Somali students fight famine, forgetfulness


Students from the University of Minnesota’s Somali Student Association are frustrated with the media’s declining interest in the African famine.

A drought throughout the Horn of Africa brought on a famine that has killed more than 29,000 children in Somalia alone.

 Students like junior Fadumo Abdul .have perceived a loss of media interest in what the United NStations has called the worst humanitarian crisis of this generation, so they have decided to take action.

“I remember in the summer there was this whole momentum with the media and every channel was covering it but now, it’s like they got bored and it’s pretty disappointing,” Abdul said.

Inspired by local relief efforts, the SSA has teamed up with the American Refugee Committee of Minnesota on a “do-it-yourself” campaign called “I am a Star” that aims to use individual ideas and social networking to spread famine-relief efforts locally and worldwide.

“People think the famine has declined and that everything is fine in the region, but it’s not and this campaign will hopefully remind people that our work is not done,” Abdul said.

Nearly 750,000 Somalis are still at risk of death from famine in the next four months.

Conditions in Somalia are additionally exacerbated by warfare between the African Union and the militant group al-Shabab, which has prompted many residents to flee different parts of the nation’s capital, Mogadishu.

U.S. humanitarian efforts in the area have provided more than $600 million to the famine-stricken countries of Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. Food assistance has already reached an estimated 1.87 million Somalis, according to the U.N.

Abdul said she was looking for a way to get involved in the relief efforts and that she had heard about the campaign through a friend late last summer.

“I have a close friend who works for ARC and I’ve been doing volunteer work with them also over the summer, so naturally I heard about the campaign when it was first starting and did not hesitate to join,” she said.

The campaign includes an interactive website that allows people from all over the world to share ideas on relief efforts and offers suggestions on how individuals can “Be a Star for Somalia” — from blogging to organizing car washes and other fundraisers.

The SSA, along with other Somali students from the University, has organized walks for the relief and promoted door-to-door fundraising. Members have donned t-shirts with the “I am a Star” campaign logo to get more people involved.

SSA President Mohamed Dirie said he was honored to be asked to be a part of the campaign and that he loved its new-age approach.

“The campaign really uses new ways of getting out the word on the famine and I love the T-shirts and the bumper stickers ideas,” Dirie said. “I think it’s a great way to keep the momentum of relief efforts going and SSA is proud to be involved.”

Shukri Abdinur, a program assistant with ARC and a recent graduate of the University, said she’s impressed with the work SSA is doing and of “how quickly they took action to join and do their part.”

Abdinur said SSA’s promotion and involvement with the campaign has propelled the main effort, which is to keep the famine on people’s minds and to inspire young people to contribute.

Therese Gales, public affairs and outreach manager for ARC, said the campaign has been a success so far and that it has done much more than just bring awareness about the famine.

“The campaign has done a wonderful job of keeping the issue alive and at the same time, it has built a community of not just Somalis, but all kinds of people,” Gales said. “They have come together around the issue of the famine.”

The SSA plans on working with the ARC on the campaign as long as it runs and is excited to see its future.

“The campaign is really important to me and the other students of SSA and all over Minnesota because we all have been affected by the famine in one way or another or know of someone who has been directly affected,” Dirie said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report