Tag Archives: Oxfam

First catalogue of Oxfam ‘project files’ now available

Researchers using the Oxfam archive now have access to a valuable new resource, with the completion of cataloguing of almost 2,400 ‘project files’ spanning 50 years. The files reveal the use and impact on communities of grants made by Oxfam as part of its programme of long term agricultural, economic, health and other development work, and response to natural disasters and other humanitarian emergencies.

File relating to a grant made in 1968 to the United Mission Hospital, Tansen, Nepal, and published annual lists detailing grants made (Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Library)

File relating to a grant made in 1968 to the United Mission Hospital, Tansen, Nepal, and published annual lists detailing grants made (Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Library)

The files contain documentation regarding applications to Oxfam for grants, and the making of grants, between 1954 and 2004 and are arranged according to the agency or partner applying for the grant and by country. Although the content and level of detail in the files varies, a typical file will contain the initial project proposal by the agency or partner, Oxfam’s Grant (later Project) Application Summary Form approving the grant, financial information, correspondence, and reports on the use of the grant, progress with the work, and its impact. Some files also contain photographs of beneficiaries and the work being carried out.

Together the files will provide a useful insight into the sort of work being funded by Oxfam at different times and in different parts of the world and its effectiveness in fighting poverty and saving lives.

Refugees from the civil war in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in India, 1971. In response, Oxfam launched a health programme serving 500,000 people and, on the creation of Bangladesh the following year, its largest country rehabilitation and development programme to that date. Photo credit: Alan Leather / Oxfam (Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Library)

Refugees from the civil war in East Pakistan (later Bangladesh) in India, 1971. In response, Oxfam launched a health programme serving 500,000 people and, on the creation of Bangladesh the following year, its largest country rehabilitation and development programme to that date. Photo credit: Alan Leather / Oxfam (Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Library)

The catalogue of project files is available now via the Bodleian Library’s website, alongside three additional Oxfam catalogues released in the autumn, describing records of the organisation’s programme policy and management, records of its campaigning work and records of its internal and external communications.

Two further tranches of project files are expected to be catalogued and made available in early 2016 and mid-2017.

Oxfam archive catalogues arrive online

MS. Oxfam COM/1/8/51: One of the many posters listed the Oxfam Communications Catalogue

MS. Oxfam COM/1/8/51 (1981) : One of the many posters listed in the Oxfam Communications catalogue

The first three catalogues to come out of the ongoing Oxfam archive project, compiled with the generous support of the Wellcome Trust, have been made available on the Bodleian Library’s website here.

The three catalogues cover, respectively, records of Oxfam’s programme policy and management, records of its campaigning work, and records of its internal and external communications. In total, more than 850 boxes of archive material and almost 500 posters have been newly opened to researchers.

Among the programme policy and management records are minutes of the committees directing Oxfam’s development and humanitarian programme from the 1950s, such as the Overseas Aid and Field Committees, and supporting bodies like the Medical Advisory Panel, plus correspondence and papers of the International Directorate. These range from airmail letters from Colonel Widdowson, Oxfam’s ‘Travelling Secretary’, during his visits to potential beneficiaries in Africa and Asia in the early 1960s, to post-2000 papers relating to planning around strategic change objectives and regionalisation. Also of particular interest will be policy papers and reports produced by the Public Affairs Unit from the 1970s and later Policy teams.

Records of campaigns include publicity materials, reports and correspondence relating to individual campaigns, such as the influential Rational Health campaign of the 1980s, which advocated the safe use and equitable distribution of medicines. Researchers will also be able to consult communications materials such as Annual Reviews and Grants Lists, press office correspondence, supporter periodicals, posters and many of Oxfam’s early photographs, dating from the 1950s to the 1980s, which will provide additional detail about the organization’s work.

A further 590 boxes of archive material is expected to be opened to researchers by early autumn with the launch of a fourth catalogue, of Oxfam ‘project files’. Almost 2,400 files, detailing the use and impact of grants made by Oxfam, will be available for study.

