What Ramadan campaign Walaal Afuri teaches us about unity

Mogadishu residents buy goods in the market ahead of the holy month of Ramadan on May 31, 2016. [AMISOM Photo]

Mogadishu residents buy goods in the market ahead of the holy month of Ramadan on May 31, 2016. [AMISOM Photo]

When you hear Somalia, what comes to your mind?

Blue sky, Indian Ocean, ancient land?

Let me tell you more than that. Let me tell you a story.

It’s a story of dedication and absolute trust. It’s a story of many, of volunteers, of team work but most of all it’s the story of Omar Muhdin Moalin and Bashir Mursal Issa Botan.

Both men, Botan as well as Moalin, are British-Somalis who live and work in the beautiful city of London. Bashir is a guest relations manager at the Accor Hotels and he loves traveling for his life. Omar is a trained and qualified electrician and is now back to university to get himself a degree in engineering.

In July 2013, Botan went to Stockholm/Sweden attending the annual international Somali Football Summer Tournament. Present there as well was the Tayo Foundation asking participants and visitors for small donations. Botan gave willingly but wanted to know what the money was for. He was informed that it would be used to pay student fees in Somalia. On his third day at the tournament, Bashir decided to help out the Tayo Foundation with collecting money from U.K. visitors. He did that by constantly repeating two words: Walaal Afuri, Walaal Afuri – Feed your Sister/Feed your Brother. These two little words proved to be very effective. People gave their money whenever they would hear those words.

Upon his return from Stockholm, Botan was called by Omar Moalin. Moalin asked Botan to start with him together a Ramadan campaign to feed less fortunate in Somalia during the fastening month so that they would have food to break their fast. Bashir agreed instantly. And so it wouldn’t take them long to set up a registered charity, Great United Children, as well as the Ramadan campaign. It was also decided to use the very effective two words – Walaal Afuri – for the Ramadan campaign. And that is how this wonderful success story started.

In Ramadan 2013, Walaal Afuri collected a six figure amount of money from Somalis all over the world. In Ramadan 2014, it is was already three times more than the year before. In Ramadan 2015, it was $86,000. All money came from Somalis for Somalis. From around the globe.

Quite from the beginning, Omar and Bashir realized that they would need volunteers, Walaal Afuri Ambassadors, who will help them to collect money from and within the Somali community. They resorted to their very own families and friends first and they were not disappointed. With time the number of volunteers expanded and turned into a huge net of people spanning around the world. By now the Walaal Afuri Ambassadors’ collect money from London, Manchester, Leicester, all over the U.K., Minneapolis, Columbus, Ohio and many other cities in the U.S., from Canada, Germany, Australia, Holland, Sweden, Switzerland, Denmark, Somalia, Kenya – the list is long.

What attracted many people to Walaal Afuri is the complete transparency of how the money transfers are handled. If money was collected today, then it would be transferred to Somalia tomorrow. In an extra created Facebook group – which has by now almost 3,000 members – the receipts were posted every day and it would be announced where the money would go to. People loved this way of transparency.

When asked what was the smallest and what was the highest amount ever donated, Botan said: “The lowest amount we ever received was £0.20 ($0.30) from the U.K. and the highest amount we ever received was $5,000 from a man in Somalia. He wanted to remain anonymous and sent the money through someone else. Until today we don’t know who donated this amount of money.”

With the donated money, Walaal Afuri was able to set up two Walaal Afuri Kitchens, one in Marka and one in Mogadishu. “A Walaal Afuri Ambassador from London was in Mogadishu during Ramadan,” Botan said. “We’ve sent him money that came from all over and he made sure that every penny was spent on food. Even the chefs who cooked were volunteers. That’s how we started to set up our kitchens.”

And the donors, what is the make-up of the donors?

“The donors are 89 percent female and the Walaal Afuri Ambassadors are also 81 percent female,”Moalin said. “And almost 91 percent of our remittance went to mothers and elders.”

The collected money goes to all over Somalia, from the south to the north, from east to west – no region was particularly preferred.

But what is the outlook for the future?

“The Walaal Afuri Kitchens in 2014 and 2015 in Marka and Mogadishu were pilot schemes,” Moalin said. “They were very successful and we learned a lot from them. But we realized the need to expand and to get a new perspective. We needed to reach more people, those without telephone numbers. The homeless, the street kids, the beggars. In order to get to them in time and for them to find us we have set up an early GoFundMe campaign which is running now and which is meant to set up Walaal Afuri Kitchens before Ramadan even starts. The people are amazing and already donating.”

I must admit, I am impressed. But Bashir filled me in – it wasn’t stopping there.

Compared to the U.S. or the U.K., yearly student fees in a Somali university might appear low but are still too high for some bright students to pay. I was informed that Walaal Afuri has pledged to support ten university students from Mogadishu. They were initially inspired by the Tayo Foundation in that hot summer back in 2013 in Stockholm.

Now the time had come that Walaal Afuri was able to fulfill their dreams or better: the dreams of young Somali students and their parents. They will be supported by Walaal Afuri Ambassadors from the U.K., U.S., Canada, Sweden, Denmark and Australia.

It is heart-lifting to see how Somalis from the Diaspora support their sisters and brothers inside Somalia so generously. Education is the key to empower children and later young adults. Through education they can become active participants in the transformation of their societies. Their opportunities in the work environment and their quality of live has a chance to change for the better.

Walaal Afuri is a great initiative. A sign and hope of unity, much needed in Somalia and in Africa.

May Walaal Afuri be even more successful in supporting their sisters and brother in 2016.

Halima H. Hosh is a designer for contemporary African fashion at Fresh and Different. She lives in London. Follow her on Twitter @Halima_H_Hosh.

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