Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Oxfam was founded to help relieve suffering in Nazi-occupied Greece during World War II. The Greek population faced starvation and famine after the Germans refused to provide them with food and medical supplies. Oxfam’s mission calls for understanding poverty not as a condition of one’s life but as a surmountable injustice.

Summary of Event

The Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, or Oxfam, was founded October 5, 1942, as a response to the devastating human toll of the Nazis’ occupation of Greece during World War II. World War II (1939-1945)[World War 02];Balkan campaign In the winter of 1941-1942, the Allies set up naval blockades to keep supplies from the German army in Greece. The British government had insisted that it was the duty of Germany to feed the countries it occupied. The Germans did not believe it was their duty to do so, however, and kept limited supplies for themselves; the Greeks were left with almost nothing, resulting in famine and starvation. [kw]Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded (Oct. 5, 1942) [kw]Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded, Oxford (Oct. 5, 1942) [kw]Famine Relief Is Founded, Oxford Committee for (Oct. 5, 1942) Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Famine;nongovernmental organizations Nongovernmental organizations Hunger;nongovernmental organizations Humanitarian organizations Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Famine;nongovernmental organizations Nongovernmental organizations Hunger;nongovernmental organizations Humanitarian organizations [g]Europe;Oct. 5, 1942: Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded[00610] [g]United Kingdom;Oct. 5, 1942: Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded[00610] [g]Greece;Oct. 5, 1942: Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded[00610] [c]Humanitarianism and philanthropy;Oct. 5, 1942: Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded[00610] [c]Organizations and institutions;Oct. 5, 1942: Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded[00610] [c]Social issues and reform;Oct. 5, 1942: Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded[00610] [c]World War II;Oct. 5, 1942: Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Is Founded[00610] Murray, Gilbert Brittain, Vera Bell, George Pye, Edith M. Jackson-Cole, Cecil

News of the starvation reached England and those concerned with humanitarian issues. Joining in concern were the Society of Friends Society of Friends (or Quakers), a religious and pacifist group, and students and faculty members of Oxford University who were opposed to the war. People were outraged that the British government seemed to be doing nothing to help the starving people of Greece.

On January 27, 1942, George Bell, the bishop of Chichester, spoke to the House of Lords in support of an appeal for Greece. Later that day the House of Commons announced that a shipment of wheat would be sent from Egypt, through the Allied blockade, and on to Greece. Within several weeks, regular shipments of supplies began to reach the devastated nation.

Writer Vera Brittain, who had been involved in humanitarian issues as well, believed that a relief campaign by pacifists Pacifism would not be taken seriously by the British parliament. She encouraged the development of an organization, which would convey a sense of seriousness and focus. Members of the Friends’ Service Council Friends’ Service Council[Friends Service Council] (the permanent relief organization of the Quakers) met on April 22 to discuss forming a national famine relief committee; the planned organization was announced on May 29. Longtime Quaker activist Edith M. Pye was named the fledgling committee’s honorary secretary, and she worked to ensure the group’s success by securing supporters.

On October 5, the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief had its first meeting. Founding members included Bell and Gilbert Murray, professor of Greek at Oxford University, among many others. The committee’s initial objectives were to obtain information on food conditions in Greece and to promote food relief in other occupied countries. In December, London businessman Cecil Jackson-Cole was appointed the new honorary secretary of Oxfam. Jackson-Cole remained a driving force behind the committee for many years, and in 1947 he would help to open the world’s first permanent charity-run gift shop (operated by Oxfam). Situated in Oxfam’s main offices on Broad Street, the store was a drop-off location for donations. Profits from the sale of donated goods went directly to the organization to support its relief efforts.

