Neighbors for Nations: Somali Community partnering with ARC

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About a year and a half ago, Said Sheik-Abdi approached the Minnesota-based American Refugee Committee (ARC) asking the international humanitarian relief agency’s presence in Somalia. On April 13, ARC announced a new program, Neighbors for Nations, an ambitious initiative that would attempt to address the humanitarian crisis in Somalia, in partnership with Minnesota’s Somali community. The announcement came at a press conference at the Suuqa Karmel Somali Mall in the afternoon.

In the evening, more than 300 people were present at Minneapolis City Hall to hear about the program.  “We have met for one and half years to prepare for this day,” said Abdihram Ahmed, a council member and Safari Restaurant owner from Minneapolis.

Anyone who wishes to support the Neighbors for Nations program may contact program manager, Said Sheik-Abdi at 612-872-7060 or SaidS@ARChq.org

Together with the Minnesota-based Internally Displaced Somali Advisory Council, ARC has identified the Galkaayo Education Youth Development Trust as a Somali partner and is building a youth center as the first initiative towards its long-term mission in Somalia.  ARC’s president Daniel Wordsworth says the center will provide young men with education, job skills and a safe recreation space. The hope is to provide education job skills in carpentry, mechanics and community health for young male workers. 

 

Personal/poliitical reflections on aid and Somalia

by Nekessa Opoti

 

The American Refugee Committee has announced that it will be setting up in Somalia. I’m acquainted with some members of the Internally Displaced Somali Advisory Council that is partnering with the ARC on this project, and think it laudable that the process has involved much consultation and partnership. It is this success that suggests the potential to do a lot more, if different work, in future.
 
This isn’t a lack of appreciation for the great work the ARC has done, and is proposing to do. However, considering the goodwill and resources available, it may be time to consider turning the page on a long history of aid to Somalia, and deploying these resources there in other ways.
 
ARC director, Daniel Wordsworth, acknowledges that Somalis abroad have continued to support their country through its difficult times. Yusuf Ali, from the Advisory Council, says that his family and friends, even those who earn minimum wage abroad, send as much money as they can to Somalia.
 
Some of this money is no doubt channeled into family consumption, but as the New York Times reports, more than 80 percent of small businesses in Somalia are funded by Diaspora remittances. The article values these annual remittances at up to $1 billion, or about 18 percent of Somalia’s GDP.
 
The ARC plans to work out of the safer North, in areas like Garoowe, Galkaayo and Boosaaso, and it is especially there, in following the example set by the country’s Diaspora in funding small businesses, that may be found the potential for a revision in future intervention. The energy that today raises hundreds of thousands in aid-dollars may be a pool for the startup capital for several hundred businesses, scaling up the effect of individual remittances and developing the structures for commerce and industry that would free many families from a dependence on aid.

This is not ARC’s first time in Somalia. Citing safety concerns, the agency left Somalia twelve years ago. Wordsworth said that some regions, like Puntland and Somaliland, are “relatively stable.” Many humanitarian organizations work remotely from Nairobi and Djibouti, and there is not enough transparency, Wordsworth says. Further, a twenty-year civil war has left millions of Somalis without very basic needs. Wordsworth says a collaboration with the Somali diaspora is apt since they have continued to care about the plight of their motherland when the rest of the world has ignored Somalia. A 2008 study by the British Department for International Development shows that more than 80 percent of small businesses in Somalia are funded by the diaspora.

An assessment tour of Somalia last summer, and tens of meetings with Somali Minnesotans at community centers and mosques over the last year and a half has proved successful in creating a presence and trust in the local community.

The chair of the Internally Displaced Somali Advisory Council, Yusuf Ali, says that ARC will give legitimacy to the passion of Somalis in assisting their homeland.

“Every weekend, I am invited to a fundraising of sorts,” said Ali. “Now we can marry a compassionate Somali community with the ARC’s technical know-how.” ARC has, for thirty years, worked in humanitarian crises in different parts of the world. Ali is sure that Somali Minnesotans can raise as much money as is needed, and ARC will use those monies to implement projects.

UCare, a local HMO, announced a $50,000 matching grant for Neighbors for Nations. Many of UCare’s employees and clients are Somali. “We would like to go beyond making financial contributions,” said its CEO Nancy Feldman. The United Way has pledged $100,000.

Other fundraising efforts include a 1,000 Giving $1000 initiative in the local Somali community. St. Paul’s Southwest High School senior Mohamed Samatar is one of thirty Somali Minnesotans who have pledged to raise $1,000. “I want to give back to my community,” he said. In a similar fundraising initiative, Samatar said he raised $20,000 in eight days and will use those skills to raise money for Neighbors for Nations.