Mohamed Abdinur will never forget the Somali famine of 1992. Not because he lived through it, but because of what he learned from his father.
“My house was always filled with families arriving from the airport or a shelter,” said Abdinur, whose father opened his home to new Somali refugees in Detroit. “Looking back, I can see how my father really became selfless to help those people.”
Abdinur, a recent graduate of the University of Minnesota, is using those childhood lessons to help victims of the current Somali famine, which the United Nations in early July declared the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.
Abdinur joins a group of Twin Cities Somali-American youth —including many other University students — that has spearheaded an emergency relief effort that’s raised $7,600 in the past three weeks to support victims of the famine and drought that continues to devastate their homeland.
More than 29,000 children under the age of 5 have died in the last 90 days in southern Somalia alone, according to U.S. estimates. The U.N. says 640,000 Somali children are acutely malnourished, suggesting the death toll of children will rise.
A drought has turned into famine because little aid can reach militant-controlled south-central Somalia, forcing tens of thousands of Somalis, who have exhausted their region’s food, to walk to camps in Kenya, Ethiopia and the Somali capital of Mogadishu.
“We’re tired of the bad news,” Abdinur said. “That’s why we need to do something positive to help.”
In collaboration with the American Refugee Committee, Abdinur and 30 others have organized car washes, picnics, poetry slams, middle and high school assemblies and door-knocking efforts to gather donations and promote awareness.
After handing off the funds to ARC, the money is wired directly to an ARC committee in Mogadishu to purchase items like grain and cooking oil for victims, said Therese Gales of ARC.
Though many participating have no recollection of Somalia and don’t have family directly impacted by the famine, they said they are united by a sense of obligation and urgency to help their fellow Somalis.
“Even though most of us are too young to remember Somalia, at the end of the day, we’re still Somali-Americans,” said Raqiya Mohamed, who chairs the group’s community outreach committee. “It’s a place that’s embedded in who we are. … Without our help, our people will continue to suffer.”
‘Those are our brothers and sisters’
The group of Somali-American college students first met at the ARC offices three weeks ago to plan a way to aid famine victims.
Then the students used every spare minute — some even took time off from work or summer classes — to organize events and community efforts to support their cause, said Shukri Abdinur, a recent University global studies graduate said.
Their Facebook page, “The Hope to End Hunger: for the Drought Victims of Somalia” is the communication base and has about 550 members.
“The reason a lot of us got involved is because those are our brothers and sisters,” Shukri Abdinur said, though she added not all volunteers are Somali-American. “There is no excuse for anybody not to want to help somebody in that condition.”
Gales said though ARC provides guidance and support for the students, they have been self-motivated and independent for much of the process.
Many of the volunteers said they were called to action by media headlines and images from their home country.
Several student volunteers described the same reaction to the images of malnourished children — a tingly feeling in his or her gut that couldn’t be shaken without doing something to help.
“I get a sickening feeling in my stomach, like somebody punched me,” Saida Hassan said. “I don’t know anyone who could look at those pictures and not feel the same way.”
Mohamed Abdinur, who helped organize a picnic fundraiser, keeps a cut-out photo of a young, malnourished Somali boy printed on the cover of the Aug. 2 New York Times as motivation.
“I was really shocked, hurt and angry when I saw it,” he said. “But I knew what I had to do.”
‘The month of giving’
On Sunday evening, a group of about 20 student volunteers gathered in an apartment near Augsburg College.
Many were preparing to break their 17-hour fast — with a feast called Iftar — as part of the Muslim observation of Ramadan.
After a group prayer, everybody loaded their plates and broke off into small groups. Many discussions centered on what to do next in their relief efforts.
“We believe this is the month of giving,” Hassan said of Ramadan. “That should really help the situation.”
In the spirit of the religious month, the next fundraising effort will be the University of Minnesota Somali Student Association’s Ramadan Iftar event, which will be hosted on Friday at Carlson School of Management.
Mohamed Dirie, the Somali Student Association president, said he has been inspired by the work of his peers, many of whom serve on the board of his student organization.
“Because of some of the things these people are doing and some of the organizing members are taking part in,” he said, “I have hope that one day things will get better for Somalia.”
—The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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