Letter: Squeezing the helping hand

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Sir: For Oxfam, the key bone of contention in the Centris report Voluntary Action (report and leading article, 13 October) is the counterproductive division of voluntary-sector organisations into service providers and campaigners. As you rightly point out, the service providers would be gagged and the campaigners distanced from the practical experience that gives them credibility in advocating change.

If examples are needed, Oxfam has plenty:

Oxfam was the first agency to enter Cambodia following the ousting of the Khmer Rouge in 1979. Our experience as a service provider of emergency relief subsequently enabled us to launch a successful campaign for UK aid.

Oxfam's experience of working, at local level, with poor families in developing countries enabled us, along with others, to alert the world to the dangers of breast milk substitutes. Our campaign prompted the World Health Organisation to issue an international code which has helped prevent the inappropriate marketing of breast milk substitutes.

There is a central contradiction in one of the report's most inflammatory claims - that the whole notion of charity is 'medieval' and has no place in the modern world. If service-providing organisations were allowed only to address symptoms rather than causes, they would certainly be pushed back towards the unquestioning, 'medieval' aspects of charity the report, quite rightly, rejects.

Oxfam welcomes any debate on the effectiveness and efficiency of voluntary organisations. Regrettably, the Centris Report has disappointed rather than inspired the voluntary sector.

Yours faithfully,

MICHAEL VINCENT

Deputy Director

Oxfam UK/Ireland

Oxford

13 October

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