I’m a writer and editor (https://roblucastaylor.com) born and raised in Port Moody, British Columbia and living in Vancouver with my wife, Marta. I was married to this aforementioned wife of mine in the Summer of 2008, a high from which I still haven’t come down! In my free time, I run an online magazine of Ghanaian poetry (https://oneghanaonevoice.com) and play Ultimate three days a week. My wife and I also host some pretty rocking bridge tournaments, with trophies and everything.
I joined Oxfam in September 2001, just after I’d graduated from high school. I had known about Oxfam my whole life, mostly through my involvement with the United Church (my father was a minister), and I gravitated to the Oxfam booth at Simon Fraser University in the first week of class. I was very interested in reaching out to high school students (I still felt like one!) about social and economic issues that were important to me, and at the time the Vancouver office was running an outreach program in high schools on sweatshop awareness. So I started my work out of the Vancouver office as a sweatshop workshop facilitator, which was rather terrifying (I was younger than some of the people I was presenting to!) but very rewarding.
Since that first experience, I’ve gone on to try a little bit of almost everything Oxfam has offered me as a member. I’ve done the workshop thing, I’ve coordinated our summer outreach programming, I’ve helped organize fundraisers, I’ve sat on the Regional Steering Committee, I’ve served one term on the National Board as the Youth Director, I’ve dressed up as a bobble-head Gerhard SchrÃ¶der in Kananaskis for the G8 and as a banana at farmers markets, I’ve spent whole days standing next to porta-potty lines getting Make Trade Fair petition signatures from the full-bladdered masses, I’ve worked in the Vancouver office when the building next to it burned to the ground. What else? I’ve never met Coldplay, though I’ve gotten pretty close. Currently, I’m helping coordinate Vancouver’s Regional Action Team, a sub-group of our Regional Steering Committee. Most impressively, I’ve danced with Robert Fox and Paul Mably at the same time and survived to tell the tale…
I’ve experienced a number of highlights during my time with Oxfam. Certainly my work on the national board has been a highlight, if often a dull and rather bureaucratic one. On an emotional level, one of my favourite memories was New Year’s Eve 2004, when Marta and I kept the Vancouver office open until just before midnight so we could keep taking donations for tsunami relief. Unexpectedly, a CBC radio show called wanting to interview us around 11:00 PM as part of their coverage of the Canadian response to the tsunami. Right after we’d finished the interview, calls offering thousands of dollars in donations started pouring in from all across the province – at 11 p.m. on New Year’s Eve! Everyone was so generous, warm and supportive of Oxfam’s work, and the thought that they were taking time out of their partying plans to make the call made it even more heart warming. It was a great way to ring in a New Year, and it sure beat braving the crowds to see some fireworks downtown.
I’ve learned a great deal through all of these experiences. I started with Oxfam when I was just out of high school (the top of my head was still soft!), though, so it’s hard for me to disentangle what I’ve learned from Oxfam from what I’ve learned from life in general. Oxfam has not been my entire life over the last eight years, but my life wouldn’t have been the life it’s been without Oxfam.
I joined Oxfam because I wanted to do something good in the world, even if I wasn’t quite sure what it was. I stayed with Oxfam because I grew to believe we were one of the few NGOs that understood how change is made in the world: by listening to, and supporting, the incredible work that is already being done in every unseen and unheard pocket of the world.
I’ve seen how successful this can be. Having lived recently in Accra, Ghana I saw countless people working every day to make their lives better: creative people, passionate people, often quite ingenious people. What did they need? A break a trade reform here, an injection of political or logistical support there. They needed a partner not someone to do the work for them, but to work alongside them. They needed a loudspeaker not someone to tell them what to say, but someone to help them say what they’ve been saying all along, only louder. In more voices.
That, in my mind, is what Oxfam has constructed: a global solidarity movement between people already hard at work, each of us helping one another to make positive change in our communities. We’re an organization that views the world as it is, complicated and messy, and doesn’t shy away from or water down those complexities, but takes them on directly. We march outside WTO talks and sit at the board room table inside as advisors, at the same time. It’s a slow path, to be sure, but it€™s the only path that will ultimately lead to success.
What am I trying to say? That the world is a big damn mess and we at Oxfam do our best to figure it out. Sometimes we fail and sometimes we succeed, but we never simplify, never obscure, never patronize, never compromise, never stop moving forward. It’s like growing up. Oxfam, in many ways, taught me how to do that.