Droughts abroad touch lives at home

The devastating effects of the ongoing drought in Somalia extend all the way to Minnesota.

by Rania Abuisnaineh

Severe famine, political instability and the worst drought in 60 years are threatening the lives of over 11 million people in the Horn of Africa âÄî namely Somalia âÄî yet many of us remain unresponsive to their cries.
Our very own Minnesota community often perceives East Africa as a faraway land where an unknown population thousands of miles away is suffering.

But according to the U.S. Census BureauâÄôs American Community Survey from 2010, there are 25,000 Somalis dwelling in Minnesota, all woven tightly into the fabric of American culture. They are our co-workers, friends, classmates, professors and neighbors. To ignore the remote suffering in Somalia and its neighboring countries is to disregard the ethnic roots of a large Minnesota population.
Senior Muna Mohamed, 22, is a board member of the Somali Student Association at the University of Minnesota. Since her freshman year, she has devoted a tremendous amount of time to working with the American Refugee Committee and the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa. When her volunteer group ventured through a mall last week to raise donations for the drought, the non-Somali public had mixed reactions.
Muna Mohamed said that many people thought their request was a clandestine effort to raise money for al-Shabab, an Islamist insurgent group struggling to dismantle SomaliaâÄôs current government.

âÄúA lot of people really got scared, [thinking], âÄòI donâÄôt want to put my money in a place that the FBI is suspicious of,âÄôâÄù she said.
Although al-Shabab has excluded humanitarian workers from entering areas under its control in Somalia, the Minnesota-based ARAHA organization ensures that the relief money it collects falls directly in the hands of famished women and children, specifically those fleeing to nearby countries.
Muna MohamedâÄôs experience reflects the widespread stereotype that local Somali Muslims are involved with militant groups back in Somalia. When the volunteers from ARAHA and ARC realized this, Muna Mohamed said they took extra precautions to substitute âÄúEast AfricaâÄù for âÄúSomaliaâÄù in their request for humanitarian aid.

âÄúThere are so many things being said about third world countries that are making people hesitant to step up,âÄù Muna Mohamed said. âÄúDonâÄôt let the media decide how much of a human you should be.âÄù

Nasro Mohamed, who recently received her masterâÄôs degree in social work at the University of Minnesota, was born in the Dadaab, the worldâÄôs largest refugee camp in Kenya, to where 1500 Somalis are now fleeing to on a daily basis. She spends most of her time at the Brian Coyle Community Center located in the Cedar- Riverside neighborhood, where the majority of the Minnesota Somali community resides. When she asked her non-Somali friends to support the cause, they willingly accepted the invitation.

âÄúSomaliaâÄôs not far away anymore; SomaliaâÄôs across the street,âÄù Nasro Mohamed said. âÄúEven if itâÄôs not your mom or your dad, IâÄôm sure you at least know a friend or a neighbor who this [drought] is impacting.âÄù

The United Nations Relief and Works Agency recently appealed for $136.3 million in relief. The responsibility to meet this demand is an international one. For our local Minnesota community, our obligation is two-pronged: To curtail the largest humanitarian crisis abroad, we need to begin by engaging ourselves with our local Somali community and realize that their suffering is also our own