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oxfam

Activism

Landgrabs- where roots and rights count for nothing

15 October, 2012

Ramona’s tiny Chucks pound the same streets my own small feet did. She squeals on the same squeaky swings. Chases the children of the squirrels I chased.  Somehow, despite living in  five different towns and two different continents in the 17 years since I left here, we are back at the place of my childhood and my daughter is growing up in my old neighbourhood.

It has always drawn on me, South London, always felt like the place I’d call home the most.  Despite having a nomadic and flighty upbringing, this is the land where my roots have dug the deepest.

My husband lived in the same house for most of his life. And they reckon most English people live within 5 miles of their birth place, which is baffling to me. And then there are communities who have lived and tilled the same land for generations and generations. Imagine their roots. Wily, strong and ancient.

I went to the breathtakingly beautiful country of Cambodia a few years ago with Oxfam, to hear the stories of people in communities they work with.  The people in the villages we visited were doing incredible, transformative stuff. Tapping into age-old farming techniques to protect themselves against a future littered with weather-related disasters and learning new ways to regenerate their land. Yet almost every single community were fighting a nightly battle with the tractors of corporations who would come in by stealth, move the fence posts, clear a space and claim it as their own. Every village had a team on nightwatch, patrolling the boundaries yet still they were all watching their land decrease in size knowing their chances of fighting it were slim. And they were the lucky ones- losing their land metre by metre instead of in one violent snatch.

Some of the heroic womenI met, transforming- and fighting for – their land

Even since I visited Cambodia three years ago an area half the size of Wales has been transferred from village farmers to corporations, more often than not in the form of “landgrabs” – villagers evicted without warning or compensation and with no recourse to action. It is heartwrenching imagining  some of the families I met, who were so stoically fighting a changing climate and invasive poverty now left with no land and no rights at all. Grandparents who were born there and who still worked the land, hand in hand with their grandchildren who were born there, forced off by men in hard hats and high vis jackets.

This battle for land is going on all over the world; roots and rights mean nothing in the face of The Paperwork. The almost bigger injustice is that the land once used for hunger-busting crops is often left derelict- to grow in value, or used for bio-fuels to feed the wealth of rich nations.

However, this injustice is preventable. In fact, already landgrabs campaigners have taken the New Forest Company to task on the eviction of 25,000 people in Uganda. Oxfam is harnessing it’s knowledge of the World Bank to call for a freeze on all dodgy land deals while the whole business gets sorted out.  This tiny video explains just how the “Power of We” could change things…

[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ExCQlobfAUU]

Can you spare two minutes to add your voice to the symphony of others, calling for justice?

I don’t know what it would be like for us to be chased out of our home, this grotty concrete paradise of Camberwell that I love. To be uprooted, even without generations of sweat poured into it, or a livelihood that depends on it. To be made homeless overnight, left with only the things we could carry.

I only know that I am on the side of the heroes who belong to their land, the ones who have built their lives around it and who use it to feed their families and provide for the future. And I want to join them to fight the big buisness villains who seek to evict them. And thankfully history tells us that together we have an excellent chance of winning this battle.

It is Blog Action Day 2012 and thousands of bloggers are writing along the topic of “The Power of We” – have a read and even join in.

Activism

Knock, knock, knocking on Number 10’s door

10 August, 2012

It was a scorching morning, the sun bearing down on our squinting faces, as we posed for photo’s, fake knocking on the famous door of Number 10.

I was representing Oxfam, along with other activists from Concern, ONE, Action Aid, Unicef and Save the Children, delivering a huge box of names – over 600,0000 people calling for immediate action on hunger in the Sahel area. The Prime Minster is holding a summit with all the VIP’s in town on Sunday – we had to let him know that we were all watching.

We toyed with what expression to put on for the photographer – happy, because everyone looks nicer with a smile, and we were thrilled that such a HUGE number of people were behind this, or stern, because 18 million people are starving to death each year? We each opted for something different, to mix it up a little. Unfortunately I was the Furious Scowling One. With the unwashed hair and the stain on her tee shirt.

There were some press inside the gate, and we piqued their interest a bit. They bossed us about, moving us around to get a good shot. I hope they cover this, I hope they show telly watchers how many people are involved in this fairer-world movement.

After much dillydallying, we handed over the box. And posed, fake knocking a bit more.

I really had to Instagram the hell out of this to disguise my slovenly ways

Job done, and as we thought about heading home, someone mentioned we could stay a bit, watch the Prime Minister get in his car.

Er.

