can save nearly 6,000 litres in just one four-person meal. Imagine how much water could be saved by such small changes being made by every Australian family. Choosing to eat less meat can help relieve the strain our water resources are already under.

Furthermore, if urban households in the USA, UK, Spain and Brazil were to eat a meat-free meal ONCE a week, swapping beef for beans, around 9.5 million fewer cows would need to be reared every year. This would greatly reduce methane emissions and reduce our impacts on climate change as much as taking over 3.7 million cars off the road for a year.

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” ~ -African proverb

The power of appreciating the concept of we, can be seen in the way an injustice playing out on the other side of the world affects and is affected by our own actions. This is the power we each have that will create a more just and sustainable world.

What is Oxfam doing about this?
Oxfam is working to create a growing global movement. We work with people from around the world to create a future where everyone has enough to eat, always. Whether it be growing cabbages in Papua New Guinea or making pots in Bangladesh, we work with poor communities to find a way out of poverty that works for them.

Growing food:
We work with disadvantaged rural communities in Asia, the Pacific and Southern Africa to help them grow more food in sustainable ways and protect their land and water sources from the impact of natural disasters and climate change.

For example, each year between harvests in Malawi, many rural families run out of food – mainly due to recurrent droughts and floods and the loss of arable land to tea plantations. To help these families tackle the problem we are distributing high-yielding, early maturing, drought-tolerant seeds, drilling water boreholes and training farmers in agricultural techniques.
Fighting for better working conditions:

Having a job doesn’t guarantee a way out of poverty. Not when the reality is poor pay, excessive hours, unstable contracts, or no provisions or support for illness, maternity, or incapacity. We are part of a global campaign to persuade companies and governments to respect workers’ rights.

For example, the GROW team in Sri Lanka is working with famers, fishers and plantation workers to develop a comprehensive policy framework demanding:

  • A fair wage and land rights for plantation workers,
  • Control of food imports to provide a better market for local food producers,
  • Restriction of the corporate control of seeds
  • Increasing support and subsidies to promote environmentally friendly and sustainable food production methods.

Protecting natural resources:
In rural communities, making a living depends on having access to productive land and natural resources. Governments, companies and banks are pushing local food producers off their land. We work with communities to better manage their resources and fight for their right to make a living from the land.

For example, in Laos and Cambodia we are helping river communities to manage precious fish resources. While in the Philippines, we’re helping a community voice concern over a planned mine which threatens their citrus plantations and as a result, their source of income.

And we are witnessing that more individuals are creating ‘groundswells’ of opinions and actions to which companies and other institutions are realising they must respond.

So, what can you do?

  • Eat Local Feed Global this World Food Day: to mark World Food Day, Oxfam is inviting you to join thousands of people around the world and share a meal in support of tackling global hunger. Gather your friends, family or community over a meal and raise awareness about the positive role we can all play in building a future where everyone has enough to eat and raise money to support Oxfam in their vital development and campaigning work.
  • Join the GROW Method: check out this list of tangible everyday actions you can take to feed your family and help 1 billion people feed themselves. It’s a better way of thinking about food – the way we buy, prepare and eat it. And the best part? You’re probably already doing lots of it.
  • Sign the GROW Pledge: join Oxfam’s new global food campaign, GROW. Pledge your support to fix our broken global food system.
  • Learn more about GROW and food justice

by Oxfam Intern Kim Ho