Friday, December 19, 2014

Connecting global and local issues

One of the challenges for Oxfam Action Corps outreach is to bring focus to the issues of hunger, poverty, and food at the global level. One approach is to make connections between local food-related advocacy and Oxfam's global work. An example of this was written recently by guest blogger Samantha Wittrock on the Oxfam Action Corps Des Moines blog (below). Samantha shares her experience at the Women, Food and Agriculture Network’s Annual Conference. This conference had many sessions highlighting the important roles women have in local and national concerns regarding food, agriculture, and the environment. These are the same important roles women around the world share.
On November 14th and 15th, I was fortunate to attend the Women, Food and Agriculture Network’s Annual Conference in Fairfield, Iowa. As I am interested in every aspect of the food system and my mom is considering a venture into sustainable farming, it was the perfect opportunity for us to meet and learn about women who are already deeply involved in this movement.

Read more on the Des Moines OAC blog here.

Monday, December 8, 2014

One voice can make a change

One of the purposes of this blog is to share personal experiences and stories of Oxfam Action Corps volunteers. I found this post written by Christine to be a fitting follow-up to the previous post on the collective power of the people.

International Women’s Day

Submitted by Christine Ellersick

I joined Oxfam in the belief that any person, including empowered women, can create change in this world. Oxfam Boston’s International Women’s Day celebration is always an inspiring event, but this year, it was especially wonderful. First of all, I had the honor of introducing Emiliana Aligaesha, an Oxfam “Female Food Hero” who had founded a successful farmer’s cooperative in Northwest Tanzania. She taught herself to farm and helped found Kaderes Peasant Development, a cooperative that supports hundreds of small-holder farmers. It was an honor to meet her, to speak with her and to present her with the Boston Oxfam Action Corps’ “International Women’s Day Women’s Leadership Award”.

As part of the celebration, a Hunger Banquet was held. If you’re unfamiliar with a Hunger Banquet, it works this way: everyone present is arbitrarily separated into 3 groups. There is a High-Income Group, a Middle-Income Group and a Low-Income Group. Food is divvied up according to your income group. The High-Income Group is served at a neatly set table with fancy, fabulous food on good dishware. The Middle-Income Group sits in chairs without tables; they serve themselves fairly good food, like beans, rice and drinks. The Low-Income Group is served only plain rice and some water that’s been colored with food coloring to make it look dirty.

I have always harbored a secret wish that someone would turn the Hunger Banquet upside down, but as an organizer, I had always felt like this couldn’t be me. As an organizer, I ensure that people follow the rules. 

As someone who wasn’t raised with great means, this always made me feel uncomfortable and conflicted. Here I was – one of the Hunger Banquet event organizers – and I always wanted to subvert the process. The point of the exercise is that people grow to understand that it’s arbitrary where you ended up in this world, and staying within your assigned “Income Group” gives you the experience of understanding the situation of “less fortunate” people.  I had always wanted to stand up and say, “We’re not going to take this. Let’s just share.” But I felt that I couldn’t.

But this day was different. This was the day that I had been waiting for, after being involved in many, many Oxfam Hunger Banquets. After the rules were explained by one of the organizers, something happened that I will think about for a long time. 

A woman stood up, voice shaking just a little: “We don’t have to follow those rules. We can all join together and share with one another. Let’s vote on it. Raise your hand if you think we should all share.”  

Some people didn’t raise their hands, but the majority did. This was unprecedented; perhaps people were startled. This brave woman, whose name I never learned, taught me a lesson and inspired me. She was expressing what Oxfam America and the Boston Oxfam Action Corps truly stand for: equality and justice. And so we all ate, together, except for some of the people at the High-Income table, who had the really good stuff. But, isn’t that always the way?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Power of the People: Calling All Oxfam Action Corps

Are you ready to be a part of people power?

For the first time in the history of the Oxfam Action Corps, all Action Corps cities, organizers, and volunteers are joining together for a big action. We decided to challenge ourselves by showing our collective power for change by raising money for Oxfam America's fund for the Ebola crisis. We have less than a month to raise at least $11,000.

For me personally, this idea of each person giving a little to collectively make a difference really resonates with me. Not only is it the reason why I joined my local Action Corps, it's also why this year I decided to make a donation each month to a different organization or cause. Some months I decided to give to one of my go-to organizations, while other months I added funds to a friend's fundraising activity (a run or bicycle ride) or helped a friend with medical or funeral expenses.

What excites me about the Oxfam Action Corps' challenge is how this power of the people act displays the collective voice of concerned individuals and shows that working together creates change. Often volunteers of the Action Corps see small improvements in their local communities for building awareness to global poverty and hunger. But the reality is that together the Action Corps cities make a substantial impact, including effects on governmental and company policies at national and international levels. And this challenge to raise money for the Ebola response is an opportunity to show we are a united and powerful force.