Baby Milk Campaigns and Eastern Europe

In 1983 Oxfam ran a Baby Milk campaign, which aimed to challenge the promotion of artificial baby milk in poor countries and promote breastfeeding. This is a good example of the type of campaigns material which we are just starting to catalogue:

Front cover of Oxfam’s Baby Milk campaign leaflet (MS. Oxfam CPN/3/311, Bodleian Library)
Inside of Oxfam’s Baby Milk campaign leaflet (MS. Oxfam CPN/3/311, Bodleian Library)

Yet, in 1995 the Baby Milk Action Coalition (BMAC) was still campaigning on the same issue. Oxfam was a founding member of BMAC, a British group which was set up to monitor and coordinate a response to infringements of the WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes (1981). From a series of project files in the archive, it is clear that Oxfam continued to financially support this group.

Baby Milk Action Update, Issue number 17, November 1995 (MS. Oxfam PRF EEG 011, Bodleian Library)

WHO/UNICEF International Code of Marketing of Breastmilk Substitutes

The WHO/UNICEF code was originally implemented to try and regulate advertisements for baby milk. This was because the percentage of women who breastfed in countries where baby milk was  heavily promoted and publicised, including by health care professionals, was much lower.

The code also highlighted the risks of using milk supplements, which were thought to be exacerbated by advertising. The most prominent of the risks are listed in the document below; it notably includes: contaminated water supply, illiteracy and poverty.

‘The Baby Food Controversy – John Clark March 1980’ (Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Library)

 

Campaigns such as Oxfam’s and BMAC’s were launched to raise awareness of these issues and to highlight instances in which the code was not being upheld.

Eastern Europe

 There are various reasons why this issue had not gone away in the period between 1981 and 1995. The issue was re-surfacing in the mid-1990s due to the humanitarian situation in Eastern Europe. Ultimately, companies were ignoring the code. The following excerpts from documents in the BMAC project files allude to the difficulties surrounding the use, and promotion of, baby milk in the context of aid.

1. A note prepared for Stewart Wallis by C. Mears, dated 23.7.93 (MS. Oxfam PRF WGE 199 A5):

Breast milk substitutes are assuming a lot of importance currently because of the humanitarian crisis in Eastern Europe. Some aid agencies are sending breast milk substitute products apparently without due care.

 2. from MS. Oxfam PRF EEG 011’s application form, 1995:

Financial insecurity is forcing women to restrict maternity leave and return to paid work if they can. Also baby food companies have been able to establish themselves in the region and are promoting their products efficiently in a context of lack of awareness of the issues and possible risks.

 3. Memo from Dr. Mohga Kamal Smith (Health Policy Advisor, Policy Development Team) addressed to Tony Vaux, Head of Bureau (Eastern Europe), dated 3 May 1995:

I think there is a real danger in EE of declining breast feeding with the negative impact on children’s health and nutrition status. The time is crucial because now it is still not too late to reverse the tide if we to learn from other countries experiences of the difficulties of returning to breast feeding after establishing formulas and baby foods environment. 

 

‘From a true story, as reported by Dr. Elizabeth Hillman, from Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital’. A cartoon prepared by US pressure groups but part of Oxfam’s ‘Baby Foods Campaign Pack’, 1980 (Oxfam Archive, Bodleian Library)

To counteract these comments, there is an interesting memo, dated 25 June 1995, from Jovanka Stojsavljevic (Oxfam’s Representative for Former Yugoslavia), to Tony Vaux, Head of Bureau (Eastern Europe). This was her response to the project proposal above in point 2:

I do not think there is a real fear of commercial baby food companies being able to create a dependency on their products, as they did in the Third World. Nor do I think there is a desperate need to promote breast-feeding.

