Fighting famine is local

  • Article by: ALLIE SHAH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 24, 2011 - 9:20 PM

Minnesota's Somali community is in the forefront of the effort to ward off starvation amid civil strife in far-off Somalia.

Three-year-old Siham Sheik-Abdi, of Minneapolis, has been storing coins in a jar ever since she saw a photo of a child sleeping on a hospital floor in Somalia.

He sleeps there, she learned, because he has no bed.

Two months later, Siham's jar is full and she is donating the money to the American Refugee Committee to buy a bed for that child, said her father, Said Sheik-Abdi.

During Thanksgiving's season of plenty, Minnesota Somalis are working to ease the famine in their homeland.

Minnesota Somalis have been at the forefront of a worldwide grass-roots fundraising drive to help famine victims. The United Nations declared the famine in July, and since then, 30,000 children have died and 250,000 people of all ages are at risk of starving to death.

While stories of mothers walking miles to refugee camps with dead children in their arms have disappeared from news headlines, local Somalis remain focused on the crisis.

"We definitely have been trying to keep up the momentum," said Shukri Abdinur, an American Refugee Committee volunteer who has helped raise money and awareness about the famine through car washes, walk-a-thons and other events.

ARC officials estimate that they have raised just over $1 million, so far, from private donors. About 15 percent of that money, or roughly $158,790, covers administrative expenses. The rest is going directly to help famine victims in Somalia, ARC officials say.

Feed My Starving Children, based in Coon Rapids, is on track to surpass its goal for helping those affected by the famine. Originally, the organization had hoped to send 5 million meals to Somalia by year's end, said Mandi Cherico, a Feed My Starving Children spokeswoman. But donations from Somali-Americans and others have helped pay for more meals. The new estimate is 9.3 million meals provided by the end of the year, Cherico said.

Recently, the first of two shipments of food packed in Minnesota by volunteers for Feed My Starving Children arrived in Somalia. The shipment contained more than 270,000 meals.

But the container had to be diverted from its original destination -- Mogadishu -- because of violence in the capital city and surrounding area.

Somalia has been plagued by civil war for decades, and the fighting between warring factions in the southern regions -- hardest hit by the famine -- intensified this fall. Kenyan troops entered southern Somalia last month to help soldiers backing the weak transitional federal government battle insurgent fighters.

Cherico said the food shipment was sent to another port, north of Mogadishu: the city of Berbera. She said the food went to famine victims in nearby refugee camps.

A second shipment of food is traveling by sea now and is expected to reach Somalia in the new year.

The Minneapolis School District has also joined the movement to help Somalia. School leaders are encouraging students, staffers and parents to get involved with famine relief efforts throughout the month of December.

Such efforts please Sheik-Abdi, who observed: "What happened in Somalia was terrible; 30,000 children died. But at least we're standing up and responding."

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

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  • Siham Sheik-Abdi, 3, carried her can of collected coins into the Amer...

  • HOW TO HELP

    ARAHA (American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa)

    www.araha.org; 612-781-7646

    ARC (American Refugee Committee)

    www.arcrelief.org

    612-872-7060

    Feed My Starving Children

    www.fmsc.org

    763-504-2919 headquarters in Coon Rapids

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