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Fangirl Friday: Oxfam

November 24, 2012

Fangirl Friday is a semi-regular (very semi-regular) feature highlighting an environmental and/or social justice non-profit group. It’s named as such because asking me about some ecological issue can be as dangerous as asking a comic book fan about her favorite Batman storyline. However, I also love graphic novels, so you may want to be careful about that as well.

It’s no coincidence that I finally reinvigorate Fangirl Friday the day after Thanksgiving. While Black Friday advertisements flood our TVs, radios, and junk mail, we in the D.C. area have also been inundated with advertisements to donate to charity through the Combined Federal Campaign. So if you’re looking for a present that benefits those beyond the receiver, I would recommend checking out Oxfam’s Unwrapped store.

Through its 17 related organizations, Oxfam works to relieve poverty in communities worldwide. But unlike many poverty relief organizations, Oxfam doesn’t put most of its effort into emergency relief or addressing specific needs within developing countries. For example, some (very good) groups work to bring specific pieces of equipment for cleaning water or growing food. While Oxfam does some of this work, their main focus is changing the fundamental structures that cause and perpetuate poverty. For me, it also doesn’t hurt that Quakers founded the group in Oxford, UK, one of my favorite places.

To accomplish this goal, Oxfam has a two-prong approach. The first, small-scale prong is to work with individual communities to help them find specific solutions that work for their area. Because they have ongoing relationships with people in those areas, they can listen to what they need and provide it. Those solutions range from <a href="www.oxfamamerica.org/articles/new-life-in-the-midst-of-kenyas-drought/" to sharing sustainable agriculture techniques. Even in emergency situations, they work to extend their efforts past the immediate need. For example, in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, they’re on the ground in Haiti distributing hygiene and cholera kits. But they are also educating people on how to avoid cholera for the long-term and evaluating damage to agricultural areas so that farmers can recover more quickly.

The second prong is the one that I see as separating them from other organizations – working on global social justice issues. Oxfam has a number of ethically and economically complex issues as part of their portfolio, including labor rights, trade imbalances, and climate change. Many organizations don’t tackle these topics, afraid that such politically sensitive issues will drive away donors. But Oxfam recognizes that if they don’t fix these underlying problems, all of their other work will be for naught in the long-term.

For example, the organization worked for many years with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to raise wages and standards for tomato growers in Florida. After fifteen years, the Coalition recently signed an agreement with two major growers that supply to McDonalds, Burger King, Subway, and Whole Foods to vastly improve conditions. With the help of Oxfam, the Coalition’s agreement will improve pay and working conditions for 90 percent of the 30,000 tomato workers in the state.

In the oil, gas, and mining area, Oxfam runs the Right to Know, Right to Decide campaign. This campaign pushes international companies to allow communities to decide whether or not they want oil, gas, and mining development in their communities. To make informed decisions, the companies need to respect a community’s right to know about both the impacts and potential benefits of projects. These benefits include how much the companies are paying the country’s government for access to those resources, so that if the community does move forward on the project, they get a fair share of the profits. As “the resource curse” is endemic and I’ve seen how gas companies can even steamroll communities in developed countries, empowering people to make their own decisions is key to these companies lifting themselves out of poverty.

You can donate to Oxfam all year round, but Christmas is a particularly fun time because of their Oxfam Unwrapped catalog. While usually a donation of $25 is just a donation of $25, the catalog transforms it into a set of building tools, a cooking stove, or “twice the manure.” Who wouldn’t want to give a pile of organic manure to that cousin who always tells tall tales? Similarly, you can match people’s personal interests to the charitable gifts. The teacher in the family would probably like books for kids, the gardener would like to help plant a vegetable garden, and a cyclist would love for others to get a much-needed bicycle. In reality, the specific donations don’t go to buy those particular items. Instead, they go to Oxfam’s work in general, although they represent different areas and programs the organization runs. Nonetheless, the personalization aspect is nice.

So among your other presents, consider giving out of the Oxfam catalog, whether for Christmas or other giving-related holiday of your choice.

Have you given charitable donations for presents? What are your favorites?

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