I think that this proposal and the approach of UNICEF here, is much more connected to their distinctive competence developed through their work in developing countries, rather than a detailed assessment of the problems for mothers within a society, w[h]ere the health care system is collapsing as a result of war, rather than a lack of awareness, expertise and knowledge.

‘Yugoslavia’ had quite an advanced health care system before the war and breast feeding was commonly upheld to be the best for the child. If anything, the problem was that women who could not breast feed felt they were ‘inadequate mothers’.

This is a revealing insight which demonstrates the conflict between global policy, such as the WHO/UNICEF code, and what is actually happening on the ground at the grassroots level in a particular region.

The debate surrounding breast feeding continues to be discussed today.

 

Oxfam’s role in smallpox eradication

Oxfam jeeps and vaccination teams at work, 1974 (MS. Oxfam PRF BIH 014 Vol. 1 = Box 101)
Oxfam jeeps and vaccination teams at work, 1974 (MS. Oxfam PRF BIH 014 Vol. 1 = Box 101)

Files in the Project files and Directorate sequences of the Oxfam Archive shed some light on Oxfam’s small yet important role in one of the major medical achievements of the twentieth century – the eradication of smallpox.

Smallpox was an acute contagious disease caused by the Variola virus, causing death in 30-35% of cases, and in other cases, complications including blindness, limb deformities and severe scarring. It was officially declared eradicated in 1980, following an immunization campaign led by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Following the outbreak of a smallpox epidemic in Bihar state, India, in 1974, Oxfam sent its Medical Adviser, Dr. Tim Lusty, to make an emergency visit to the area in July of that year. On his recommendation and that of Oxfam’s Field Director for East India, R. Subramaniam, Oxfam made a grant of £42,193 towards the WHO campaign in the region.  The funds were used for the provision of jeeps, plus salaries for drivers and mechanics and medical equipment, to be used by 14 of the programme’s 56 ‘search and containment’ teams in South Bihar. Oxfam also played a hands-on role, recruiting voluntary nurses and other volunteers and sending two of its staff members out to India to help administrate the project.

Weekly statistics BIH 014 Vol.1
Weekly report on smallpox outbreaks, filed by the vaccination teams, 28th December 1974
(MS. Oxfam PRF BIH 014 Vol. 1 = Box 101)

The search and containment tactic used by the teams of volunteers was key to the success of the Bihar Smallpox Eradication Programme. The teams comprised one medical officer, one assistant and 4-6 vaccinators, working under the supervision of two epidemiologists recruited by WHO. Rather than attempting mass vaccination, the programme concentrated on identifying individual cases of the disease, tracing the source of infection and containing it by vaccinating all contacts of the infected person.

This was often far from easy, as is revealed by a report from Oxfam field worker Suresh Kumar, dated 2 September 1974. Aside from early starts, long days and long journeys in difficult conditions, the teams often met resistance from the local people themselves:

“People are very much resisting vaccination because 1. They believe that they will have fever and cannot work. 2. They are afraid of the needles. 3. This is the first time in their lives they have been vaccinated, or if they have been vaccinated, it was a very long time ago. 4. The people think that the babies are too young to be vaccinated. 5. Small children run away and we have to chase them.”

Aside from Oxfam’s financial contribution to the project, the organisation made another, perhaps even more important contribution, in the form of a survey technique, based on studies carried out by Oxfam volunteers. The technique used local markets, which always drew large crowds, as venues for disseminating information about the disease and uncovering new outbreaks. The Oxfam volunteers wrote up detailed guidelines for those carrying out such surveys, based on what they had experienced.

Guidelines for Market Surveys by Alan Marinis and Bev Spring, page 1, 1975
(MS. Oxfam PRF BIH 014 Vol. 1 = Box 101)

The importance of the technique to the Bihar smallpox eradication programme is underlined in an undated copy of a letter from Dr. L.B. Brilliant, WHO Medical Officer, to R. Subramaniam, received 3 Mar 1975:

“This has proven to be one of the best methods we have for finding hidden cases of smallpox, and I have no doubt that this innovative technique will shorten the period necessary to find and contain all of the smallpox left in Bihar. We are very grateful to Oxfam for many things that you have given us, but this technique may prove to be the most valuable gift of all to the smallpox Programme.”

