By Karla Casique
A chapter of Oxfam America has established itself at the University of Maryland, and students have begun to take part in movements that demand equality and respect for humans that face injustice.
Focusing on ending systems that produce poverty, the 70-year-old organization is active in over 90 countries, responding to the needs of marginalized communities. Oxfam America was originally located in Washington, D.C., before it moved to Boston in 1973. Its name originates from the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, which was founded in Britain in 1942 by a group of Quakers, social activists and Oxford academics.
This year marked their highest dollar investment in their program services, according to their research, due to their work in responding to the needs of refugees around the world and the Nepal earthquakes that demolished communities.
In terms of how college students can help, Oxfam has given them opportunities to have a direct impact in local, national and international issues.
“As a student, I struggle with hearing about these issues and not having a channel to really do something about it,” said Nishka Hatten, a junior civil engineering major.
Members of Oxfam comment that the charity has opened their minds to issues they would have never been exposed to, such as the mistreatment of U.S. poultry workers.
“The four top chicken factories in the country, like Tyson Foods and Perdue, aren’t treating their workers correctly; they aren’t giving them bathroom breaks or proper health care; they’re threatening them with deportation,” said Autumn Thompson, a junior American studies major and global poverty minor and one of the co-presidents of Oxfam at this university. The other co-president is Nicole Moy, a senior biology major.
Thompson highlighted that the chapter spread the word about a petition to stop the injustice and tabled at different events to educate students about it.
“I am more conscious now about where I buy things from and all the impact it has on the workers and what goes into what I am buying,” Hatten said.
The global movement is known for not accepting government grants and, instead, relying on grassroot support. It also does not take any political stance; however, on Dec. 10, Oxfam released a statement highlighting their concern of Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson’s supposed nomination as Secretary of State under Donald Trump’s presidency, saying that he “lacks the commitment, experience and skills for the job.”
“I think everything has an underlying political value, too, if so when something is wrong, it kind of frustrates me that an organization won’t take a firm stance objecting to something, like the election for example,” Thompson said.
Not having a bias might be attractive to people and make them more willing to join the organization, Thompson said, which is a plus considering the club currently has 10 permanent members. By joining the Do Good Challenge, an eight-week competition during the spring semesters aimed to encourage students to create initiatives to do service or social enterprises.
Oxfam America at this university has received $500 in seed funding and will focus on the world refugee crisis, hosting seven events during the period.
The chapter is already collaborating with other student organizations, such as the Food Recovery Network, and hosting a hunger banquet for next year.
Although some of the issues the nonprofit is combatting are national and international, the impact is also felt locally.
“There are refugee shelters around here in P.G. County,” said Malika Bai, a sophomore public health science major. “I think it’s important that we work on topics that are local so students are able to help out and volunteer.”
Thompson said she hopes the club continues even after she graduates.
“I have hopes … that this club will still be very prevalent and have a sustainable presence on campus just because this is a connection for students who want to get into the field of nonprofit management, human rights and things like that,” Thompson said.
Featured Photo Credit: Featured photo courtesy of Oxfam America at the University of Maryland on Facebook.
Karla Casique is a junior journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.