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Staying strong in a crisis

What choices would you make?


When disaster strikes, the only option is to think and act fast. But choosing what to do is usually far from easy. Explore the sorts of decisions families face during an emergency below - and find out how Oxfam staff support people to make the best choices when the worst happens.

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The reality of poverty

Meet the Traore family from Mali, West Africa – Moussa, Rokia, Fatime, and Lamine.

They used to have seven goats and a cow, and tended a small piece of land. The rains didn't come this year so they had no crops and the animals died. They have no other income so cannot afford to buy enough food to eat. There is a school in the area, but they can’t afford for both children to go so Fatime now stays at home. They want Lamine to go to school, particularly for the free school meals, but he is too embarrassed to go without a school uniform that fits properly. What should the Traores do?

Should they all move to Bamako (capital city) to stay together and find work?Choose

Should they stay where they are and hope that the rains come?Choose

Should Moussa move to the city to find work, sending money back to his family?Choose

If they do, they are likely to face discrimination as rural dwellers coming to the city. And with no social network to get them started, it will be really hard to find work. They have no money so where will they live? It is likely that they will turn to begging, and Rokia and Fatime may turn to prostitution as a desperate last resort. The whole family are likely to be powerless to earn money and to make their own choices.

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It is possible that the rains won’t come soon enough or for long enough to rejuvenate the crops before the next season. So their situation may worsen with no chance for improvement.

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The only work Moussa might find is unskilled labour, but work will be hard to find without any friends or other contacts in the city. It is hard for anyone to find their way in a new city, when they have no money, no home, and no friends or family. When he does come across a job he can do, he is likely to face fierce competition and has no guarantee of getting it. Any money he does earn will be sent home – so he will be living hand-to-mouth. He will also be worried about the safety of his family, as his wife and children live in an area where there is a threat of violence and rape from armed groups . Back home, Rokia and her children will feel scared without Moussa there to protect them. They are likely to receive little or no money from him, and will be worried that he will never come home.

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The best chance for a brighter future

How should Oxfam help

In a rural area in the north of Mali, West Africa, the seasonal rains have failed, causing crop failure and killing cattle. The Traore family are split up as the father, Moussa, travels to the capital city Bamako in search of work. No-one has heard from him for a few months, and food is becoming increasingly more scarce. Rokia is desperately working the land to try to save the crops, and get something from the very little rain, to no avail. Oxfam and other aid agencies are now in the area, and work together with local communities to see what is needed. After talking with members of the community, the Traores are identified as some of the people who need aid the most. To address the immediate need of hunger, what should Oxfam do?

Should Oxfam give the family food handouts to alleviate the immediate hunger?Choose

Should Oxfam give the family cash handouts to buy food and other necessities?Choose

Should Oxfam employ Rokia in her community, giving her “cash for work”?Choose

There is food in the area, but people can’t earn enough money to buy it. If families like Rokia’s are given food aid , there will be no source of income for local traders so they will stop coming to the area. Plus, if and when Oxfam leaves, the Traore family will be back to square one. Also, Rokia feels ashamed carrying food parcels – she wants to provide for her family. To make things worse, Rokia might not know how to cook the food that would be distributed. It would need to be pounded with a machine but she only has a traditional pounder. This would also be an expensive solution for Oxfam, because of the cost of fuel needed to transport the food.

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With cash, Rokia can buy the food that her family need, as well as other necessities like toiletries and school clothes. Oxfam would need to tell nearby traders that cash has been given out in this community, so that the traders make the effort to go there. This cash handout would really help – for now. However, Rokia would still be unable to make her land fertile enough to support her family.

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Oxfam has learnt about various irrigation techniques from their work in other parts of West Africa. This would be shared with Rokia and her community, and using these new techniques they would be able to rejuvenate their land. In the meantime Rokia could be given cash for this work (for example, digging irrigation channels), and she would learn new skills. The end result would be that, when the rains eventually do come, they will be better equipped to store it and deal with periods of drought – ultimately securing ongoing income for her children’s food and schooling. This would be fine as long as Rokia stays fit and healthy enough to do the work, otherwise her children would do the work instead and never return to school.

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Creating change that lasts

How does Oxfam work with people to overcome poverty?

Rokia Traore lives with her children in northern Mali, West Africa. Her life was devastated when the seasonal rains didn’t come, killing the family's animals and crops. Her husband went to the capital city to earn some money for the family, but she hasn’t heard from him for a few months. But after a 'cash for work' scheme run by her community with support from Oxfam, she is beginning to get her children's health and education back on track. Now she faces the difficult decision of whether or not to give up her family’s small piece of land and way of life (and community support that comes with it) as the rains are becoming less and less reliable.

Oxfam is in the region, working with local community organisations and other aid agencies to see how they can support Rokia and others in a similar position to get some control back over their lives. The support offered to Rokia is varied, and they each benefit her family in many ways. Here is what happens next...

What's next for the Traores?Show

Rokia starts a new business...
Rokia is given a business loan which she uses to set up a kiosk in a nearby town to earn some additional income.

Rokia rejuvenates her land...
Oxfam provides Rokia with tools, seeds and more training on irrigation techniques (based on learning from other pastoralists in West Africa). The rains eventually come and her land is fertile again. Rokia is happy that if the rains fail next season, they will be better able to deal with it.

Moussa comes home...
When Moussa failed to find work in Bamako, he felt powerless and unable to return home without being able to support his family as he'd promised. But when the rains finally came, he rushed home to tend the land. Through Oxfam Unwrapped, the Traore family's animals are restocked. They have a bit more control for now, and are more likely to withstand the effects of drought in the future.

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What's next for Oxfam?Show

Other families don't face the same situation...
Oxfam supports community leaders to get their voices heard by the Malian government. Then Oxfam pressures the government to 1) develop food reserves to feed families during periods of food shortages, and 2) provide better access to fertile land for animals to graze on during the dry season (this kind of land is usually allocated to sugar plantations). Oxfam also works to challenge prejudices about rural dwellers within the government, and also through the media.

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