Thursday, 19 August 2010

Some thoughts for today

As you probably know, I work for Oxfam, at their head office in Oxford. I’m a communications officer and my job involves writing to donors about Oxfam’s programme work overseas – telling people how we’ve spent their money or asking them to give. Part of the job focuses on emergency response work. I write updates about what Oxfam’s doing in Haiti, the Philippines, Gaza. Today I’ve been writing about Pakistan. I don’t really do the stuff you see on posters on the tube or in your spam email folder – the donors I work for are the rich ones, the big givers, celebrities, millionaires, trusts and corporations. But today I wanted to change that for a minute. As I’ve probably told you a million times before, I hate sitting at a desk and I’m not really that likely to be all consumed by my job. But for some reason when I write about emergencies it’s different, and when I find myself moved to tears at work, that’s when I know it’s important.

This flooding has been going on in Pakistan for nearly three weeks now. Perhaps it’s not one of those huge shocking emergencies like the earthquake in Haiti, but almost 20 million people have been affected. That’s more than the tsunami and the Haiti earthquake put together. It’s four times the population of Scotland. It’s a fifth of Pakistan underwater. There’s a pretty scary-looking image here of the flooding overlaid on a map of the UK.

People are sleeping outside because their homes are gone, and they’re going to start dying of starvation and diarrhoea and cholera because there’s no food and no clean water. A lot of the people affected probably have relatives in the UK. The thing that made me cry was hearing Oxfam’s humanitarian director who has just come back from Pakistan. She said there are whole roads and bridges snapped off that look like they’re in a cartoon, and people are walking for days to get food. She talked to a man who had walked for three days to bring back one bag of flour. When she asked him what he would do in the winter, he just burst into tears.

Now you might have stopped reading by now – no-one likes to be guilt-tripped into making a charity donation or paying attention to something on the other side of the world when there are plenty of problems at home. I’m a charity communicator now, for my sins, but I absolutely hate charity communications. I switch off when I see those posters on the tube and I delete the emails straight away. But the longer I work at Oxfam the more I feel that the world is a tiny place, and that it’s nothing but luck that I happen to be here and not there – wherever ‘there’ is on any particular day of writing about emergencies. I think it’s a problem of charity communications that the raw, powerful, human message often becomes deadened into just another shiny marketing slogan. But I just want to say that I’ve seen the original reports from Pakistan before they became branded and marketised. There are real people there, and everything is true. People are people. So if you have anything to spare, please consider making a donation to the Pakistan floods appeal. You can do it at Oxfam's website, where there's also a lot of up-to-date information on the response, or via the Disasters Emergency Committee. I promise that it will be spent well.

Thank you!
Zoe x

Note: These are my own personal views, not those of Oxfam.