Muna Scekomar, marketing director for the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa (ARAHA) is stepping up to combat child malnutrition in the Horn of Africa. Credit: Jaida Grey Eagle | Sahan Journal

Muna Scekomar has had a busy Ramadan. 

When she’s not producing The Digital Sisterhood, a podcast with more than 10 million downloads that tackles difficult issues Muslim women face, Muna is working as the marketing director for the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa (ARAHA).

ARAHA, a nonprofit based in Columbia Heights, organizes multiple initiatives to provide emergency humanitarian aid and long-term support to people experiencing famine as a result of unprecedented drought in Somalia, Kenya, and Ethiopia. The region has been in a drought since 2020, and previously experienced year-long droughts in 2010 and 2016. 

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees reported that 3.3 million people in the area have been impacted. Refugees are in need of food, nutrition, water, shelter, medical care, and other relief items.

As part of Sahan Journal’s coverage of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, we’ve been highlighting several community members and their charitable deeds. Ramadan began on the evening of March 22, and ends with a worldwide celebration of Eid al-Fitr tentatively set for April 21. The holiday commemorates the month when the Qur’an, the Islamic holy book, was first revealed more than a thousand years ago. 

Observing Muslims who are physically capable abstain from food and drink daily from dawn until sunset during Ramadan. Muslims also pray throughout the day, read the Qur’an, spend time bettering themselves, and treat others with kindness, which often includes donating to charities.

Muna, a Woodbury resident, shared the humanitarian relief efforts that are important to her, and talked about the organizations she will be supporting during the holy month. The interview,  Sahan’s last Ramadan profile this year, has been edited for length and clarity. 

What are you thinking about most this Ramadan? 

One of the things I’ve been focusing on this Ramadan is to start implementing incremental change into the type of lifestyle I want to live. So, for example, I have to live with the Qur’an to be a teacher of the Qur’an. So, I’ve been looking at my daily life and seeing how I’m including Qur’an into it. 

When it comes to the life I want to live in the future and who I want to be in my identity, how can I start shaping that in my every day during Ramadan? I’m focusing on Qur’an, because one day I want to have a mountain village where we teach Qur’an and escape the world. That’s my dream.

What causes are important to you?

Right now, it’s causes concerning women and children, especially when it comes to being able to have opportunities to thrive. With ARAHA, we’re combatting the malnutrition of children because of the famine in the Horn of Africa. 

It’s also important to me to protect places of worship from sexual predators. I’ve seen a lot of people for whom their connection with Allah gets destroyed because of the evil of someone. Some of the most vulnerable populations are children and young adults learning Qur’an at mosques. Those are things I’m trying to figure out how to systemically change. It’s a long process because you need to understand it holistically. But I’m working on how we can get rid of this toxic silence about an issue that is everywhere. 

What charities or groups are you donating to during Ramadan?

Through my work with ARAHA, one of the things I learned is that famine is the highest level of food insecurity and causes the most amount of death. A lot of people make starvation out to be inevitable, but it’s actually very preventable. All it requires is for people to listen to the signs. 

As a person who lives in the United States, which produces the most amount of pollution in the world, we don’t face it, we don’t feel the effects. It’s the places that have vulnerable populations, like in the Horn of Africa, such as farmers—they literally produce very minimal carbon dioxide, but they’re the ones that get hit the most by flooding, droughts, or other natural disasters. 

It’s been five years of low rainfall and people have left their homes, lost children, reached levels of malnutrition that is catastrophic. If malnutrition happens to a child the effect of it stays with them forever, whereas an adult can bounce back. 

Right now, the initiative we’re doing is called Ship A Container. Each container has about 250,000 meals and it just costs $8,000. Not only does it save people from dying, but it also brings kids back from malnutrition and the long-term impacts of it. I’ve started challenging some of my friends and organizations to really take on the challenge. Eight-thousand dollars is something that can transform someone’s life.

Why is it important to give during Ramadan?

Giving during Ramadan is extremely important for you as an individual because this is a month that multiplies all deeds and blessings. Everything you give is multiplied so giving is even more beneficial. It’s like if you were playing a game and at a certain point you score you get double the points, that’s the time you should step up and do more. 

There’s a wisdom in forcing people to feel hunger for a month. We all have different privileges. Your life circumstances might not allow you to ever feel hungry. But this month, Allah forces everyone to feel that. You learn that starvation happens quietly. You could be sitting in a room and five people are starving sitting next to you and you wouldn’t know. Ramadan allows you to be more conscientious and aware of hunger and the impacts of it. 

Our hearts become dead throughout the year. We become lost, we become forgetful, but this month is a time for awakening before we forget again. 

How can others join in your support?

There are two aspects of what ARAHA does: alleviating suffering and developing self-reliance. 

The group does a lot of programs in the Horn of Africa, like school lunch programs, so that parents also have more incentive to send their kids to school. There are also education programs, school sponsorships, programs to support kids to go to college. We also distribute Ramadan food baskets which are $100, and they feed an entire family. 

There’s also an orphan sponsorship program which provides money for each orphan so the guardian can take care of the children. One woman actually had six kids in the orphan sponsorship program, and she said as a mother, being able to see your child fulfilled and happy and nourished—that transforms your whole life. 

We also have this unique thing called a Lifesaver campaign. You can choose an emergency campaign to raise funds for, for example, a person who is need of a kidney surgery. 

You can also buy an Eid gift for someone, since Eid is coming up soon. There are so many initiatives and they’re all on the website. 

There are a lot of ways to get involved. ARAHA has been doing work for more than 22 years now, and it started out with people from the region saying, “I’m okay now, but what about the people I’ve left behind?”

Hibah Ansari is a reporter for Sahan Journal covering immigration and politics. She was named the 2022 Young Journalist of the Year by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. She’s a graduate...