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Oxfam America VP speaks on global social justice projects

Staff Writer

Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 01:05


Josh Horowitz

Paul O’Brien discussed his experience with activism and relief efforts in developing countries.

Amnesty International at Brandeis University welcomed Paul O’Brien, the Vice President of Policy and Campaigns for Oxfam America, to speak on Thursday afternoon in the Levine-Ross conference room about the challenges he has dealt with in his line of social justice work.

According to its website, as one of the 17 affiliates in the international confederation of Oxfam, Oxfam America is “an international relief and development organization” working to create lasting solutions to global issues, including poverty, hunger and injustice. Together with individuals and local groups in almost 100 countries, Oxfam America saves lives, helps people overcome poverty and fights for social justice.

O’Brien, a graduate of Harvard University Law School, opened his address by discussing his encounters with various social justice groups at Harvard and his career path since law school.

O’Brien then outlined his time in Nairobi, Kenya and Afghanistan.

“If you want to get into social justice work, be confident as to whether you want to teach or you want to do. Experience and learning is key.”

Immediately after graduating from law school, O’Brien went to Kenya to begin work with the Legal Resources Foundation, where he did research and work on the role of domestic violence in the various communities in the region.

“It’s all about asking questions. Find out where change is taking place,” O’Brien said, remarking on his work in Africa.

“Start a conversation that changes the power dynamics of the community or the region,” continued O’Brien.

O’Brien then spoke about his work in Afghanistan in 2001 and the challenges he faced with having started his work shortly after September 11.

O’Brien stressed the importance of recognizing the specific characteristics of the environment in which you are working in order for your actions to affect any change within it.

“If you’re going to be useful and relevant in a political context around rights issues, you’ve got to know the context and you’ve got to be relevant in that context,” O’Brien emphasized.

“You have to respect that people need to decide to change themselves. It’s their institutions and their citizens, and that relationship between them is going to decide the future,” O’Brien said.

After a continued discussion on the work of Oxfam and the more specific role O’Brien himself plays, the audience was invited to ask the vice president some questions on his work and on his overall experience.

Questions addressed the role of women in terms of development and aid and how students can translate a law school education into a successful career in social justice and development.

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