Letters from Nazareth: The Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society Hospital

Amongst the project files in the Oxfam archive there is a series of correspondence between Dr. John Luscombe Tester (1920-2006) and Leslie Kirkley (General Secretary/Director 1951-1974) and other members of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, discussing The Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society’s (EMMS) hospital in Nazareth. This includes, as Kirkley describes them, Tester’s ‘lively and informative reports’.

Dr. John L. Tester joined The Nazareth Hospital’s staff in 1952 and later became its administrator/superintendent: ‘Under his tenure, the hospital developed specialized work in departments, upgraded services, and built various buildings.’ His obituary in British Medical Journal (1 July 2006; Vol.333:48.5) reads as follows:

John Tester was a meteorologist stationed in Palestine during the Second World War. On his first visit to the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society’s hospital in Nazareth, the medical superintendent thanked him for his help with a patient with the prophetic words: “From now on you are on the staff of this hospital.” After house jobs John returned to Nazareth in 1952, being superintendent from 1957 to 1969. In 1969 he became home director of the Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society but was soon recruited to the newly formed Scottish Health Advisory Board, where he served until retirement.

This collection of letters is in a file (Oxfam reference ISL 002) documenting a small number of grants and supplies that Oxfam gave to The Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society for their hospital in Nazareth in 1950s.

Despite being only a handful of letters they provide a fascinating insight into the politics of the region during this period, especially the impact of the founding of the state of Israel in 1948. This brought about an especially difficult time for the hospital in Nazareth as the patient numbers increased due to the 20,000 Palestinian refugees who had left the surrounding villages to find security in Nazareth.

Historical Background

The Edinburgh Medical Missionary Society was originally founded as the Edinburgh Association for Sending Medical Aid to Foreign Countries but changed its name in 1843. It was established by a group of doctors in order to ‘circulate information on medical mission; help other institutions engaged in the same work and assist as many Missionary stations as their funds would permit.’

The hospital in Nazareth was founded by Dr Kaloost Vartan (1835-1908), a former EMMS student, who had originally been sent to Beirut by the London Society for Sending Aid to the Protestants of Syria. He was ‘adopted’ by the EMMS and went to Nazareth where he opened a dispensary in 1861.

Dr. Kaloost Vartan opened the dispensary (1861) which became the Nazareth Hospital
© “EMMS Nazareth” 2009

Today, the hospital is owned by The Nazareth Trust. It is a 136-bed general district hospital fulfilling a vital role as part of the Israeli healthcare system. It has the only Accident and Emergency facility in the region and functions 24 hours per day. It is arguable that Oxfam’s contribution during a difficult time for the hospital helped it to survive and develop into what it is today.

The land in the Nazarene Hills on which the present hospital stands was purchased in 1906
© “EMMS Nazareth” 2009

Archive Material

A.

The following are transcriptions of excerpts of letters which relate to three grants of £500 each that Oxfam gave to the EMMS Nazareth Hospital to purchase equipment for the Out-patients Department and the construction of a children’s department.

March 13th 1958, from Tester to Kirkley:

It would appear that we are the last British independent hospital working among the Arabs in the Near East. It is a saddening thought when one remembers the hospitals that were thriving up until a few years and in some cases only a few months ago. One by one and for a variety of reasons they have closed their doors.

[The EMMS Victoria Hospital in Damascus, Syria, founded in 1885, was closed in 1955 due to problems with staffing, finances and the political situation and was handed over to the Syrian Government]

And:

Surprisingly enough we have taken on a new lease of life. We have been able to face the challenge of the very high standards of the Israeli hospitals and we have set in motion very many improvements and projects which will enable us to give excellent services to our patients.