I wasn’t keen. I was anxious, I had had to get friends to look after my daughter, Ramona, and I was already running late for them. And, why would I want to watch a stranger I wasn’t a fan of get in their car? I have to admit, a tiny bit of me considered whether I might be able to shout something out, to get across to him how urgent this was and how passionate we were. Would I get the sack? Or gunned down? Could I call out but in a kind, friendly, I-don’t-have-a-bomb-or-custard-pie way? As I wondered, someone else approached.

They ushered us out from behind the barriers, and explained that the Prime Minister would like to say hello.

We gathered by the door and a second later his chummy, pleasant face appeared. Not wanting to let a moment slip, in my Very Best, Most Articulate and Confidently Loud voice announced, like some kind of Head Girl speech, “We trust you are going to do every thing you can to create a world free from hunger” He pledged to. “We are passionate about a just world and hundreds of thousands of others are too.” He understood and chatted a bit more. Mo Farah was coming! They were gonna set up a race track! But he seemed positive that his hunger summit would be worth it.

As he left, we celebrated, we hugged and high fived. Delivering a petition turned into something that bit more. Not because we were stunned by the (very) rich and famous but because we hoped that the Prime Minister picked up our energy, that our faces, a little gang of global citizens, might be in his mind as he heads up Sunday’s meeting of leaders. Maybe he captured our hope and maybe we helped fortify him, to make the decisions he must. We can only wait and see.

And now I can say I didn’t even wash my hair for the PM. THAT is how much I don’t care for his Toryism and THAT is how much of a hippy I am.

Be a Good Un, find out more and continue to take action on Sahel here.

Activism

Streets filled with peace (not tanks, thanks)

27 June, 2012

There have been a fair few surreal moments in my 5 years history as a campaigner with Oxfam.

I have taught Richard Branson how to do the running man.*

I have trundled around the streets of Tunbridge Wells dressed as a big cuddley polar bear.*

I have wheeled a GIANT Santa in front of the US embassy and sung carols.*

I have bantered with Esther Rantzen in front of an audience of hundreds.*

I have mimicked those New York builders sitting on the girder eating lunch- whilst pregnant nonetheless.*

And then today I ‘as bin gallivanting around the streets of London with a big fat genuine TANK. *

Come with me for a tick, back a couple of years, to another amazing and surreal experience with Oxfam. It involved spending time in rural Cambodia, seeing the work Oxfam does in poor villages out there, arriving home just days before my daughter Ramona was conceived.  (In fact, we joked for most of my pregnancy about how a little Cambodian baby might surprise us, bahahahaha, ooh, teehee.)

As a result of the Khmer Rouge and the Pol Pot years Cambodia had a huge share of weapons within its borders.  When the armed struggles began to fizzle out soldiers from all sides went back to their homes and took their guns with them. Some estimates suggest there were close to one million unregistered weapons in that small country. As you can imagine, the presence of guns in almost every home was having a dire effect on families, in much the same way the presence of guns has an effect in my own neighbourhood of Peckham.

Fortunately for Cambodia, back in 2003, some passionate peeps decided to tackle this injustice by launching the Control Arms campaign- fighting for a UN treaty on the arms trade.   Mobs  of people from across the world joined in with the One Million Faces campaign – I added my freckly grin, as did thousands of Cambodians- even those based out in local, rural villages joined this struggle for justice in the arms trade.

Such a global force couldn’t be overlooked and  just a few months after the  this creative petition was presented to the UN work began on a historic, legally-binding international Arms Trade Treaty. (Campaigning works, it really truly DOES!)

As we know these things take time but whilst in Cambodia I was gobsmacked to see that even just TALK of an Arms Treaty was making an impact. The momentum of the global campaign had fortified national efforts to stop the arms trade, developed the campaigning consciousness of Cambodians AND lead to the handing in and burning of thousands of weapons during Gun Destruction week.  (Campaigning WORKS! Yes! It blooming WORKS!)

Now, two years on from my visit to Cambodia we have entered the final stages of an Arms Trade Treaty, and I have a little tot. Once you have children, your hopes for a more peaceful and just world become just that bit more crisp. The chance for a strong Arms Treaty that could make the lives of other children untold times more peaceful is moving nearer.

Which brings us to today and our tank. We (some activists and some policy wonks) were delivering letters and reports (read it if you like that kinda thing) to 5 key embassies, countries that have a key role to play at one of the final negotiating conferences beginning on Monday in New York. On that day too, a  global petition is once again being handed over, asking them to ensure this Treaty is effective and strong. You have just FOUR days to add your voice.

