If you live in the UK, and London in particular, you'll have seen those incredibly irritating people in bright green bibs campaigning for Oxfam - and wanting your money in the form of regular 'gifts' via standing order.

I was one of those irritating people for a month, until yesterday, when I could take it no longer, but that's a totally different story - on to what I learnt about Oxfam, which was a lot, thanks to intensive training...

During the Second World War, the Allies imposed a naval blockade around Nazi occupied Greece. As hardly any medical supplies or food could get through, famine quickly spread and by the end of January 1942, 2,000 people were dying every day in Athens alone. The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, largely compromised of academics from Oxford University who were concerned with this problem, met for the first time in October 1942.

After the war, the group continued sending food and clothing parcels to Europe, and saw the first of their now famous charity shops open on Broad Street, Oxford in 1948.

Today Oxfam International - mission statement: working together to break the back of poverty - of which Oxfam GB is the head, is huge. It is one of the best known non-government organisations in the world, and the work they do is quite simply, amazing. They don't send food parcels anymore - as time went on they realised that just chucking aid at these starving people didn't help much, and that poverty had to be tackled from the root in order to be eradicated. They now work in eighty-four of the world's poorest countries, working closely with the indigenous population to help them sort themselves out.

Oxfam's work can be divided into three rough parts...

Emergency Relief: Around fifty man-made or natural disasters occur each year, which of course is nearly one a week, and we in our cosy living rooms will probably watch about four be reported on the news, if they are big enough and enough people die to make it sufficiently interesting for the BBC. A bit like the 'Thunderbirds', Oxfam are committed to getting to these disasters within forty-eight hours of it occuring. Once there, they will dispense medical aid, food, and essentially safe, clean water. Earthquakes, floods, wars, not enough rain or too much, so much happens in this world and so many people die that we just don't hear about...

After the initial disaster has subsided, we go on to the second rough part of Oxfam's work - Long Term Development: Oxfam will stay in a country as long as necessary - they've been in the Sudan for over twenty years now - to help these people out of the absolutely heartbreaking, fucking appalling poverty they are in. Like the village in Sudan where women and children had to walk for fourteen hours a day to get as much water as they could carry - about a litre and a half. During this walk, they leave themselves open to attack from both humans and wild animals and then, once they've got this water, they have to play the game of roulette that is drinking it. Does it contain typhoid or cholera today? Will this water I've fought so hard to get now kill me or my children?

Thirty children a day die from drinking unsafe water. Most of them could be saved with a simple sugar and salt solution that costs 10p. That particular village all got together, scrimped and saved for ages, planned their ideas, and approached Oxfam with the plans and half the supplies for a dam that would create a clean, safe water supply ten minutes from the village. Oxfam provided the rest of the funds and there we go! A thriving village, where health workers come and set up shop, a school can now be started because the chidren have free time these days, a women's group has been started, animals can now be kept because they won't die from dehydration...all because of safe water.

There are thousands and thousands of villages like that, where people in abject poverty have the ideas to pull themselves out, but are without the funds to do it. Oxfam often does really simple things, like nappy co-operatives, or goat loans, where a pair of mating goats are lent to a family. The goats have kids, and some more kids, and the kids have kids, and then they have a herd! Meat to eat, skin for clothes and to sell - an income is born, and the original pair of goats go on to another family. I just love that idea.

The third part of Oxfam's work is the one I get really passionate about: Campaigning. There are four main campaigns at the moment...

Cut the Cost - Launched in February 2001, Oxfam are lobbying GlaxoSmithKline and the World Trade Organisation to put human lives before profit, and issue licences that will make it possible for countries like India and South Africa to manufacture crucial drugs that treat stuff like childhood diarrhoea, respiratory tract infections, and HIV and AIDS, as opposed to selling them to these countries at hugely inflated prices. To put this in perspective, your average HIV sufferer in the UK couldn't afford these drugs if they weren't heavily subsidised by the NHS. In countries where there is no health service, these people have no chance, and most of the money that is available for health care goes towards pain management instead of prevention or cure.

And why can't these countries afford a decent health service? Because they all owe developed countries like the UK, USA, France, Italy, Japan and Canada BILLIONS OF DOLLARS. Add the interest, and there is no chance of them ever paying it back. In fact, a lot of these countries have actually paid back the original sum lent to them, but the interest rates are so huge that it becomes a bottomless pit... The Drop the Debt campaign has had a lot of media attention in this country, and as a result, the UK has joined with the US and Canada in dropping 100% of the debt owed to them - a total of $9.2 billion.

This money can now be spent on education as well as healthcare... but, with 120 million children in the world with no access to basic primary education, there is not enough money to spend on it. Enter the Education Now! campaign, with Oxfam lobbying the world's governments to honour their promise that they would change this situation. We aren't talking neuroscience here, just access to basic reading, writing and mathematics, so that people can read how much medicine to take, be made aware of the risks of unsafe sex, have a sense of their place in the world.

But what's the use of all this struggle, all this hard work on everyone's part if they have to flee their homes and families, become refugees or die because of war? In today's armed conflicts - and there are ar least thirty of them going on as you read this - 84% of the people who will be killed are civilians, and almost half of those again are children. Oxfam and their supporters are campaigning to have war criminals brought to trial, to make the British government publish something called an 'Annual Report on Strategic Exports', so if they are selling guns to mad dictators than we can see for ourselves, and for our governments to be promoting peace around the world.

And this still isn't all the stuff that they do. Oxfam do so much, and every bit of it is necessary. There are no useless charities, they all exist because there is a problem and will continue to exist until that problem is solved.

Although the job I did was horrible and I hated every living second of it - you try standing outside all day trying to get people in London to talk to you about a charity - it was comforting to know that the work I was doing was helping to change the world, to make people aware of things, getting involved, getting off my backside and doing something that would really help others, and I'm glad that I helped all the things described above continue, from the huge global campaigns to the gorgeous little fuzzy goats...

Five pounds a month? Hell, make it ten...

Thanks to Oxfam.org and Ian, the guy who trained me on Oxfam for all this information, especially the statistics, which I needed drummed into my head.

Oxfam now operates in over 90 countries across the world.

Oxfam works to: create sustainable livelihoods, provide clean water, prevent conflicts, prevent/treat HIV and AIDS, spread gender equality and educate people in developing countries.

Some of their ongoing campaigns include: raising awareness of and reversing the destructive forces of climate change, making trade fair, reducing governments trading weapons

This is an organisation worthy of your monies. Chances are you're unwilling to sign up to continuely give them your money or you just don't like canvassers harassing you.

An easy way to support Oxfam from the comfort of your home is to buy a book, movie or CD that you think you need. All the profits from your purchase goes to Oxfam NZ and the shipping is free worldwide. Good Books accepts New Zealand/Australian/American dollars, the British pound and Euros.

If you would rather help Oxfam help people in a more direct way, you can do that too. A pile of poo is only twenty bucks, planting twenty five trees is twenty five and training a village birth attendant  a mere forty—all of which is tax deductible and makes the perfect gift.

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