3rd December 1958, from Tester to Kirkley:

Your last gift was used in the construction of a new childrens’ department which is now fully used. We have accommodation for about 20 children with every modern convenience that we can expect in a place like Nazareth to make the job of the nursing staff easier. We have been able to do a number of other things to make the place better. The numbers of patients continue to increase. This year we have had 4567 in-patients and this includes over 1000 babies born here. (During the years 1950 to 1954 we averaged 2220 patients a year) This means a doubling over the last few years. This is partly due to the fact that the Government pays the hospital fees for all mothers delivered in Hospital. Thus this maternity work has increased most of all. Still according to the statistics issued by the Israeli government for 1957 we are handling about ONE-THIRD of the total number of ARABS hospitalised in the country. This is in spite of the large number of excellently staffed and equipped hospitals run by the government and other health organisations. As the last British mission hospital left in the Middle East it appears that we are still needed.

22nd January, 1959, from Kirkley to Tester:

We deeply appreciate all your hospital is doing for Arabs in Israel and particularly the children and are grateful for the opportunity to help you in a small way.

January 26th 1959, from Tester to Kirkley:

We are still busy at the moment in the process of building a new out-patient department. This building we always do with direct labour. It is fun for us and means a great reduction in the total cost. If we ever ran out of funds we would just stop building so we do not have the worry of paying a contractor! We can also ensure that really good materials go into construction.

B.

The following are transcriptions of excerpts of letters which relate to supplies that Oxfam gave to the Nazareth Hospital: tinned milk and foodstuffs (1957) and pharmaceutical drugs (1959)

August 18th 1957, from Tester to Francis Jude:

We have been extremely busy this summer. I noted that whereas in previous years we had a steady increase of patients from about 150 admissions per month in 1950 to 216 in 1954 it has now soared to 313 per month for the first seven months of this year. We have not increased our beds but just keep them all filled up all the time. This means heavy work for the nursing staff. There are various factors that contribute to this increase. The arrival of our Swiss surgeon with a better standard of surgery and increasing population (due to immigration on a large scale) without a corresponding increase in hospital beds being made available.

December 19th 1957, from Tester to Kirkley:

You will be pleased to hear that we received the consignment of tinned milk and miscellaneous foodstuffs in good condition. We were not obliged to pay exorbitant customs on this shipment! I have a hope that we will be able to recover the customs paid out on the hospital supplies and in fact this is being made a test case.

May 31st 1959, from Tester to L. R. Cliffe (Information Assistant):

Following an offer from Oxfam, Tester provides an estimate of the amount of drugs, such as penicillin, streptomycin, vitamin B and aspirin, which he would require for six month period.

Emergency Health Kits and Wellcome Pharmaceutical Supplies

Whilst sorting through the ‘project files’ in the Oxfam archive, I found several volumes relating to Afghanistan from the mid-1980s (Oxfam reference AGN 008, Vols. 1-5). These volumes all relate to grants made to the Islamic Aid Health Centre for Afghan Refugees (IAHC), whose head office was in Quetta, Pakistan. The majority of the grants were to enable the IAHC to supply clinics inside Afghanistan with medical supplies.

An initial description of the project’s objectives was: ‘Assistance with supplies of basic medicines and equipment and some funds to six clinics inside Afghanistan which provide rudimentary curative medical facilities to war affected people who otherwise would not be able to have access to such services’. The war referred to here is the conflict between Soviet troops, government forces and the Mujahideen from December 1979 to February 1989.

From its inception, when the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief awarded its first grant to alleviate the suffering of women and children in Nazi occupied Greece, Oxfam’s policy has been to direct aid to ‘where need is greatest, without distinction of nationality’ and ‘irrespective of the political framework in which that need manifests itself’.

