Voices January 2020

Thanks to you…

With support and solidarity from kind, caring people like you, we’ve changed so many people’s lives for the better.

We have delivered life-saving food, shelter, water and sanitation to people in crisis, and we’ve empowered communities with the skills, tools and opportunities to lift themselves out of poverty and thrive.

Together with local partners and Oxfam affiliates, we armed 1.8 million people around the world with the skills and resources to grow enough food to eat and sell in 2018–2019.

Below you’ll meet just a few of the many people around the globe whose lives have been uplifted thanks to your compassion and generosity.

Thank you.


In this edition:

1. Food security in Malawi | 2. Sewing the seeds of change | 3. Breaking down barriers | 4. Finding strength at Straight Talk | 5. She who learns earns

Food security in Malawi

In June 2019, we asked supporters like you to help us protect families from severe hunger and malnutrition in Malawi.

Due to Malawi’s worst-ever drought followed by Cyclone Idai in March — which devastated the lives of millions — food is scarce. Because of this many Malawian families live on nsima, a porridge made from maize and little else.

This means more than one-third of Malawian children have chronic malnutrition, which causes vitamin deficiencies and impaired growth and development. Sadly, many children in Malawi don’t live past the age of five.

Now, thanks to donations like yours, we are empowering women and men with the training and tools they need to recover from these events and grow and produce nutritious food. And we are seeing communities not just survive, but thrive.

None of this would have been possible without you — so thank you.

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Sewing the seeds of change

Chameli* is paid about 51 cents an hour for her work in a factory supplying clothes to big brands including Big W. So Oxfam’s What She Makes campaign is working to ensure women like Chameli are paid a living wage, one brand at a time.

The thing Chameli wants most for her three daughters – aged 5, 12 and 14 – is an education. But her family’s story is one of a cycle of poverty trapping one generation after another.

Chameli works up to 10–11 hours a day and, during shipment time, finishes as late as 3am, for which she is only paid a regular rate. “I just think if I don’t work, my children won’t get any food, then I give the strength to myself,” she says. But if paid a living wage, Chameli envisages there would be many changes. “I would feel peaceful then. I would be able to eat and manage my children’s education.”

In Bangladesh, 91% of the garment workers we spoke to can’t afford enough food to feed themselves and their children. So we are putting pressure on big brands to ensure living wages are paid to the women who make our clothes. In the two years of the What She Makes campaign, more than 131,000 people have signed the pledge to stand with the women who make our clothes. People have sent thousands of emails to brands, handwritten dozens of letters to CEOs, left hundreds of cheeky messages in fitting rooms, shared stories on social media and held inspiring What She Makes events around the country.

To date, more than a dozen big brands — including Kmart, Cotton On, Bonds, Gorman and Best & Less — have made a real commitment to taking the necessary steps to paying their garment workers a living wage.

This has only been possible with the help of supporters like you.

Learn more


*Name changed to protect identity


Breaking down barriers

Oxfam’s local partner in Timor-Leste, Ra’es Hadomi Timor Oan (RHTO), works to advocate for people with disabilities. Silvia Soares is Inclusion Manager at RHTO. She shares her story about growing up with polio and how she has dedicated her life to showing the world that having a physical disability is no barrier to achieving success.

Silvia Soares (35) is from Viqueque, Timor-Leste. Growing up with one brother and two sisters, Silvia contracted polio when she was young.

Like many children around her, she had dreams of going to school. “When I was five years old, I asked my father if I can go to school. My father said ‘No… because you can’t walk and who will take care of you?’” Silvia recalls. After much persistence, Silvia’s father agreed to help her.

“Every day for a week, my father gave me traditional therapy… and after that, I could walk with a stick,” says Silvia. “From my house to the [primary] school, it is very far, around seven kilometres.”

Silvia moved to her uncle’s house for high school, but after her father passed away in 2007, she couldn’t afford to continue. For people with disabilities in Timor-Leste, physical and financial barriers to education are two of the biggest challenges.
“In 2008, I was asked to volunteer with RHTO. I had no idea about RHTO. I asked, ‘What is a disability?’ because I had no idea what a disability was,” recalls Silvia. “I was very interested to volunteer with them to learn about people with disabilities.”

