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Michael Zelmer

Michael Zelmer

by Oxfam | May 17, 2010

I've been a member of Oxfam since 2001. I'd come across several Oxfam reports in my studies and travels prior to connecting with the organization, and I decided to look them up when I moved back to Vancouver. The very first thing I did was stuff a tonne of envelopes and put up countless posters, as so many of us have done before. Within a month I was working with a volunteer committee to organize a world music event called, `Afghanisdance. The event raised several thousand dollars for Oxfam's work in Afghanistan, which was just before the US-led invasion.

For the next several years my work was mostly focussed on Fair Trade, starting with an internship with Oxfam. Later I spent time living in a Fair Trade farmers' co-op in Nicaragua and after that I was hooked… lots of workshops, flyers, actions, public and business engagement, and, finally, several Ethical Purchasing Policies.

I hold a BA in Anthropology and an MA with a thesis focussed on the environmental significance of Fair Trade and organic coffee in Nicaragua. Oxfam's campaign work on Fair Trade work has definitely wound down since its peak a few years ago so I've moved into other areas of volunteering. Recently I've been spending most of my time supporting Oxfam's governance, including volunteering as Chair of the BC-Yukon Regional Steering Committee.

Volunteering with Oxfam has definitely developed my project management skills. I've never found volunteering with Oxfam like a job where someone else put me to work. Rather, it's more like you see a need, you figure out a way to meet it, and you see it through. You're usually not working with a lot of resources (human or financial), so you learn to approach problems creatively and efficiently. I've also learned how organizations like Oxfam function, which has helped me professionally, as it's given me a solid basis for comparison when working with other non-profit organizations or charities.

There have been lots of good times, and I'm happy to know my efforts have helped people. I've also learned a great deal, which has been quite rewarding.


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