There are a number of photographs accompanying the project reports and these help to document how Oxfam’s grants were being used. In a handful we can see the medical supplies that were sent to the clinics in Afghanistan piled high in offices or on the backs of pick-up trucks. Amongst the myriad of brand names and logos on the boxes, I was intrigued to spot some with the blue unicorn logo of the Wellcome pharmaceutical company (Wellcome Foundation Ltd).

Written on the back: ‘A’ unit Arghistan Clinic, 1986 (Bodleian Libraries, Oxfam Archive)

This was an interesting discovery as The Wellcome Trust is a generous sponsor of the work on the Oxfam archive being carried out here at the Bodleian Library. However, in 1995 trustees sold their remaining interest in Wellcome plc to Glaxo plc, an independent company which was known as GlaxoWellcome after the merger. Equally, Oxfam no longer supply medicines or medical equipment.

Written on the back: ‘Four ‘A’ units medicine for Ghazni clinic’, 1987
(Bodleian Libraries, Oxfam Archive)

Written on the back of both these photographs is a reference to ‘A’ units. A’ units were supplied to ‘established clinics inside Afghanistan’, as opposed to ‘B’ units which went to mobile clinics and ‘C’ units which were first aid kits for the Mujahideen.

These references stem from the World Health Organisation guide-lines for an ‘Emergency Health Kit’, and these files contain a copy of lists (A-C) itemising which drugs constitute each unit. There is also one table of likely symptoms and proposed treatment, and another of standardised treatment schedules. According to the WHO guide-lines ‘List A’ is the ‘Basic drug requirements for 10, 000 persons for 3 months’. Whereas ‘List B’ is ‘Drugs for use by doctors and senior health workers, in addition to List A’ and which can only treat 70-150 people. Finally, ‘List C’ is only ‘Basic medical equipment’, which in this case was for Mujahideen fronts where there were no medical workers.

There are five dense volumes packed with reports and photographs relating to IAHC projects, as in addition to medical assistance they were also involved in educational and agricultural projects. Most notably, there is a great deal of information about a Medical Training Course (MTC) which was run by the director of IAHC Dr. A. B. Haqani and the project manager Dr. Susan Welsby.

Oxfam and… Health

Oxfam produced a series of information leaflets in the 1990s titled ‘Oxfam and…’ which covered a wide range of topics such as Conflict, Poverty and the Environment, Trade and of course Health. They also focused on particular countries and project funds in areas that Oxfam was working in. In addition, leaflets were produced for primary age children on a similar range of subjects. The following are a sample of some of these ‘Health’ leaflets:
Health Dec 1991 C
The inner pages of a ‘Health’ leaflet produced by the Oxfam Youth and Education Programme,
Dec 1991 (Bodleian Libraries, Oxfam Archive)
Oxfam and Health Mar 1992 C
The inner pages of ‘Oxfam & Health’ produced for Oxfam’s 50th Anniversary Health Appeal, March 1992 (Bodleian Libraries, Oxfam Archive)
Oxfam and Health Jul 1992 B
The back page of ‘Oxfam and Health’ produced by the Information Department, July 1992
(Bodleian Libraries, Oxfam Archive)

The ‘Tribal Medicine Project’ (Part 2)

