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As millions of people face severe hunger in the Horn of Africa as a result of the worst drought the region has faced in more than 40 years, the Somali diaspora in Minneapolis is once again rising to the occasion to raise funds and awareness for those back home.
One such event is a banquet to be held September 16 by the Famine Relief Committee, a coalition of people from all walks of life—business owners, nonprofit organizers, politicians, and local Muslim leaders—that takes a decentralized and community-oriented approach to organizing.
And it’s effective. Last year, the committee raised $420,000 with a similar banquet.
Yusra Arab, a former mental health practitioner and policy aide to the Minneapolis City Council, joined the coalition to ensure that Somalis have support and assistance from the diaspora. She hopes that this event—part of a monthslong series of events to send aid back home—will help provide more than just a Band-Aid solution to those affected by famine and drought in Somalia.
“How do we build resiliency?” Yusra asked. “How do we work with the people and the government so that this doesn’t become a reoccurring issue?”
A history of helping
This isn’t the first time that Minneapolis’ Somali community has mobilized to send aid back home. In April, about 40 organizers pledged to hold fundraising efforts to rebuild a market in Hargeisa, Somaliland, that was destroyed by a fire. They raised more than $1 million in under two weeks, Yusra said.
Abdirahman Kahin is a local organizer and the owner of Afro Deli and Grill. He describes himself as a humanitarian and philanthropist, and worked with about 20 other community stakeholders, including Arab, to put together the upcoming banquet.
Their goal—$2 million before the end of this year—is more aggressive than their last, Kahin said. They’ve already collected about $50,000.
The money they raise with this event will go to Humanitarian African Relief Organization, a nonprofit dedicated to providing humanitarian relief to people living in the horn of Africa. Humanitarian African Relief held a fundraising dinner of its own on August 13.
A familiar disaster, but even worse this time
Famine is particularly acute in Somalia due to four consecutive seasons of little rain and global supply chain issues caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the United Nations. It is also possible that the upcoming October-December rain season will also fail, which would lead to further crop failure and livestock death. This is the region’s worst climate change-related disaster in 40 years, according to UNICEF.
“They stopped sending kids to school because of the severity of the hunger,” Kahin said. More than 400,000 Somali children are at risk of dropping out of school due to famine and drought, according to Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere International.
Arab said the majority of East Africans across the globe have some level of connection to the crisis.
“I have families firsthand who lost half of their livestock, who were forced to migrate to big cities, who now rely on us being able to send money back home so that they can survive,” she said.
Famine is not new to Somalia, Kahin noted. Over a quarter of a million people, half of whom were children, died as a result of the 2011 famine, according to the United Nations. The country narrowly escaped famine in 2017.
“There is a little bit of fatigue,” Kahin said. “Every year when you raise money for famine, famine, famine—people, they just think it’s normal. It’s not normal.”
This fatigue is why events like the banquet are so important, he added. Not just for collecting monetary aid, but also to inform people and mobilize the community to act.
“Our biggest role right now in the community is not just to raise money, but also to raise awareness,” Kahin said.
The Famine Relief Committee and the Humanitarian African Relief Organization are far from the only groups working to alleviate the crisis in Somalia. Read Horn of Africa, a Minneapolis-based nonprofit, held an informational event August 12, and is holding an online fundraiser.
Abdirizak Abdi, an organizer with Read Horn of Africa, said that organizing aid in the diaspora is widespread, even at the family level.
“There’s a lot of great initiatives going on in the Twin Cities by different organizations and individuals–even at the family level,” Abdirizak said. “The communities in the diaspora are really very much connected with people back home.”
Kahin said he hopes that this type of community organizing becomes self-sustaining, and the primary player in humanitarian relief efforts.
Help, Kahin said, should come from the community first. “We have to be the first responder,” he said.
The Horn of Africa is facing a historic drought. Here’s how to help.
Famine Relief Committee Banquet (September 16, 2022)
The Famine Relief Committee is a coalition of people from all walks of life–business owners, nonprofit organizers, politicians, and local Muslim leaders–that takes a decentralized and community-oriented approach to organizing. Individual tickets to the organization’s September 16 banquet cost $200; a table for 10 is available for $2,000.
The Famine Relief Committee is also partnering with Humanitarian African Relief Organization on a fundraiser to benefit those affected by the drought. Humanitarian African Relief Organization, a volunteer-driven nonprofit, provides urgent humanitarian relief and long-term solutions to systematic issues throughout the Horn of Africa, including emergency response, orphan care, and youth employment opportunities.
The Somali Famine Relief Fund, a partnership between Somali Week, Super Eid, and the Humanitarian African Relief Organization, directs funds to local organizations in the regions hardest hit by the drought.
Read Horn of Africa USA is a nonprofit organization that works with communities in the Horn of Africa to improve access to water, education, and health solutions. This fundraiser will allow the group to provide immediate support–—including food, water, and shelter–to communities impacted by the drought.