Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Saying thank you to our allies in the cause

About the author:
Jennifer Viechweg-Horsford was born in the tropical island nation of Grenada, and devoted her time towards active involvement in poverty and youth issues globally. Jennifer has extensive experience as a public servant in Grenada, and has represented the tri-island nation on many platforms. After attaining her Master's in Business Administration, she deepened her understanding of poverty issues by attending training in China. She is currently a Management Consultant. Her most recent achievement was training in "Climate Change Negotiations," with Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN): A Global Initiative for the United Nations. She has now commenced training in "The Age of Sustainable Development" with an effort to be able to continue to inform policy at any level.

Last September, Oxfam Action Corps NYC held the third annual Community Dinner at  Morris-Jumel Community Garden in NYC to thank our allies for the great work they’ve done with the Action Corps to help make the world a better place. Every year we partner with a number of organizations to address social issues on which we share common ground. We’re incredibly proud of what we’ve accomplished together. 
Allies at the 3rd annual Community Dinner

Finding lasting solutions to hunger, poverty and injustice requires a strong and committed team.  We acknowledge that our power comes from our relationships with others and our shared resources. Moving forward, we continue to invite others to join us in the fight to end poverty.

One of the most challenging emotions to adequately express is gratitude. Showing a person or group how truly thankful one is for their camaraderie warrants a lot of effort. I often find that simply verbally thanking someone for help they’ve given me just doesn’t fully express how grateful I am – especially when it comes to work like this.

Oxfam Action Corps NYC would like to honor the commitment of those individuals and organizations, which are named here:

Isaac Evans- Frantz 

Nancy Romer 
Jacki Fisher 
United Nations International School (UNIS) Oxfam Club
Bread for the World
Why Hunger
NYC Breastfeeding Leadership Council

Brian performing at the Community Dinner
Speaking of commitment – Brian Rawson, the Senior Organizer for Community Engagement, attended the event and underscored the importance of strong allies. Brian’s message to the audience was quite profound: first he talked about the importance of the Green Climate Fund, and then went on to play the guitar, singing “the farmer is the one who feeds them all.” His performance left everyone inspired.

It’s worth noting that Kelly Moltzen and Margaret Tran contributed to the event. Kelly spoke to the attendees about the Global Catholic Climate Movement and urged us to take action by signing a petition. Margaret provided music, which added greatly to mood at the Community Garden.

Let’s continue to build a strong network of allies. Making lasting change takes people power, and together we can move mountains. Join us in the fight to end poverty!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Finding a home base with Oxfam Action Corps

About the author: 
Sandrina da Cruz volunteered as a local advocacy leader with the Oxfam Action Corps in Philadelphia before accepting a UN position in Mongolia and shipping out again. Since then, she has lived in both Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo for work with United Nations peacekeeping operations. During these assignments, she collaborated and engaged with Oxfam in varying capacities. She recently concluded work in Oxfam's US offices on Aid Effectiveness and Humanitarian Advocacy.

Flash back to 2008. I’d just gotten back to the United States after working in humanitarian development in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and I was anxious to continue doing meaningful work. A Google search introduced me to the Oxfam Action Corps. There was an Action Corps node in Philadelphia, where I lived. I was already familiar with Oxfam, from both my field work abroad and my upbringing in Europe. I simply couldn’t believe it - how convenient that I could volunteer with an organization that I really admire in my own city?  I am embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t realized that Oxfam had programming in the US.  I promptly contacted the co-leaders, who invited me to their next meeting to learn more about their activities.  Soon thereafter I gave a presentation about my recent field experiences at a screening of Sisters on the Planet. At this event, I had the chance to meet Oxfam America staffer Brian Rawson, the brains behind the Action Corps.  Brian’s story inspired me to keep working with the Action Corps and a few months later, I applied to be one of the next Philadelphia Action Corps co-leaders.

"To me, the Action Corps summarizes what Oxfam stands for: uniting people and strengthening local efforts while maximizing limited resources in the fight against hunger, poverty and social injustice." - Sandrina

My time with the Action Corps was extremely rewarding. I met wonderful and caring people, collaborated with a wide variety of organizations, and was consistently amazed at the power of active civic engagement. We met with public officials and visited congressional offices in Philadelphia, Harrisburg and DC. These experiences taught me the power of local advocacy. My friends became accustomed to Oxfam pins, fact sheets and t-shirts scattered about my house. Together we learned what a barracuda  was!* I enjoyed the team meetings where we brainstormed on creative ways to engage the community around the campaign - constantly searching for possible messaging opportunities, venues, and partnerships.  I was drawn to the Action Corps because of its organized structure - Oxfam staff provided targeted support adapted to the needs of the various teams, and made themselves available throughout. To me, the Action Corps summarizes what Oxfam stands for: uniting people and strengthening local efforts while maximizing limited resources in the fight against hunger, poverty and social injustice.