In this post I would like to draw attention to some correspondence in the Tribal Medicine Project file with Dr. Sue Chowdhury, a Health Adviser in Oxfam’s Health Unit from 1986-1990. There is a memo dated 1st June 1988 from Dr. Chowdhury to David de Pury in which she lists the positives and negatives of the Tribal Medicine Project. One of the most interesting things about the memo is that it shows Oxfam was conscious of developing an approach to traditional medicine. Chowdhury writes: ‘In summary, I think this is an interesting project; […] For my personal interest, I would be grateful if I could see full documentation of the study as I am trying to look into issues of Oxfam support for traditional medicines’.
Indeed, Chowdhury went on to write a ‘Review of Oxfam’s involvement with traditional medicine’ dated February 1989. A summary of this report states:
Oxfam has funded projects involving traditional medicine for many years. There have been attempts in the past to discuss traditional health in relation to Oxfam’s funding criteria. To arrive at a better understanding of the kind of work Oxfam funds in this area, this paper concentrates on a review of existing projects.
In total Dr. Chowdhury’s report reviews 36 projects from Latin America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa. The Tribal Medicine Project is mentioned on page 8:
Dr. Sue Chowdhury, 1989, page 8 (Bodleian Libraries, Oxfam Archive)
From the report, and the earlier memo, it is clear that Dr. Chowdhury is in favour of the integration of traditional and allopathic (‘western’) medicine; she cites China as an example of where this has been successful. She also importantly recognises that for some people traditional medicine is the only form of primary health care that they have access to, often because it is cheaper. Therefore, it is vitally important for Oxfam to identify and work with traditional practitioners, for example a ‘Traditional Birth Attendant’ (TBA).
The Field Directors’ Handbook, first published in 1985(Bodleian Libraries, Oxfam Archive)
This point is reiterated in The Field Directors’ Handbook: An Oxfam Manual for Development Workers (4thed., 1990) which has a section relating to ‘Alternative Health systems’. It states that an estimated 70-90% of all ‘self-recognised episodes of ill-health’ are treated either at home or by using ‘traditional/alternative healers’. It advises field staff to ‘find out about these alternatives, and wherever possible to integrate them into primary health care and social development programmes’.
Throughout the short time that I have been working on the archive, the sheer variety and range of projects that Oxfam has funded never ceases to amaze me. I didn’t imagine I would come across anything to do with alternative medicine, but I have been impressed by the thoughtful and sensitive way in which Oxfam has approached this subject.

The ‘Tribal Medicine Project’ (Part 1)

The little girl of the Kirātas, she the little one, digs a remedy, with golden shovels, upon the ridges of the mountains.
(Atharva Veda X.4.14, trans. Whitney, 1905)
Introduction
During the first phase of the Oxfam archive project the team will be appraising and cataloguing ‘project files’ relating to grant support from Oxfam for work in India. Before appraisal, approximately half of the 10,000 boxes in the archive fall under the category of ‘project files’, so it is going to be a mammoth task! The project files contain a wealth of information and will be an invaluable resource for researchers interested in a variety of countries and subject areas.
One project file that has initially caught my attention contains material relating to a grant for the ‘Tribal Medicine Project’ approved on 21 June 1988, which will be the focus of the next 2 posts. The description of the project is as follows: ‘To support additional work in final 3rd phases of a study on tribal medicine […] to train tribal youth in their own health care system; to encourage tribal’s to plant and cherish medicinal plants – for their use and probably also income generating.’ This was a surprising discovery, and reiterated the huge range of projects that Oxfam has funded and been involved with. The projects span categories such as health, agriculture, social organisation, education and humanitarian emergencies.
The Tribal Medicine Project’ (Oxfam reference BIH 091/Q8) was carried out by the Rural Development Association (RDA) in Bihar, in north-east of India. Oxfam has been working in this region since 1951 when a famine in Bihar prompted them to respond to a natural disaster in a ‘developing country’ for the first time. Oxfam awarded the RDA a grant of £3,008 which, in 1988, equated to 74,000 Rupees. This was just one of many grants that Oxfam made to them for a variety of projects.
 
