Morgan O'Neil: Oxfam CHANGE Leader

Release Date: 3/28/2011

People sometimes ask, "Why should I go to college and take a bunch of classes I'm not even interested in?" One answer that Morgan O'Neil and many other Ozarks students have discovered, is that college is about a whole lot more than classes and jobs. It's also about giving back.

Morgan O'Neil and Brent Sanders show their support for the Oxfam mission.

Morgan O'Neil and Brent Sanders show their support for the Oxfam mission.

Morgan, a sophomore environmental studies major from Carbondale, Ill., discovered a new emphasis in her major, and a new way of reaching out to others, while undergoing a week-long training seminar as part of the Oxfam program.

Oxfam is an international confederation of 14 organizations working in 98 countries worldwide to find lasting solutions to poverty and injustice. Oxfam works directly with communities, including college campuses, in their effort to ensure that poor people can improve their lives and livelihoods and have a say in decisions that affect them.

Each year 50 students are selected from the US and around the world to attend Oxfam's CHANGE Leader training.  As Ozarks Oxfam president, Morgan applied to take part in the training seminar held during summer 2010, and was elated to learn that she had been selected.  “The week-long summer training seminar was held at Eastern Nazarene College, east of Boston,” she said. “Oxfam pays for travel and lodging. The program is for university sophomores and juniors. You are trained to become an Oxfam ‘CHANGE Leader.’ They teach you the ideals behind Oxfam and various ways to bring those ideals back to your own community." 

Morgan described the training as “really overwhelming." "I met 49 other people from all 50 states," she said.  "The first day when you get there, they say 'in a week you’ll have 50 new best friends.' I thought, ‘No, I won’t,’ but I was completely wrong. Being around such a diverse crowd who shared the same goals and the same mission were really terrific! They have so much drive, so much emotion. I’d never been around anything like that before in such large numbers. It really was a game-changer for me, and I did leave with a big handful of people I still keep in touch with regularly.”

“The trainers are really helpful and still keep in contact with us,” she added. “They send us any materials we need, petitions, handouts, fact sheets, all free; we don’t have to come up with any of that stuff out of our own pockets.”

Returning to Ozarks this fall as an Oxfam CHANGE Leader, Morgan is using what she learned in her training as she and her fellow Ozarks Oxfam members plan the group's upcoming projects.  As she explained, “Oxfam originally began as a women’s suffragette movement, but their mission now includes all women’s rights issues, including education."  Morgan said she wants the Ozarks Oxfam organization to emphasize the impact that climate change and hunger have on women.  "Our spin on it here at Ozarks has to do with climate change and hunger issues, because in most third world countries, women do most of the food gathering and water, and climate change affects them a lot more than men.”

Last year the group organized the skip-a-meal project, where students skipped their evening meal, donating the cost for that meal to Oxfam.  “We sent $2,125 to them in December, money raised during the spring and fall campaigns,” said Morgan.

But Morgan said the project organized by Ozarks Oxfam in celebration of International Women's Day felt “a lot more personal" to her. For this project, students were invited to sign a petition and then have their photo taken while holding a sign showing their support for Oxfam's causes.  "We’ll send these signatures and photos to Oxfam, and they can use them however they need to show that students at U of O care about world hunger and want to help,” she said. “We were only able to collect signatures for one day but we got 51, which is pretty good for one lunch period. It was a good start.”

Morgan said her exposure to the Oxfam organization has caused her to change the focus of her environmental studies major. “From the beginning I knew I wanted to get into environmentalism,” she explained. “But now I am into a more humanized focus. Many Ozarks students have families all over the world, and they’ve actually seen what Oxfam can do with its projects. It helps to have faces here to connect to those people. It’s a local-to-global connection.”

Ultimately, Morgan believes the things she has learned through her work with Oxfam will play an important part in her life on down the road.  “In a way, working with Oxfam has actually confused me a little," she confessed with a laugh, “but I still have two-and-a-half more years to figure it out!”  But whatever direction her career takes, whether it be work for non-profits, work affecting government policy, or another environmental careers, Oxfam CHANGE Leader Morgan O'Neil is ready and eager to use her education and training to give back to those in need.