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Feeding the Famine

By Nisma Elias '12 on March 31, 2012 05:10 PM

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Reed has a long tradition of humanitarian activism. In the 1930s students picketed a Nazi ship docked in Portland harbor. In the 1980s students took over Eliot Hall to protest apartheid in South Africa. Students and alumni are engaged in humanitarian efforts across the globe, such as Namaste Kathmandu, founded by alumni, which provides relief to families devastated by the civil war in Nepal.

An exciting upcoming event promises to follow in these noble footsteps. Last semester Erica Maranowski '15 formed a student group, Reedies for Somalia, to raise funds to fight the famine in Somalia, labeled by the United Nations to be the most acute hunger crisis in the world.

The UN is careful about using the word famine. In the past 20 years, only a few food shortages have qualified, including Sudan in 1998, Ethiopia in 2001, and Niger in 2005. But in July 2011, the UN declared a famine in Somalia, based on malnutrition and death rates, and said that the country was suffering its worst drought in more than 60 years. By early fall, the UN calculated that tens of thousands of people, mostly children, had starved to death or succumbed to malnutrition-related illnesses like measles. Although the UN recently declared that the official famine has ended, the crisis is far from over.

"Initially, very few of us had any idea that the famine could wipe out entire populations in Somalia," said Abrar Abidi '15, now a steadfast member of Reedies for Somalia, which is working to raise awareness about the ongoing starvation.

The group will host a fundraiser, Somali Relief: Let's Take Action, in Kaul Auditorium at 5 p.m., Saturday, April 7. The family-friendly event will celebrate Somalia's vibrant culture with a Dhaanto performance, a traditional Somali dance, while members of the Somali community will read their poetry onstage. Paapa hMensa '15, from Ghana will be performing his music. Anthropology professor China Scherz will be speaking, along with Portland resident Mustafa Abdul Kadir, who was born in Somalia, and has a chilling but inspirational story about how he managed to escape the conflict-torn country.

Proceeds will go to Islamic Relief USA (IRUSA), which has been operating in Somalia since 1998 and is one of the few organizations still working on the ground (unfortunately many aid workers have been attacked and relief organizations have pulled out of the country). IRUSA was selected by the Obama Administration to lead an awareness campaign in the United States about the East African crisis. A representative from the group will share his experiences working in Somalia and Kenya.

The fundraiser promises to have insightful talks, stirring performances and delicious food, all for the sake of a pressing cause. Don't miss it!