In addition to being rewarding, the work that Action Corps does is a lot of fun. I found it beneficial and fun for volunteers to engage in activities at events they enjoyed and felt most passionate about.  The concerts were always in such high demand that I didn’t do much tabling at those events.  When the Coldplay concert rolled around, it presented a massive opportunity to reach a much larger audience. We decided as a group who should participate and work the event.  The team almost rescinded its decision when I divulged that I actually didn’t know who Coldplay was! I will never forget the looks of utter amazement on their faces. After recovering from the shock, one of the volunteers (Carrie Leigh) made me CDs of their music to listen to for homework - of course, I fell in love with their music. We had a blast at the concert sharing Oxfam’s mission regarding climate change with concert goers and we got a LOT of petition signatures!

More recently, after graduating from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, I joined Oxfam America as an intern with the Aid Effectiveness and Humanitarian Advocacy teams. As I continue pursuing my personal and professional aspirations, I look forward to maintaining my partnership with Oxfam in its many creative and unpredictable forms!

* barracuda is a brand name, now synonymous with the retractable vertical banner used at Oxfam events.

Friday, January 8, 2016

What A Year!

Caption: Oxfam Action Corps organizers from 14 cities at annual national training in Washington DC, April 2015
By Liz Olson

Happy New Year, Oxfammers! It’s that time of year when it seems like everyone is making conscious lifestyle changes, ranging from the meager “drink less coffee” to the ambitious “abolish corporate greed.” The latter is my New Year’s Resolution, anyway…

It’s also a time to celebrate the accomplishments of the year past.  2015 has been an exciting year for all of the Action Corps cities, as evidenced by the impressive amount of work the co-leaders and volunteers have put in, and more importantly, the cumulative impact you all have made.

By The Numbers

Since our national training in April of 2015: 
  • You held 120 tabling events, of which 72 were concert outreach outings, exposing Oxfam’s brand and message to a potential audience of at least one million two thousand people!! 
  • You signed up more than 13,000 people for petition actions.
  • You conducted 91 lobby visits to Congressional offices, counting 80 visits on the Food for Peace Reform Act (of which 54 were on Capitol Hill during our April lobby day) and 11 on the Global Food Security Act. 
  • You made 21 visits to deliver 47,000 petition signatures to Congressional offices on the Green Climate Fund.
  • You hosted more than 14 public events for World Food Day, reaching more than 500 attendees.
  • You helped boost attendance for the Red Nose Day telethon which raised over $1 million dollars for Oxfam as the same for a dozen other worthy organizations.

Action and Impact: Highlights

Through the year you advocated for 3 critical reforms on which you made important headway, if not yet a victory:  

  • You secured US funding for the global Green Climate Fund which successfully passed Congress in December; 
  • You pushed for improvement of food aid through the Food for Peace Reform Act, winning cosponsorship from key Senators Durbin and Markey;  
  • You sought to strengthen foreign aid’s impact on hunger and poverty through the Global Food Security Act.
  • In addition, you raised thousands of dollars for relief efforts for Nepali earthquake survivors and Syrian refugees.

You conducted popular outreach to mobilize public support and help spread Oxfam’s message. Here are just a few of the ways you did it:
  • Concert events such as hosting your very own Oxfam Jam benefit concert, in addition to tabling at shows by Lake Street Dive, Dirty Heads, Grateful Dead, Flogging Molly, Passion Pit, and Finding Fay
  • World Food Day events in October including community dinners, Oxfam Hunger Banquets, and film screenings 
  • Farmers Market outreach, community events and allied marches at green fests and food fests in collaboration with your local farm, food, and climate allied organizations
  • Major events such as Global Citizen Festival in NYC, Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago, Austin City Limits, Bonnaroo, and the Moral March on climate during the Pope’s visit to Washington DC.
  • Local trainings for volunteers in your city, led by you!
  • Fundraisers including online fundraising pages, silent auctions, fun runs, 

A Capstone Victory at Year's End

A major campaign initiative taken on by the Action Corps this year was the Green Climate Fund. As I’m sure you already know, the Green Climate Fund is a way for high-income countries (and others too) to financially support resilience and alternative energy projects for the lower-income countries that have been and will continue to be hit hardest by the effects of climate change. Oxfam and a coalition of organizations (including the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, and many others) petitioned to get Congress to approve $500 million in 2016 as a first payment toward the $3 billion the US has pledged. Needless to say, it faced significant opposition from some quarters in Congress.

