Tag Archives: project files

Interns at the Oxfam Archive

Over the summer the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Section hosted five interns who worked on  various projects . The Oxfam team was lucky enough to have two of them: Elena and Gabriel.


The Interns: Elena and Gabriel

Gabriel Lawson, reading History at Lincoln College, and Elena Müller, MPhil graduate in Modern Jewish Studies from Lady Margaret Hall, had both applied for internships organized and funded by the University of Oxford Careers Service.

They did sterling work for us over their six week stint and helped enormously with our ongoing ‘project file’ cataloguing work as well as sorting programme reports, and appraising and repackaging photographic material, which will all make up a part of our Phase 2 catalogues due to be released in the New Year.

multiple pics

The ‘project file process’: large containers full of files to appraise; the new archival boxes; spreadsheet used for cataloguing; final online catalogue

Project files make up over half of the Oxfam archive. They arrive with us from the Oxfam Logistics Warehouse in large containers, each filled with 3-4 cases brimming with files relating to projects funded and carried out in all areas of the world.
With advice and guidance from the Oxfam Project team, Elena and Gabriel managed to appraise 1,911 files between them, deciding on which to keep and which to discard. Those they kept, they catalogued, filling 359 of our ‘archival blue boxes’. Their contribution takes us much closer to our end-of-year targets than we would otherwise have been!
Their work will be added to the online catalogue of project files at the end of Phase 2. The Phase 1 catalogue can be viewed here: http://www.bodley.ox.ac.uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/online/modern/oxfam/oxfam-proj.html

photos and boxesThe interns also helped with the appraisal of photographic prints from the 1990s, weeding out duplicate and poor-quality photographs, as well as generic shots which did not relate to Oxfam or its work.
Both Elena and Gabriel felt that their time with the archive had helped them to view research in a slightly different light, having gained an appreciation of the work done by archivists in selecting, describing and making archives available to researchers.

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’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


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]


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.


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.

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.