After the war, relief committees, ironically, began to shut their doors, because the Marshall Plan Marshall Plan Foreign aid, U.S.;Marshall Plan had begun to offer money to countries affected by the fighting and bombing. Oxfam, however, realized a need for humanitarian assistance existed in countries still suffering the effects of the war. Oxfam organized clothing drives and made food shipments, and in 1949 the committee expanded its relief efforts to include those areas suffering from non-war-related disasters. For example, Oxfam helped countries, especially developing countries, seeking aid for the repair of their earthquake-damaged infrastructures and also for damages caused by civil disturbances. The organization’s motto soon became “Oxfam: Working for a Fairer World.”

During the 1950’s, through increased fund-raising and publicity, Oxfam transformed itself from a small local charity to one with international status. It also began to sell handmade crafts, offering small-scale producers fair prices, training, and advice for their handicrafts. The program became known as the Oxford Fair Trade Company Oxford Fair Trade Company Fair trade .

Oxfam made significant changes by sending teams of young people overseas, rather than just sending money or supplies, to help promote food programs. The first Oxfam field director was sent to southern Africa in 1961 to begin what was to be the largest developmental program in which the committee had ever been involved. This was also the first time the group worked with a local agency. Field directors managed teams that supported self-help agendas in which communities improved their own water supplies, farming, and health programs. The committee also started a program in Peru to bring education to rural communities by way of shortwave radio. The 1960’s also saw the establishment of sister organizations around the world, beginning with Canada in 1963, and offices in Belgium and the United States soon followed. Many other countries formed fund-raising organizations to help support Oxfam’s efforts.


The success of humanitarian organizations such as the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief prompted the formation of more than two hundred similar committees in the United Kingdom and other countries during and after World War II. Most of these committees disbanded at the end of the war, however, because the need for their services decreased. Oxfam still survives.

By the end of the 1960’s, organizations such as Oxfam were criticized for creating a “dependent culture” of nations that relied on other nations for aid. Oxfam responded to this criticism by focusing on helping developing countries learn to feed and support themselves. The committee was equally dedicated to development, emergency aid, and human-rights advocacy, and, critically, it made every effort to portray people in developing nations as human beings, not as passive victims. Oxfam field directors employed refugees and locals peoples whenever possible during the organization’s responses to natural and human-made disasters. In rural areas, Oxfam conducted classes focused on topics such as nutrition, family planning, cattle farming, and cooking.

As the 1960’s drew to a close, Oxfam instituted educational programs that addressed problems specific to developing countries and directed its efforts to rid the world of poverty. One solution was to provide educational supplies and visual aids to schools with the hope that children would bring critical information home to their parents.

Providing aid to those in need is no easy task. Often at great risk, humanitarian groups such as Oxfam have responded to large-scale emergencies and other crises, but aid workers have often been frustrated by a lack of funds to buy food and medical supplies. Oxfam’s work in the international arena continues, despite, or because of, these obstacles. Oxford Committee for Famine Relief Famine;nongovernmental organizations Nongovernmental organizations Hunger;nongovernmental organizations Humanitarian organizations

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gill, Peter. Drops in the Ocean: The Work of Oxfam, 1960-1970. London: Macdonald, 1970. A first-person account and field study of the relief and disaster work provided by Oxfam during the years 1960 to 1970.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morris, Jan. Oxford. New York: Oxford University Press, 2001. Describes the origins of the Oxford Committee for Famine Relief, whose founding members include former Oxford professor Gilbert Murray. Also describes in detail the city of Oxford, including its colleges and students.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Plummer, John. How Charities Are Accountable? London: Demos, 1996. A study of the approaches to governance and accountability developed by twelve major charities in the United Kingdom.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Rieff, David. A Bed for the Night: Humanitarianism in Crisis. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002. Discusses how humanitarian organizations are in jeopardy of losing sight of their original purpose of neutrality by encouraging international communities to stop civil wars and ethnic cleansing. Shows the growing gap between what aid workers want to do in the field and what they are actually able to accomplish.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Smyser, W. R. Humanitarian Conscience: Caring for Others. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2003. A comprehensive study of global humanitarianism. Includes recommendations on how to respond to current humanitarian challenges.

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