Cash receipt for the first installment (Bodleian Libraries, Oxfam Archive)
The Documents
From the documentation, we know that the principal project investigator was Dr. Kali Krishna Chatterjee. In a detailed summary report written by Chatterjee there is statistical information, such as how many practising ‘tribal medicine men and women’ there were and how many ailments they could treat, as well as information about the efficacy of herbal medicines on particular diseases and illnesses, ranging from malaria to respiratory infections and skin complaints.
Contained in this file there is also a letter addressed to David de Pury (Oxfam’s temporary representative for East India who was based in Calcutta) from the RDA’s Secretary Dipankar Dasgupta dated 15th April 1988. In this letter, Dasgupta mentions an ‘invitation to participate in the “International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences” to be held […] at Zagreb’ for both himself and Dr. Chatterjee. He writes:
This would give us an opportunity to bring into international prominence the rich tradition and prospect of developing tribal medicine as an alternative form of medical culture which will help the poor people to come out from the clutches of the present dominating modern system of medicine.
The letter asks Oxfam to contribute to their travel expenses, and they clearly both attended as their presentations are listed in Abstracts: 12th International Congress of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences, Zagreb, 24-31 July 1988. We also know, from a budget submitted with the project application, that two anthropologists were employed on the project.
The OED defines ethnobotany as: ‘The traditional knowledge and customs of a people concerning plants; the scientific study or description of such knowledge and customs’. This includes the medical uses of plants, and I think it aptly describes the remit of theTribal Medicine Project.
In an appendix to Dr. Chatterjee’s summary report, the history of Indian traditional medicine is traced back to the ‘Ayurvedic’ system. Ayurvedais the system of traditional medicine native to the Indian subcontinent and a form of alternative medicine. Dr. Chatterjee ends this appendix with a quote, cited in full above, ‘about a Kirāta girl collecting herbal medicines from the ridges of a mountain’. This passage is from the Atharva Veda (or Atharvaveda), one of the four Sanskrit Vedic texts originating from ancient India.
 Atharva Veda 003
MS. Mill 80 Atharva-Veda Samhitā, c. 1840 (Bodleian Libraries, Oriental Manuscripts)
Most importantly in this context, the Atharva Veda is ‘intimately connected to the medical traditions of classical India, and it presents some of the earliest perspectives on the concept of diseases and how to cure them’. The ‘herbal medicines’ the Kirāta girl is collecting are for a remedy against snake bites. It is the 14th stanza of a longer passage about remedies which invoke the white horse of Pedu as it was known as a slayer of serpents. The reference to this classical India text demonstrates how the scientific study of the medical uses of plants can lead to, and arguably requires, a much broader investigation of the medical culture of the people concerned.
In the next blog post I will continue to look at the work of the Tribal Medicine Project in the broader context of Oxfam’s policy on traditional medicine…

The Oxfam archive

Following the donation of the Oxfam archive to the Bodleian Libraries in late 2012, sorting and cataloguing began in February. The work is being approached in three 18 month phases, with a tranche of the archive becoming available to researchers at the completion of each stage.  Our first selection of material will be accessible by June 2014, with the entire historic archive becoming available to researchers in June 2017.

Work on the first area of programme policy and management targetted has now been completed. This includes the minutes and papers of the Overseas Aid Committee, which began as the Grants Sub-committee in 1955, considering applications for funding; the Field Committees for Africa, Asia and other regions to which this responsibility was delegated between 1963 and 1992; and their successor, the ‘Single’ Overseas Committee. All set policy for the international programme, supported by bodies like the Medical Advisory Panel (from 1965).  The Panel was composed of senior staff and external experts and offered advice on aspects of policy, such as Oxfam’s attitude to and work on diseases like leprosy and tuberculosis, and on sensitive issues such as family planning.

Below is an early ‘note’ by the Panel laying out its thinking on objectives and criteria for assistance, with an emphasis on health education, arguing that ‘Hospitals and hospital services provide focal points not only for the treatment of disease, but also for its prevention, and for the training of personnel and popular education.’ The importance of the provision of clean water is also recognised. Water and sanitation were to become a particular Oxfam specialism in the following decades.

Oxfam first blog post image

Records like these are part of a web of information for the researcher, where one could have as a starting point perhaps the published annual grants lists summarising each grant made to every country Oxfam worked in in a particular year, leading out to the decision-making level described above, and at the other, administrative extreme, to the ‘project’ or grant file containing correspondence with the recipient and reports on outcomes and impacts on communities of the use of the grant. All of these sources will form part of the final catalogue.