I want to see a world free from mindless violence, communities restored from the damage of guns. I want to see the young people my husband works with as a youth worker in Peckham and the young people I met in those villages of Cambodia knowing the sense of tangible peace. I want to see kids playing in streets free from tanks. I want Ramona and her generation to  inherit a more reconciled world . An Arms Treaty is one step along the way.

As we know (I may have mentioned it once or twice already) campaigning WORKS – let’s make it happen this time.  

 

*We were promoting Oxfam as the primary charity partner for the London Marathon.

*We were enticing people along to see the fantastic film, the Age of Stupid.

*We were singing climate carols and asking them to stop blocking progress at the Copenhagen Climate Change summit.

*I was basically trying to mass invite the audience to come along to the Put People First rally and she saw straight through me.

*We were raising awareness of how risky childbirth is in poor countries.

*We are giving a final push to get people to sign up for a robust Arms Trade Treaty. Please join us!

Finding things, Green things, Thrifty

Best Charity Shops London: twenty shops in three spots

23 March, 2012

If you are stuck for something to do this weekend and love bagging awesome shit check out my three top spots for the best charity shops London style. These are my favourite because they are either part of a route of charity shops or close by to some other fantastic activities. I have gone the extra mile for you, beloved reader, and have created some google maps to guide you around these routes. No one likes traipsing around with only the rumour of a vintage palace spurring you on. Trust me on these routes, they are not the ones featured in some posh newspaper by a journo who has wandered past a fancy looking charity shop with Vivienne Westwood in the window. These are the best charity shops London locals know of and love…Best Charity Shops London

Pimilico Charity Shop Circuit
Pimlico – such an easy area to get to, just a five minute walk south of the huge, central, Victoria Train Station. I know this circuit like the back of my hand- I get to do the rounds at least once a week on a lunch break. What a treat!

There are EIGHT, yes, EIGHT, shops in this tiny circuit. Fara really rule the roost here with Fara Retromania (with a fun £5 rail outside), a normal shop and a Fara Kids. The Oxfam shop is excellent for shoes, and smart clothing. The Sue Ryder is a fairly cheap one, the Trinity Hospice is great for fabric ends and wool, the Fara Kids has brilliant -if pricey- stylish kids clothes (but jawdropping sales.) I have bought lots of lovely items from the normal Fara and a few crazy bits and bobs from Retromania. I have worked in this patch for FIVE YEARS and it was only last summer that I found out about a sneaky little shop hiding one block back, where I have since found some beautiful jewelry. I felt so ripped off, imagining five years worth of bargains I had missed out on!
Here is the public Google Map of the Pimlico circuit for you.
It is easy to make a day of it by having a delicious lunch at the market by Fara Kids (check out the falafal stand) and then a wander a bit further down towards the Thames to Tate Britain, where they have a spectacular crafty kids corner. You wouldn’t know such a cultural hotspot could be five minutes from the back of the concrete jungle that is Vauxhall Bridge Road.

Blackheath
There are only two charity shops here but I count this as one of my favourite areas as thrifting fits so easily into a wonderful fun day and I have got some incredible, beautiful clothing here. There is an Oxfam here and a Cancer Research, both of which can be a tiny bit more expensive (average £7 trousers/ £4 top) but the quality tends to be quite high. We will often train into Blackheath, hop the shops, grab a delicious lunch at one of the delis, then wander over the Heath via the icecream van, into the wonders of Greenwhich park and down to the antique markets. This is a whole Saturday with something for every member of the family. I have highlighted the shops on the map here.

Central London
This is not a route for the faint of heart but for the stoic bargain hunter wearing hiking boots. If you want a real experience of central London tourism and all the best charity shops London offers up this is the route for you. You will find some swag! Begin at Goodge Street, there is a wonderful Oxfam where I never fail to buy something (often brand new stuff), a Sue Ryder and a Notting Hill (both of which are good for a browse but can be quite dear- average £8 trousers, £5-6 top). There is also a high end vintage shop on the other side of the road.

Head south west down to Oxford Circus stopping at the Salvation Army on Princes Street. It is worth the diversion this is quite a massive shop and they often have brand new designer items, alongside average shoddy (but cheap!) gear. They often have very glamorous shoes and boutique dresses. Whatever you do though, DON’T USE THE CHANGING ROOM WITHOUT ASKING. You will be embarrassed if they catch you (!!!)

