Said Sheik-Abdi knows he is one of the lucky ones.
His newborn daughter, Salma, meaning "safe," entered the world on a steamy July day in a St. Louis Park hospital.
At the same time that Sheik-Abdi was waiting for his new daughter, his phone was overflowing with updates from his native Somalia, where drought and famine have killed nearly 30,000 children younger than 5 in what United Nations officials are calling the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
"We were lucky to have a healthy daughter," said Sheik-Abdi, program manager for the American Refugee Committee's Neighbors for Nations program. "On the other side, I was responding to e-mails from Somalia about people losing their children."
The epic famine has aroused overwhelming feelings of sadness and urgency within Minnesota's Somali community, the nation's largest at an estimated 70,000.
"Everybody's constantly on the Internet reading the news. People are getting calls from home. It's definitely at the top of everybody's minds," said Shukri Abdinur, a young Somali-American woman who has been heavily involved in local relief efforts.
With the onset this week of Ramadan, the Muslim fasting season, many Somali-Americans in Minnesota are reflecting more deeply on the tens of thousands back in Somalia whose fast has no end.
"You, yourself, see how painful it is to go without food for just one day," said Saeed Fahia, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota.
"You feel that and think about that."
Desperate phone calls
Every month, Liban Hussein sends $100 to his parents in hard-hit southern Somalia.
He calls them once a week to find out how they are coping. Lately, they're telling him the money he sends is not enough.
Neighbors who have lost everything have come to sit near the family's house. Hussein's parents are sharing their food with them and that means Hussein has more mouths to feed.
He tells them he cannot afford to send more than the $100.
"It's very, very painful when you see that you can't help your family," he said. "When you see those videos and interviews taken from back there, it's very sad. It makes me feel not to eat."
Hussein is the anchor of Somali MaiTV, a local Somali television program, and constantly aware of the news from the homeland he left in 1999. Reports this week that more areas of southern Somalia have been declared in the famine zone make him fearful for his family.
"We are worrying a lot," he said.
From her Minneapolis apartment, Amina Mohamed frets about her relatives, too.
"Sometimes they run to the border of Kenya," she said, "but no one helps them. They call us but we can't do nothing. I can't help. I feel bad."
Mohamed, who grew up in Somalia, said so many people she once knew have called her -- teachers, cousins, neighbors -- that she dreads answering the phone anymore.
"If you can't help anything, you don't want to listen to them," she said.
The crisis has motivated many Minnesotans from Somalia to turn their sorrow into action.
Fahia says he plans to set up a collection box at his Minneapolis office to solicit donations for the Minnesota-based American Refugee Committee, one of several relief agencies helping the drought-stricken families streaming into Mogadishu. He vows to donate $250 to the cause himself.
Abdinur was one of about 40 high school and college students who went to the ARC's main offices earlier this week to deliver more than $7,500 they'd raised in a two-week flurry of pre-Ramadan car washes, grocery bagging, benefit dinners, a basketball tournament and old-fashioned door-knocking. Much of their collection came in $1, $5 and other small bills.
"We all knew it was pretty bad back home," said Abdinur, who came to the United States when she was 5 years old, "but seeing all those images of the people in the camps, and the really horrible environment that they're in, with no clothes and so hot. They're walking for miles on end to get to one horrible place. It's pretty sad."
Seventeen-year-old Mohamed Jama was particularly stirred by the news that so many children were struggling to live.
"We're very lucky to live here and grow up here," said Jama, who left Somalia when he was in third grade. "Some of those kids, their parents are dead, and they don't have what we have."
Jama is fasting for Ramadan and finds himself thinking of those children late in the afternoon, when he starts to feel the hunger pangs.
"While fasting, I'm very hungry," he said. "I have to wait 11 to 12 hours to eat. ... I was complaining to my friend about eating. Then I thought, 'Right now, a kid is dying because he didn't eat for 10 to 12 days.'"
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488
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