by Brooklyn Bass
With over twenty-five years of experience in international development, Abby Maxman is president and CEO of Oxfam America, a global organization committed to ending poverty.
In an interview with Judith Kelly, Dean of Sanford School of Public Policy following a DCID-hosted lecture on campus, Maxman discusses her personal visit to Yemen to assess the humanitarian crisis—a crisis that she hopes can avoid being forgotten by major powers of the global stage. “With all of the important and forgotten crises around the world, I wanted to showcase what’s happening there, bring attention to it, and do the policy advocacy influencing here in the United States, and at the United Nations, to bring an end to the war,” Maxman said.
Along with visiting a few of Oxfam’s programs, such as the Livelihoods Program which helps women open businesses in displaced populations and host communities, Maxman went to a displacement camp for the internally displaced. According to Maxman, families give up everything to go to the camps. They arrive to live under sheets of fabric. Yet for those who trek to the camps, the sacrifice is worthwhile. The camps provide the food security and safety that they cannot attain for themselves.
Maxman also reports that about 75% of the camp population are women and youth. Unfortunately, these are the same populations that mostly go unheard in the quest for peace in Yemen. Women are excluded from the country’s political processes and are not prominent decision makers in the civil war. “Before the conflict, women’s rights weren’t the best, but things have gotten more restrictive,” Maxman said.
She hopes that more powerful forces can bring people to the table and negotiate peace. Instead, she notes an asymmetry that must be addressed by the international community. “The U.S. is playing an unfortunate dual role of trying to be an arms broker and an alleged peace broker at the same time,” Maxman said. “The two do not go hand-in-hand.”
Beyond the need for peace, Maxman also saw a need for food, clean water, and reliable water systems. For Maxman, this is an opportunity for the development community to step in and learn lessons of collaboration and cooperation. Though she witnessed a general sense of disbelief that change can happen in Yemen, she also was inspired. “What inspires me is the incredible resilience, strength, and commitment of people living in conditions such as these,” Maxman said. “I hope to bring the voice of those I met to those with power who can make change happen—so then people can have hope and aspirations again.”
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