A pound or two can save lives

Jodie Sandford in Zimbabwe
Jodie Sandford in Zimbabwe
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On the eve of International Women’s Day, a mum of two tells how she saw what a difference her modest donations to Oxfam are making to families in Zimbabwe

One good turn deserves another, they say.

It turned out to be true for a Barnsley mum who for the last seven years has been donating to charity.

Thanks to the £2 a month Jodie Sandford donates, she flew off on an all-expenses-paid trip to South Africa.

It was no luxury holiday, though; Jodie was the first donor ever to be taken to an Oxfam aid project to see with her own eyes why her money is needed.

Her destination was a dirt-poor rural village in poverty-stricken Zimbabwe, a country wrestling with hyper-inflation, mass unemployment, dire food shortages and the further devastation caused by drought.

The 38-year-old traded her comfortable life in South Hiendley and a high-flying job in IT to meet families existing on one meal a day and water drawn from a stagnant pond and listen, humbled, to their stories of survival against huge odds.

She was chosen from millions of Oxfam donators by the British charity’s new See For Yourself fund-raising campaign, which enables supporters like Jodie to see how their donations, no matter how big or small, have a meaningful impact on the lives of people living in poverty.

“In December I filled in an on-line Oxfam form. I thought hundreds of people would apply so I didn’t even mention it to Matt, my husband,” she says.

But three weeks later, she got a call; she had made the shortlist of 10. Three days after a face-to-face interview at Oxfam’s HQ, she was invited to Zimbabwe.

Stunned Jodie had just a month to organise inoculations and malaria tablets, work out childcare for Finlay, six, and Evie, five, and get cover at work – she’s an operations manager for Civica, a hosting and software development company and manages 21 people.

A film crew travelled with her to capital Harare and on to visit a water and irrigation project in the distant Gutu District, helping local families to sustainably grow their own food.

“Our accommodation in Gutu was very basic – we had no running water and no electricity. Simple meals were cooked on an open fire and there were cockroaches, large ants and spiders to contend with. But it was luxurious compared to the way so many people had to live,” she reflects.

Thanks to the crew’s footage of her experiences, Jodie is now to star in a major Oxfam fundraising campaign launching next month. She will see herself in the charity’s latest TV, print and on-line advertising campaign, which she hopes will persuade more people to give.

Oxfam’s Paul Vanags, head of public fundraising, said: “Jodie can give a genuine insight into where money donated to Oxfam is spent. We hope the campaign will encourage lots of people to sign up to give regular donations,”

Jodie’s eyes had first been opened to South African families enduring poverty on her honeymoon seven years ago when she and Matt holidayed in Cape Town. “We visited a township with a guide who lived there and although we were made very welcome, it was harrowing and shocking to see how poverty was forcing people to live,” she remembers.

“We signed up to Oxfam so we could do something to help families like the ones we had seen. We already donated each month to the NSPCC, Cancer Research and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. In total, £20 now goes out of our joint account to charities each month and I am proud that we are doing something to help other people.

“Matt and I both work, but we’ve got two children so our budget is tight. Honestly, though, we don’t miss the money and I am proud that we give. Even more so now I know where our money is going.

“I can’t even buy a cup of coffee for £2 on my lunchbreak, but I have seen with my own eyes that in Zimbabwe such a small amount of money actually can make a difference to someone’s life.

“My experience has really made me think about how we spend money and what we really need and what we don’t,” says Jodie.

“Now I’m back in my comfortable life I am increasing my monthly donation to Oxfam – and I’ll be urging everyone I know to sign up and do the same.”

Read more on Jodie’s journey at www.oxfam.org.uk/seeforyourself

Family’s hardships strike a chord with this mother

As Jodie Sandford tucks up her children in bed at night, she cannot help but think of two tiny children, thousands of miles away and wonder if they are still alive.

Month-old twins Thomas and Kefas, whom Jodie took turns to cradle in her arms, were the youngest children of Esther and Nelson, a starving family in rural Gutu who invited Jodie into their home.

“They had nothing and lived like many other families I met, in mud huts with no furniture, no running water, no electricity, no food. There was nothing for the babies, not even clothes and to think of the amount we spend on kitting out nurseries,” says Jodie. “Unemployment is at 90 per cent and they have to grow food to survive, but the rains have caused massive problems.

“Esther was 34, younger than me, and so frail; when there wasn’t enough food for her other four children she was the one who would go without food,” remembers Jodie.

“She was trying to breast-feed the twins but was so malnourished she wasn’t producing enough breast milk. To keep them alive she was having to feed them on a porridge she made from maize and the only water the family had access to – drawn in buckets from a stagnant pond two fields away.

“It really shocked me. The babies were far too young for solids, let alone the bacteria that was in the water, but what else could she do?”

There is hope for Esther and Nelson and their children; they live close to the 22km Ruti dam in rural Gutu where Oxfam is working with families facing starvation. Many have been given small plots of land in the dam area to grow their own food and work is ongoing to install irrigation pipes to route water from the dam to the crops. It will mean up to three harvests a year and a way out of hunger and fear.

“Nelson has only just been given his land so things are still desperately hard. But I also met a woman of 47 who was several stages on; she had harvested three crops of maize and had enough food to feed her family, give some to her neighbours and sell enough to be able to afford to build a granary and buy herself a pushbike to get herself to the fields.

“She looked so different; she was even wearing nail varnish, which was a complete luxury. That’s what I hope will happen to Esther.”

The task ahead

Of the 1.3 billion people living in poverty worldwide, more than two-thirds are women and girls.

Oxfam is urging women to celebrate International Women’s Day tomorrow by organising fundraising get-togethers with friends to help support women around the world.

Every minute a woman with no medical care dies in pregnancy or childbirth, but £46 raised through a Get Together coffee morning could enable Oxfam to train a midwife in Ghana, saving the lives of babies and their mothers.

Two-thirds of all children denied school are girls, but £135 raised at a movie night Get Together could train five teachers in Mali, providing a whole generation of children with the skills they need to work their way out of poverty.

For tips on hosting a Get Together go to www.oxfam.org.uk/womensday