The Neighbors for Nations campaign is being led by Somali refugees and will include offices in Minneapolis and Somalia. The venture is the first of is kind for the Minnesota-based ARC.
The memory of his late nephew, who died in Somalia because he didn't get the right medical shots, reduced Yusuf Ali to tears.
"For my brother and his son, it's too late," Ali said Wednesday, choking on his words. "But for other people and other families, maybe we can save some lives."
It's a new way of business for the ARC, which has been helping refugees of natural disaster and war for about 30 years.
"We're used to being the white knight riding into situations," said Daniel Wordsworth, head of the ARC. "In this case, the Somali community is the white knight. They have been pushing us all the way along."
Ali, chairman of the Somali Advisory Council, said ARC's role was equally important.
"For the first time, we have a Minnesota-based organization that has 30 years' technical experience of working on these initiatives," he said.
Money raised from Somalis in Minnesota would be used to pay for food, clean water and medical help for the thousands of Somali residents who have been displaced from their homes because of continuing violence and drought.
In addition, the ARC has broken ground on a community center in Galkayo, a city in Somalia. The goal is to provide education and job skills to young men, in part to steer them away from radical groups. The center would offer them a safe place where they could play sports and learn a trade, he said.
"There's recognition that young men have a tough situation," Wordsworth said. "They have very little hope for the future and a means to make a living."
Another piece of the Neighbors for Nations drive is asking 1,000 Minnesotans -- from the Somali community and beyond -- to donate $1,000 each.
So far, 32 people from the local Somali community, the largest in the United States, have donated, the ARC says.
Other local partners in the project include: the United Way, UCare, and the City of Minneapolis. UCARE announced a $50,000 matching grant, and U Care officials said for every $1 the public donates, UCare will donate $1, up to $50,000. The United Way pledged $100,000.
The money is badly needed in Somalia, Wordsworth said, where residents face perhaps the world's worst humanitarian crisis.
"For 20 years they have had no functioning government. If you're a mother about to give birth, you're absolutely all by yourself in giant tracts across the country," he said. "There are entire camps who don't have any clean water supply. There's open violence in half of the country with bodies lying in the streets. The reason we don't know so much about it and why it's so invisible is you can't get in there and actually see it."
A scouting team made up of two members of the ARC and two members of the Somali Advisory Council did get a close view of the situation last summer.
Abdi Ahmed, a council member and co-owner of a popular Minneapolis restaurant and banquet center, said he hadn't been back to his native Somalia in more than 20 years before the trip.
"I couldn't recognize anything," he said.
But the people he found still in his homeland were hardworking and hopeful. It made him believe that something could be done to turn lives around, he said.
"I'm hopeful for tomorrow."
Allie Shah • 612-673-4488