I will be making my donation for the month of December to Oxfam Action Corps' collective action for the Ebola response. Will you join me by adding your voice and chipping in whatever you can? 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Lobbying with Oxfam Action Corps Des Moines

Guest blogger Aaron Schlumbohm wrote a wonderful piece (below) for the Oxfam Action Corps Des Moines blog about his recent experience lobbying at U.S. Senator Grassley's office in Des Moines.
On September 5, I had the pleasure of accompanying two other Iowa Oxfam Action Corps members, Amy & Stephen, on a lobby visit to United States Senator Chuck Grassley’s office here in Des Moines. Lobbying typically calls to mind a fair amount of negative associations with special interests, money, and influence – but there we were, three grassroots volunteers, about to speak to a legislative assistant for a United States Senator.

Read more on the OAC Des Moines blog here!

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Oxfam America at the People's Climate March

Last Sunday's People's Climate March marked a watershed moment for the global climate movement and for the Oxfam Action Corps as well.  Here we capture the sights, sounds, and headlines from the march and the summit.

A huge thank you is due to Jennifer Viechweg-Horsford and Liz Tillman of Oxfam Action Corps NYC for their leadership in mobilizing volunteers and working with staff from Oxfam International, as well as to our intern support led by Kaoru Inoue.

The March

Oxfam's spirited presence at marches in NYC and all around the world are captured in pictures and tweets in this Storify.  More of our people and action in NYC can be seen at this Twitter search.

Oxfam's contingent was among the most animated of the march. Afterward in a thank you note to volunteers, Jennifer wrote that "more than 200 supporters from all over the United States wore Oxfam T-shirts and marched with messages, while hundreds chanted slogans as they demanded action and solutions. This is evidence of your recruitment efforts and time dedicated to the People's Climate March."

Grammy-awarded singer and Oxfam Ambassador Angelique Kidjo gave this powerful interview live at the march to Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

Jennifer Viechweg-Horsford (2nd from right) with Oxfam staff and interns
The Summit

The day-long government summit at the UN aimed to infuse energy into the lead-up to climate treaty negotiations in Paris in 2015.

In its concluding press statement, Oxfam noted the "partial and piecemeal" government response, adding that "if leaders leave New York with the voices of the thousands who marched here ringing in their ears, it may yet prove a turning point." Oxfam welcomed new commitments to the Green Climate Fund but noted that they amount to a fraction of the $15bn promised in time for the COP20 in Peru this December.

From the Guardian blog, here is a partial summary of outcomes from the day:

  • France joined Germany in pledging $1bn of climate aid over the next few years
  • A number of smaller developed economies pledged almost $300 million to the Green Climate Fund
  • US president Barack Obama pushed China to redraw the "old divisions" between rich and poor nations and take on the responsibility of a "big nation"
  • Chinese vice premier Zhang Gaoli committed to double the country's contribution to a "South-South" fund which will help developing nations adapt to climate change.
  • major declaration on forests was signed by 27 governments and more than 100 companies and organizations. It committed to end global deforestation by 2030

  • Meanwhile, global businesses convened a new progressive coalition called "We Mean Business," whose website is found here, and an Oxfam reaction here.

    Looking ahead to COP21 in Paris 2015

    Oxfam's policy lead on climate and megaphone barker extraordinaire, Tim Gore, blogged about the movement's next steps (and includes a fantastic photo of our Jennifer leading the march with him!)
    Liz Tillman (center) amid her legion of volunteers and staff

    Friday, September 26, 2014

    Oxfam Action Corps Iowa's Games

    Action Corps Iowa has had many successes at tabling events and we found their secret weapon: a handmade Oxfam Jenga set! 
    "If you build it, he will come.”

    Okay, so maybe I stole that line from the iconic 1989 fantasy-drama film Field of Dreams which has absolutely nothing to do with this blog post.  Yet, allow me to modify the quote to its more recognized misquoted form, “If you build it, they will come.”
    I’m talking, of course, about that delightful family-friendly tabletop game called Jenga. True story. How so? Easy! For those unfamiliar with Jenga, players take turns removing one block at a time from a tower constructed of 54 equally sized blocks. Each block removed is then balanced on top of the tower, creating a progressively taller yet less stable structure. Make sense? Good!
    Are you ready to have your mind blown? Jenga is derived from a Swahili word meaning “to build”.
    Therefore…“If you Jenga, they will come.”

     Read more of Oxfam Action Corps Iowa's blog post for a fun yet enlightening way to educate others on Oxfam and its mission!

    If you would like to create your own Oxfam Jenga set, all you need is $20 for wood, a circular saw and the instructions, found here.