It was a Monday night, and we were hiking 26km worth of trails – only a quarter of the amount we would face in March in the Oxfam Trailwalker. We’d managed to wrangle three of our team members together on the same night – which is harder than it sounds – plus two extra friends for morale.
We walked down a long but familiar stretch of rural road, and talked about the effectiveness of the tram system in Melbourne. We followed alongside the Wairoa river and talked about our friend who comes here after dark to poach blackberries. Darkness fell as we hiked up a steep track in the forest, and we talked about how probably it would have been best to have five working headlights rather than two-and-a-half. The stars were out and we hiked along a forestry road up above the Village, and we talked about how there’s enough track up there to make a Trailwalker in Clevedon. And we walked down the last big hill thinking about what it was that was keeping us going on that Monday night.
“The small rivers and creeks have all dried out. The nearest water is ten minutes away. I fetch it in buckets and containers,” said Margaret Kondango, of Papua New Guinea, as I walk along sipping clean water I got from my kitchen tap.
“The drought has hit hard on this community… People are hungry, they don’t eat much; food is reduced. The yield of food crops has been reduced by more than 70 per cent,” said Silas Orrocco, also of Papua New Guinea, as I pick blackberries with one hand and hold trail snacks in the other.
Just like us, Margaret has a family. She is married with six children. Just like us, Silas has a job. He is the Community Leader for Sirumgoralo Village. Unlike us, they were forced to fight for basic necessities during a climate cycle that was beyond their control
El Niño occurs every few years and is caused by the heating of the surface of the tropical Pacific Ocean. It left Papua New Guinea in a drought-like state during the summer of 2015/2016 which impacted upon access to clean water for drinking, cooking and cleaning. The cycle itself occurs every few years, the last one ending in early 2016, but the humanitarian effects on people like Margaret, Silas and their communities last a lot longer.
The effects of El Niño are just one of many things that are fuelling poverty in the Pacific. Developing countries in our neighbourhood are being affected by things they can’t control whether they’re to do with climate change and weather, natural disasters, economic issues, social injustice or inequality. Oxfam Trailwalker is Oxfam’s biggest fundraising event and helps to raise funds vital for implementing programmes around the world to combat the root causes of poverty.
Where these issues are concerned, it’s the ones who contribute the least that are affected the most. And that’s what kept us going on that Monday night. Oxfam Trailwalker does much more than physically challenge participants; it challenges poverty, inequality and injustice. It extends far beyond a sporting event, and that is where the true magic of it lies.
Oxfam Trailwalker is people empowering people in a very raw form. That’s what I love about it – it’s people simply being together and walking. Although ultimately we walk to get vital donations for Oxfam’s programmes, doing Oxfam Trailwalker is more than just giving a donation – you’re giving your whole self for a period of time, which is a beautiful act of support and is what’s so special about the event.
The comradery and shared goals of the event bring people together, both over the weekend and also globally through Oxfam’s programmes that are made possible by the money raised.
By walking, we’re enabling Oxfam to provide life-saving water, food, shelter and systems in the wake of humanitarian crises and natural disasters, we’re enabling people in developing countries to have a voice in the big decisions that will affect them, and we’re enabling poverty solutions to be implemented in the world’s most vulnerable communities, so people can lift themselves out of poverty and thrive.
In response to the drought conditions in Papua New Guinea last summer, Oxfam implemented a ‘WASH’ (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) response to improve access to sanitation facilities and safe water for drinking, cooking and cleaning. Through the money raised in events like Trailwalker, Oxfam was able to provide support to 86,377 people in Papua New Guinea to date.
“Before Oxfam came many people in the community were sick and they died… because they provided toilets and water and how to be hygienic less people have gone to the hospital,” said Margaret.
“I am very, very happy for Oxfam coming here. In our traditional custom when we’re happy we scream. I want to scream but we’re in a closed room! So I just want to say that I’m very thankful that they’ve sent this training.”
Mobilising a huge group of people who all believe in the same cause is a very powerful thing, with very powerful results. Supporting the world’s most vulnerable people is made possible through events like Oxfam Trailwalker. And when it’s midnight on event weekend and you’re tired and cold and only half way there, it’s people like Margaret and Silas that keep you going.
It’s no skin off our back (although maybe a little off our feet) but it makes a huge difference in the lives of those with the least.
Oxfam Trailwalker 2017 is being held in Whakatāne on March 25th – 26th. Head to oxfamtrailwalker.org.nz to enter.
Eilish Maddock is a current intern at Oxfam New Zealand, working on the Media and Communications team, and is doing the Oxfam Trailwalker this year for the third time with her team ’50 Shades of Chafe’.