The coalition collected over 47,000 signatures by the end of November, and Oxfam Action Corps led on delivering them to Senate offices just before budget deliberations and COP21. Lo and behold, it worked!  On December 17th, the initial commitment of $500 million was approved by Congress as part of its omnibus budget package. 

This right here, folks, is why the Action Corps and our community of supporters are so crucial to advancing Oxfam’s mission (and saving the world in general). There’s no denying that the efforts of Oxfam, the Action Corps and other related organizations contributed to this win. It’s because of your hard work and passion that things are changing for the better. Give yourselves a pat on the back – you’ve earned it.

Thank You!

We at Oxfam America would like to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for the countless hours you’ve spent planning, petitioning, participating and perspiring. We know that many of the issues that Oxfam works on are deep-rooted in biased or unfair legislation, and that changing the political structure is critical to improving said issues. It may be a long haul, but you’ve pushed us forward in important ways in 2015. We can’t thank you all enough for dedicating so much time to mobilizing the public, meeting with politicians in person, and broadcasting our message to help further Oxfam’s mission and goals.

Of course, there’s always more work to be done. Let’s celebrate the amazing year we’ve just concluded, and reinvigorate for the new one just begun. 

Friday, October 16, 2015

Oxfam Action Corps trains 40 supporters on climate and food justice in San Francisco Bay Area

By Brian Rawson

Happy World Food Day! Oxfam Action Corps are planning many great activities to celebrate this moment (see previous post). For me, I'm still on a high from last Sunday morning when 40 San Francisco Bay Area Oxfam supporters assembled for a one-day training organized by the Oxfam Action Corps. Attendees participated in workshops on Oxfam, the Green Climate Fund, lobbying, public outreach and event organizing. They committed to further actions with Oxfam this year, including a lobby visit, a regional people’s climate march, and live-tweeting about the Green Climate Fund.

These good folks #WillFightForFood

Attendees came from a wonderfully broad range of ages and backgrounds, including, for example, an international human rights lawyer, a monitor of California's carbon market registry, and a former Peace Corps volunteer who served in the late 1960s in Nigeria. The former president of a teacher’s union, Betty, said “Now that I am retired I attend 4 or 5 concerts every week. This training was great! Now I’m excited to hold an Oxfam Jam.” (Photos: Brian Rawson)

The entire training was organized and run by Oxfam volunteers Chris Sanderson, Desiree Thayer, and Jessica Lettween.  In their 'day jobs' they are a facilities manager for a major tech company, a cancer scientist, and a mom-activist, respectively. They have a combined total of 15 years volunteering with Oxfam America. The kicker? They managed to organize it entirely on donations. What about the delicious lunch of vegetarian lasagna, salad, and veggie wraps, the flip charts and supplies? Donated. The beautiful venue at St. Anthony Foundation, complete with technical support? Donated. Even their planning headquarters was Chris’ tech company’s office after hours in a prime location in downtown San Francisco. 

The agenda was based on a road-tested template developed by Community Engagement’s Oxfam Action Corps program.

Powered by people.  Very resourceful people 

In Community Enagement our goal is to create Oxfam leaders, "brand ambassadors," who are committed to mobilizing their community to support Oxfam. 
At the training, Jessica spoke to why she remains a volunteer organizer with Oxfam “It speaks to my values. In Oxfam work I find a like-minded community.”  Desiree spoke about why she, in her words, “keeps coming back” to volunteer with Oxfam.  She noted that when her mother passed away in recent years, “I became aware of my own mortality and reflected on what really matters to me.”

Desiree convenes a planning session on alliances and formats for International Women's Day event in March 2016.

Jessica introduces herself as one of the 10 'inspiring moms' that Oxfam blogged about for International Women's Day 2015.

We are powered by people. Our local brand ambassadors and grassroots advocates multiply Oxfam's reach through face-to-face connections that set us apart from the crowded field of online causes. As for the new recruits attending the Oxfam training for the first time, the volunteer enthusiasm seemed to speak for itself.  Said John, the returned Peace Corps volunteer: “I volunteer with a local organization, and I donate to Doctors Without Borders, but when I heard about this training I looked into Oxfam. On your website I saw that you do everything! So I decided to come to learn more.” 

Rori, the carbon market monitor who also volunteers with Oxfam at concerts said “I keep trying to figure out how I can connect the work of my employer [a major foundation] to what Oxfam is doing. I’d like to talk more about how we can make that happen.”