After volunteering for two years, Silvia was invited to the Pacific Disability Forum in Thailand. Silvia realised it was an opportunity to show her family that she could work, and learn what other countries are doing for people with disabilities.

“It was a dream for me. In my life, I never went anywhere. When I was a child, my family just wanted me to stay at home because of my condition,” says Silvia. “I just felt happy that I could fly in an airplane.”

Since that first flight, Silvia has travelled to 15 countries around the world.

In her work, Silvia trains NGOs and communities to be inclusive and to raise awareness about the rights of people with disabilities. Her work with Oxfam includes bringing disability inclusion to the Haforsa program (focused on agriculture) and Disaster READY (a disaster risk reduction program). RHTO has also helped us to renovate the Oxfam offices in Timor-Leste to ensure accessibility for people with disabilities.

In 2017, Silvia graduated as the first woman with disabilities from the University of Peace with a Bachelor of International Relations.

“In my community and my family, they always told me I couldn’t do anything in my life and to only depend on them if I needed something,” says Silvia.

“I want to say [to people with disabilities], specifically for the women, to not give up and don’t feel sorry… try to gain an education because you can change your life.”

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Finding strength at Straight Talk

If you ask the 25 women who attended 2019’s Regional Straight Talk Summit in Townsville what they walked away with you may get 25 different answers. Participant Pamela Herlihen found strength, inspiration and firm new friendships.

It takes a brave and determined woman to decide to study law in the midst of working and mothering five kids. Pamela is that and much more. A proud Bidjara woman, Pamela wanted to bring about change for her people and saw law as a gateway.

“I have five children and I committed myself to raising them for a long time but when my youngest was two I decided to follow my interest in the law — and particularly indigenous disadvantage — and to be an inspiration for the next generation,” she says.

With her degree completed, Pamela is now working for Legal Aid Queensland in Townsville but she hopes to eventually move into policy. “I’d love to be a law advisor on policy and implement stuff that’s going to help us Murris along the way.”

When an ad for Straight Talk arrived in Pamela’s Facebook feed, she recognised it would be a good follow up to her degree and could help lay the foundations for future policy work.

“I certainly developed skills which will enable me to help make positive changes in the political system federally and locally — changes in the many areas that are lacking for our people, whether that be legal, medical, through to community engagement,” she says.

“But also really important was the people I met there. To go to something like Straight Talk and have strong women around you, inspiring you, building you up and giving you confidence and ability to take the next steps is just amazing.”

For Pamela, we’ve no doubt whatever her next steps are they’ll take her somewhere great.

“For the next generation, you should always push yourself and have that drive to pursue an education and that job you’ve always dreamed about,” she says. “Never give up on your dreams.”

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She who learns earns

Work opportunities are scarce in Vanuatu, so we’ve partnered with Youth Challenge Vanuatu (YCV) to offer young people like Florian Toa a pathway into employment or an entrepreneurial venture.

Florian gladly took part in our Ready for Business training initiative, delivered by our partner YCV*. With the skills she gained, Florian hopes to scale up her fledgling business, turning discarded plastics into colourful wallets.“

In my mind, this is not just a business, but also helping clean up the environment,” she says. “Every day, when I walk down the street and I see plastic papers lying around, I pick them up and take them back home. I clean them up, dry them, and use them for weaving these wallets.”

“The YCV program has encouraged me and helped me a lot,” Florian says.

“Before, I didn’t know much about managing my business, but after doing the course I learnt how to manage money … I learnt from the training how to manage my time, do market research, and keep records for all expenses and sales.

”Now, Florian has big plans for the future: “My dream for the future is to have my own company. Back home, we don’t have good houses, so I’d like to build a big house and also buy a machine to cut all the plastic.”

She hopes to see more young women follow her entrepreneurial footsteps: “I want to encourage the other girls back home to apply for the next course.”

Learn more

*YCV is supported by the Australian Government through the NGO Cooperation Program