Circular – edition 3

Women driving change in the Mekong region | Champions of the environment | Field trip to Cambodia | Meet Oxfam’s Chair of the Board, Dennis Goldner Women driving change in the Mekong region Oxfam Australia has been working in the Mekong region for more than 30 years. From post-conflict emergency relief following the fall of […]

Women driving change in the Mekong region

Oxfam Australia has been working in the Mekong region for more than 30 years. From post-conflict emergency relief following the fall of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, to long-term community development and an increasing focus on advocacy, our work has been an evolving process to meet the changing needs of the Cambodian people.

Driven by the passion and commitment of local communities, partners, government counterparts and our staff, together we have created vast improvements to livelihoods and human rights.

Our work in the region has consistently shown that when local people — importantly, women — are involved in decisions about the use of their land and resources it is more likely that development will be equitable and sustainable.

And when Oxfam Australia Chief Executive, Helen Szoke recently visited some of Oxfam’s legacy programs in the area, where we implemented water and sanitation programs, rehabilitated canals, helped set up rice and buffalo banks, and built toilets and new school buildings, this couldn’t be more apparent.

Communities have come together, women’s leadership has increased and creativity is thriving.

However, the greatest aspect of our work is the legacy we’ve left behind of people dedicated to advancing social justice; communities, government counterparts and staff who will continue to inspire change for a more equitable Cambodia.

Champions of the environment

Lok runs an eco-tourism business in Stung Treng, Cambodia. Her team were concerned about a dam under construction just over the Laos border, and how it may impact upon the environment and their business.

With our partners in north-east Cambodia, we worked with Lok’s community on issues of environmental management and resource conservation.

“Oxfam helped us learn about conservation and how to protect the dolphins. They helped us build a sign to promote the eco-tourism business,” Lok says.

“Oxfam helped us learn to protect our natural resources, and how to work with local [government] tourism authorities and to understand the potential for this area for eco-tourism.”

Photo: Patrick Brown/Panos/Oxfam America

Field trip to Cambodia

In May Alex Mathieson, Director of Programs, and I completed a full and rewarding week-long field trip to Cambodia.

I wanted to share some of the highlights to help give you a sense of the work that we are doing in the area.

Oxfam in Cambodia clean water

First, let me share some facts about Cambodia. Cambodia is now a population of around 14.5 million. Around 25% of the population was killed during the civil war – genocide of horrific proportions. The people of Cambodia have been greatly impacted by the rule of the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979 who tortured and murdered many of their own people, as well as a long period of war around this time. The country is governed inadequately, with high levels of corruption, and increasingly closing civil society space.

During the week, we took a visit to the Kratie province, which is known for the fresh water dolphins (and where I was fortunate to see some!) but also for the Sambo dam that is being proposed.

There we visited with partner organisations, met with young people (delegates who are active at the site of the already built Stung Treng dam), and also women who are part of the community radio program. We joined the Deputy District governor at a community meeting expressing concerns about illegal fishing and the emerging concerns around the building of the dam, and also met with the Deputy Provincial Governor.

I had the opportunity to visit one of Oxfam’s legacy programs, which was very inspiring – Oxfam Australia worked in the Sambo region from the late 1990’s through to 2013 doing water and sanitation, rice and buffalo banks and other work.

The project was then taken on by a local civil society group called North East Regional Development (NRD) who continue advocacy and influencing work. This group now have a plan to become phased out by 2030 and are empowering Community Fishery groups to take on this work. It was an exciting opportunity to see Oxfam exiting an area, but leaving a sustainable legacy of infrastructure, work opportunity and a robust community of people who are in control of their lives.

One village listed 14 ways that Oxfam Australia had assisted that community!

I was equally inspired by our meeting with youth delegates. We spoke with four delegates from the Stung Treng area where the dam has been built, whose families refuse to move as they have a connection to ancestors and their country. They have been left to patrol the forests for protection and to continue to hold onto the land.

I was struck by some of the metaphors used at the community meeting in the Sambo province – the challenge for the communities being like “splashing water at a shadow”. The short term threat of illegal fishing and the longer term challenge of the building of dams results in major challenges for sustainable and equitable growth for those who rely on the Mekong for their lives.

Throughout the trip, I couldn’t help but be reminded how this work reinforces Oxfam’s way of working as being critical. We must work with partners rather than direct delivery of services, and we must support groups who are giving voice to community concerns. This concept of empowerment is fundamental to the human rights based approach.

– Helen Szoke, Oxfam Australia Chief Executive

Meet Oxfam’s Chair of the Board, Dennis Goldner

Not many organisations can boast that the chair of their board is literally willing to put their body on the line for the cause.

However at Oxfam Australia, we’re lucky to have former Deloitte partner, Dennis Goldner, who brings not only a wealth of expertise to our board, but has also shown his dedication to tackle poverty 20 times over – having completed an incredible 20 Oxfam Trailwalker events.

Dennis is also Patron of the Oxfam Circle, our Key Supporter Stewardship program for philanthropists and our most generous supporters.

In this fantastic video produced by Deloitte, hear from Dennis about what inspires him to be involved with Oxfam.

Photo: Andrew Gooden/OxfamAUS

If you have further questions about the content in this issue of Circular or would like to find out more about Oxfam’s major donor program The Oxfam Circle, please email oxfamcircle@oxfam.org.au or visit our website.