Well, I thought when I got caught in the streets by an Oxfam worker that maybe giving my details would end in a blog post somehow. It was kind of embarrassing in that usual way it is when someone has a really good sob story and you’re skint. Anyhow, today (several months later), someone rang back. And here’s the accompanying blog post…
I have to say, I spent parts of the call getting quite amused by my A* answers. “What do you think Oxfam does?” “Well, first I think its a development agency doing long term development work, but alongside that it does emergency disaster relief and lobbying on behalf of the world’s poorest”. Top marks. Go me. No really, lets be serious…
So we entered the realm of charity-uncold-calling. It was interesting how the person in the call center began with campaigns. Hmmm, suspect I ticked the box simply by fliering bikes for Critical Mass when I got caught by the street data collector. She proceeded to explain the current campaigning drive, which is basically Trade Justice.
Now this is an interesting campaign, which just so happens to be the exact campaign which nearly dragged Make Poverty History into irretrievable political wranglings. The issue which, wonder of wonders, when 2005 was nearly at a close, and people started to try and take stock of the disaster (and NGO PR guru’s were writing victory emails, but lets forget them for a minute, because they’re not the real story.
Anyhow, the real story there and then was that NGO’s realised that for the last few years, they’d been fighting for something which no one could describe in real terms. Yes, they could tell what it wasn’t, i.e. its the status where the poorest countries aren’t being forced out of the benefits of world trade anymore. The thing, is, actually write a prescriptive list of bullet points, and you’ll find every NGO on Earth disagrees with you, the WTO is laughing at you and Brown is phoning a different NGO, because he can afford to fulfill their requests and still maintain the general essence of the status quo, which is, of course, in real terms, Trade Injustice.
So yeah, Oxfam are still campaigning on something that is basically an economics lecturers pet essay question, with about a million potential answers and no correct answer, the kind which is really annoying and really easy at the same time, if only you accept that you will never provide an actual solution to the problem.
That aside, we move on to development, which is basically the noble cause of bringing education to the world. Apparently Oxfam got told that HIV infection rates double in populations that failed to complete a primary education. And being a good aid agency, they’re using local talent and resources, training local teachers, all good stuff, all ready
Anyhow, the big bit that I really wanted to relay was the last bit of the call, because while its sometimes fun taking the Mickey out of the rather pathetic, contradictory and sometimes downright unhelpful attempts of the liberal NGO world, they do serve a purpose. Even now, as Oxfam rings up people who gave over their information on the streets, they’re still finding people who are concerned enough to stop in the streets and chat to an Oxfam staffer but who remain oblivious to the situation in Darfur.
While I’m not entirely sure how Oxfam are physically able to help a half million refugees by themselves, when that figure was quoted to me it did strike me as an amazing humanitarian undertaking and one which even the Climate Camp organisers would have real trouble dealing with, let alone the more hapless activist bodies (need I mention names?).
Oxfam may have been the biggest singular reason the Make Poverty History campaign failed to achieve real gains, but when it comes to humanitarian and disaster relief work, its maybe hard to see who could actually do better. And with the world not yet woken up to the reality of the situation in Darfur, I guess a name like Oxfam raising the issue with people can only be a good thing. The called also made a good point, which is basically that regular giving is much better than one-offs, because Oxfam can’t plan its activities when it does know what’s coming in next month.
One day, maybe the grassroots activists, who are less with cuddling politicians and more with standing up to their lack of substantive action, might have enough capacity to do the kind of aid work which protects huge numbers of lives in conflict zones, but until then, we might have to rely on the megaliths of the NGO sector to sort things out.