By Nagwa Abdallah
Laura Rusu, a tall slim woman with dark hair, walks the halls of Oxfam America with great self-confidence and a broad smile. Rusu is the policy and campaigns media manager of Oxfam America, where she has worked for eight years.
Rusu says her main concern and mission are this: “Some would think that I am maybe a little naive, when I say that I have the sense that if the people knew that there is injustice happening they will do something about it; it is really about adding our voice to their voice.” A strong voice against social injustice, she has also worked for Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International.
Rusu explains that Oxfam America is one of 15 Oxfam offices around the world working in 90 countries that focus on development issues, humanitarian crises and campaign advocacy. She sees the main mission of Oxfam to help communities that are facing crises or challenges, which is why Oxfam works on changing the problems for people living in poverty. For example, Oxfam works with poor people who are on the frontline with climate change challenges, though they are not responsible for them, Rusu says.
Oxfam also works on hunger issues, she says. Oxfam officials make sure that the farming communities in developing countries are able to get their products to market. The organization also makes sure that farming policies here in the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, do not negatively impact farmers in developing countries. So Oxfam has a number of specific campaigns on this topic, including the “Grow” campaign that works with local American communities on food security issues. The campaign informs them about the global broken food system.
“Up to a billion people in the world go to bed hungry every night, even though there is enough food,” Rusu said. “It is a question of injustice, poor people cannot afford to buy food because policies in the E.U. or U.S. or other countries are hurting and keeping them unable to get out of the poverty.”
A striking example that came to Rusu’s mind is the biofuel policies in United States that have impact on foods prices around the world. U.S. law mandates that 10 percent of the gasoline bought at the pump be made out of ethanol, which is a biodiesel fuel made of corn. The United States is one of the largest exporters of corn in the world and after the drought in the Midwest this past summer, production went down and the price went up. This affects the world price of corn and this also has impact on other food prices such as wheat and rice. So for the poorest people, who often spend between 70 to 80 percent of their income on food, even a minor change in the price is going to make a very big impact on their lives, Rusu said.
Change takes a long time to happen, she says, especially with American audiences. In order to connect with people, a compelling message should be there, with compelling human stories, she said. We need to make sure that we collect those stories, those first-hand accounts, so we can tell the larger story, Rusu said.
Photograph from Oxfam America