Chris Sanderson of Action Corps (in Oxfam T) and Chris Mortweet, a CHANGE Leader (with beard) lead a breakout on lobbying Congress. “Oxfam is core to my being. It’s my go-to charity for prioritizing how to make the world a better place," explained Mortweet, a former state senate staffer and Oxfam CHANGE leader.

Concert outreach superstar Julie Gengo co-leads a breakout session on public outreach.

As extraordinary as this was for volunteers to lead a training based entirely on donations it's not uncommon. Constituent-driven action is the norm across Oxfam's community outreach programs. Nationwide, Oxfam Action Corps teams in 14 US cities hold hundreds of events, public outreach tables, and member planning meetings each year. In times of constrained resources we rely evermore on the creative resourcefulness of our most dedicated supporters. But even more importantly, we believe that face-to-face contact is among the most effective and powerful ways to energize and expand our base of support for global food and climate justice, and make Oxfam stand out among a crowded field of online causes. Our promise to our volunteers is that they get as much reward out of their involvement as they give to Oxfam.

Smart ideas. The power of people. Resourcefulness. And strategic action. It’s hard to imagine a better way to spend a sunny Sunday in San Francisco!

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Take action this World Food Day at an Oxfam Action Corps event!

This October, Oxfam supporters around the world are coming together to commemorate World Food Day and to rally action to address the impact of climate change on farmers and food. Much of the food we eat every day - from corn to wheat to avocados - is being threatened by our changing climate. And the families that help grow and produce those harvests are suffering the worst costs. But together we have the power to help communities become more resilient to these impacts and protect their lives, homes, farms, and livelihoods.

In cities across the USA, Oxfam volunteers will mark the occasion with events to raise awareness and action in support of the Green Climate Fund. We’re a community of people who #WillFightForFood. Please join us!:

  • Albuquerque will hold its annual community dinner featuring local farmers and musicians on October 17 (RSVP here)
  • Columbus, OH, will host a screening and discussion of "Sisters on the Planet" on October 16 (RSVP here)
  • Des Moines will join Oxfam staff in hosting the "Growing a well fed world" luncheon featuring 2015 World Food Prize winner Sir Fazle Abed on October 14 (RSVP here)
  • Madison, WI, will screen Oxfam's "Hardest Hit" film and hold a silent auction to raise funds for Syrian relief on October 16. (RSVP here)
  • New York City will host an Oxfam America Hunger Banquet on October 14 (RSVP here)
  • San Francisco will hold a 1-day training on October 11 (RSVP here)
  • Washington DC will host a panel featuring speakers from the FAO and One Acre Fund on October 24 (RSVP here)

Monday, September 21, 2015

The power of citizen advocacy and Oxfam: Senator Markey co-sponsors food aid reform

This post originally appeared on an Oxfam staff bulletin. Written by Brian Rawson and Alexandria McMahon, it is edited slightly for posting here.

Anyone who works in advocacy knows that it’s nearly impossible to claim direct attribution for any good decision a Senator makes. But in the case of Senator Ed Markey’s decision September 10th to co-sponsor the Food for Peace Reform act on September 10, we think we can at least give ourselves a hefty pat on the back!  The chatter among Oxfam staff is that the volunteer advocates of the Oxfam Action Corps, in particular our Boston group’s visit to his office on August 21, may have tipped the scale on this one.

If you’re not yet familiar with the Oxfam Action Corps, we are dedicated Oxfam supporters from a variety of professional backgrounds – teachers, nurses, naval veterans, scientists and more –  in 14 US cities. We volunteer to build our US constituency and advocate on Oxfam's issues before Congressional and corporate targets. 

On August 21, volunteers Sarah Lucey, Sapana Thomas, Bibhusha Karki, and Oxfam staffer Angela McIntosh pressed Markey’s staffperson to reform US food aid. They explained how the Food for Peace Reform Act, S.525, introduced by Senators Corker and Coons, will eliminate outdated provisions in the US Food for Peace program so that food aid will reach millions more hungry people each year more quickly and without costing an additional taxpayer dime. 

Sarah Lucey (left) and Vivian Daly lobbying at Senator Markey's office in June.

This was our third visit with Markey’s staff in 5 months, having lobbied his office in June on a foreign aid bill (pictured at left), and in Washington DC during the annual Action Corps training in April.
The Markey meeting was held as part of a summertime push for in-district meetings in coordination with Oxfam campaigns and policy staff. Action Corps has so far held or scheduled meetings with 21 offices in IA, IN, IL, MA, MD, NM, NY, VA, and WI (see pictures below) which are additional to meetings held by Oxfam staff in DC and in-district. Leadership and support for the national effort by Action Corps was provided by Ben Wiselogle of Oxfam Action Corps Seattle, a Navy veteran and grad student. (pictured below).

he summer push followed on the ninth annual training and lobby day in Washington, DC this past April, at which Oxfam Action Corps met with 51 Congressional offices on Capitol Hill.
There is a long way to go to convince Congress to pass such reform into law. A handful of Senators have co-sponsored so far, and others have expressed their willingness to vote in favor. (Notably, the previous co-sponsor was Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL), who did so back in April within 24 hours of the Action Corps lobbying him in his DC office during their annual training). We expect Congress to take its next step this month or in early October when the Senate Foreign Relations Committee conducts its markup of the legislation.  