If you still have wind in your sails, grab some lunch and keep heading west, but back North a little to Marylebone. This is a little area jampacked with charity shops. They are filled with designer goods and the prices do reflect this but if you are looking for some good quality shizzle, Marlybone has your name on it. It is also full of lovely little independent shops and is right on the edge of glorious Regent’s Park where you can catch some music in the bandstand, or collapse under a tree with your bags of bargains!

Check out the route here and PLEASE add more if I have missed any gems!

What do you reckon- have you visited these patches? Have you got a favourite charity shop London circuit you do or a place you could wile away a whole day?

Upcycle Bread Bin

 

Beautiful Clean Shampoo Free hair

Activism, Parenting

International Women’s Day – Get Happy. Get Mad.

8 March, 2012

It is International Day of the Woman! I love the eclecticness of this day. That it is a time to celebrate the inventors, the Nobel Prize winners, the mothers, the smiling bus drivers, the stereotype challenging female construction workers. But also that it is a chance to raise awareness of the ongoing plight of women – the women dying in childbirth, the women locked out of decisions,  the hungry ones (80% of the 1 billion hungry people are female), the everyday oppression that my daughter and I face sitting on a bus driving past objectified female bodies on billboards. It is simultaneously a day to get party popper happy and a day to get letter writingly furious.

(What? No one else writes letters when you are angry?! When something crap happens to me my most fire breathing response is: THEY ARE GETTING A LETTER!!!!!!! )

Recently a colleague asked me if things have changed for me since motherhood’s dawn- have my priorities shifted? I thought for a while before I answered. Might I have become a bit more locally focused? A bit more mum, a bit less global citizen? I answered with total honesty when I replied no. Things haven’t shifted. If anything being a mother adds a fury filter, a ragey lens through which I see things – how dare people make decisions that will drive more conflict into Ramona’s globe? How dare those advertisers create even more limitations on her future?  I wrote recently that being a mother IS enough. I believe that. Being a mother has the potential to be massively world changing. But motherhood definitely makes me more determined to nurture beauty and peace and equality and freedom. For Ramona’s sake and the sake of millions of other children around the world. 

I hope you find chance this International Women’s Day to be both delighted and cross. Personally I am going to use my anger with Equals because they have a HOST of suggestions for taking action and use my happiness on a smoothie date with another mum and child. Feel free to share what you are up to, would love to hear about it. If you have blogged about International Women’s day PLEASE link up – and take a chance to read and comment on the other posts.

Happy International Women’s Day! 

DIY, Finding things, Thrifty

Extreme (budget) Makeover – the recycled lounge

3 November, 2011

“Apart from a handful of things given to us, our entire house is created from stuff we have found on the side of the road, or in charity shops” I explained to a friend. He scanned the lounge where we were sitting and said “Yup… I can beleive it”.

Bahaha.

So maybe the random array of furniture and funny little odds and ends (and the smell of cat wee) (just kidding) gives it away a little. But we love it, and that is what counts, eh?

Here are some horrendoes befores:


We had carpet put in on Monday, and Tim scored some amazing bits of furniture from a skip the day after which just completed it all for us. So here is the Big Reveal of the lounge, a year after we began!

The big soldier was £5 from Oxfam in Streatham (I have raved about this shop before. It is amazing!)

The little soldiers were £5 from the Fara kids shop in Pimlico

The curtains were £70 from the Mind shop in East Dulwich. Yep. 7 0. But they are lovely and thick and long and we had been searching for some time. Plus, it all goes to charity innit.

Then we have a big deep drawer next to the sofa which is great for holding all of Ramona’s toys. We found it round the corner, minus the desk!

This sofa is also from Streatham Oxfam, it was £35 and is so huge it is possible to sleep on it. Love. The cushions are from various charity shops, or made for us by our lovely friend.

Here is the other end of the lounge, and apologies for the even worse photos these puppies will make you feel dizzy. It is so dark down there and my camera hates on it.

This sofa/bench and the bureau were the bits Tim found in the skip. The school bench was £8 from a junk shop in Peckham. The old school pull along duck was £1 from a little school car boot (those are the BEST for kids stuff, unbelieveably cheap.)

This white book case was once pine and in the bin of a neighbours house, we pulled it out and painted it white. It’s not flash but it does a job! One of these sewing machines was found on the street, the other given to me for my birthday, but originated from Oxfam in West Wickham. The abacus was 50p from a charity shop – Ramona loves it! And the various frames were picked up from charity shops.

The desk lamp was £1 from another school car boot. I love finding glass things and putting stuff in them- jars full of pegs or scrabble letters.

So there it is, the recycled lounge- a mixture of charity shopping obsession and pure – finding – things – on – the- street- luck.