We wish to thank Senator Markey and his fellow co-sponsors for the courage to co-sponsor S.525, the Food for Peace Reform Act, and for continuing to advocate for better, quicker food aid to people in the grips of a hunger crisis.

To voice your support for this bill, click Oxfam's e-action here:
Minnesota Oxfam Action Corps – Outside Senator Klobuchar’s office

New Mexico Oxfam Action Corps – At Senator Udall’s Office
Iowa Oxfam Action Corps – Outside Senator Ernst’s Office

Washington Oxfam Action Corps – At Representative Jim McDermott’s Office
Washington Oxfam Action Corps Ben Wiselogle with Representative DelBene


Thursday, September 3, 2015

Planting seeds in drought-stricken El Salvador

In 1991 Oxfam staffer Brian Rawson first visited El Salvador as a 20-year old college student and accompanied a farmer's rights organization. This month, Brian returned to one of the communities he worked with, San Agustin, Usulutan. 

Note that this blog post is not related to Oxfam America projects, but rather one individual's visit to personal contacts.

On August 17 I threw my bag in a truck and headed east of the capital, past a number of volcanoes, and uphill along the pitted road to the town of San Agustin, Usulutan. Here I reunited with friends I had worked with during my first visit to El Salvador some 24 years ago. 

San Agustin remains a tranquil community despite the national surge in crime, thanks to its people and leadership. But the drought remains an urgent threat, as this season's corn harvest has dried up to nothing. (Pictured below is pasture for livestock.) Here, when people speak of climate change you hear the anger in their voices.

Daily you hear birdsong, the footsteps of cattle passing by, the clucking of hens and crowing of roosters.

The former mayor remains a pillar in the community (and behind him the patron saint)

The current mayor is raising funds for the youth soccer league and education program.

Credited with keeping gangs and crime at bay, the soccer field in the town square is always busy. There are nightly soccer tournaments in the town square. The missed shots hit the fence with a PRAP! and we jump out of our seats.

Such recreation is a distraction from the central worry that grips this town: the long-standing drought that has disrupted their farming cycles and ruined their crops. On a visit to one livestock cooperative, which decades ago was a coffee plantation of a US landowner, a rain-fed cistern was dry (below, left). One associate, Juan, spoke about how his coffee crop in the highland hills had failed to produce any fruit due to the drought and associated brushfires near his crop. (lower right)  Using the land as pasture for livestock presents a more resilient alternative.

On the weekend of my visit, news broke which had all the townspeople talking and stepping up onto pickup trucks bound for the nearby city of Usulutan: the national ministry of agriculture was set to distribute a second round of assistance to each household in the community. 

This second round of government assistance was highly unusual. Three months prior, there had already been distribution of one sack of corn seed and one sack of fertilizer to each household in San Agustin. In a typical year, that would have been the end of the annual assistance to the list of communities designated as being in extreme poverty. But the drought caused the corn plants to wither and stunted their growth and the corn harvest was lost. So the unprecedented news of a second round of fertilizer and seed - either corn or bean - had residents buzzing. Although one sack of seed only amounts to a fraction of what's needed for each family, it nonetheless gives farmers a little push, or "un empujoncito" in the words of a local resident, and could mean the difference between eating or going hungry.

Neighbors and family members checked in with Anita (below) a member of the local community development association, to verify that their household was listed to receive assistance.

So midday on this particular Sunday, truckloads of farmers - women and men - bounded down the hill in a festive mood. Beneath the laughter, though, remained the knowledge that the seeds' promise of food would only be delivered if the drought relented and rain fell. Thus each farmer faced an agonizing choice: to plant the crops now in hopes of rain, or to wait to plant later in anticipation of a wetter tomorrow?  

In this way climate change grips the town of San Agustin, disrupting seasonal patterns and upending the farming customs established over generations. All over the world similar farmers in similar towns are facing the same distressing options. My visit to San Agustin reminded me why our efforts to hold governments accountable are so urgent, and why in the lead-up to the COP21 climate talks we must urge governments to support the Green Climate Fund to build resiliency for the communities most vulnerable to the effects of climate change.