Wednesday, August 17, 2011
Wrenching images of the famine in Somalia, haunting memories of their own and a hope their efforts might lead to a more stable future keep the bright-eyed youth determined to help their motherland.
It’s the story of a mother who left her home in Somalia with her six children seeking food at a Kenyan refugee camp that Abdi Karim Hussein cannot shake. By the time the woman arrived at the camp, only two of her kids had survived.
“That type of image…it stays with you," Hussein, 28, said. "For a long time, especially if you’re a parent yourself or if you have young siblings. It’s an image you cannot work to get rid of.”
For Nasir Budul, it’s his own experience in a camp that he can’t shake.
“I know what they’ve been through," Budul, 25, said. "I still have vivid memories when I was back home living in tents and having no food. All I’m doing is just trying to give back.”
And it’s the understanding that these young San Diego Somalis themselves could have easily been a statistic in Somalia where 12 million people have no access to food and water, according to international aid groups.
“Thirty thousand kids under the age of five have died, 300,000 face malnutrition, 600,000 face imminent death," said Abdi Buul. "So we know as youth if we didn’t get the visa to come out here back in the early 90s, that could have easily been us.”
Buul is head of the Somali Youth League. The group has mobilized young Somali men and women in San Diego to raise money for the famine victims in Somalia. This week, many members were still riding high from a banquet fundraiser last Friday when they raised $25,000. That's no small feat in San Diego’s Somali community where unemployment hovers between 40 and 50 percent and many are on public assistance. Nonetheless, Asma Abdi, 24, said people are yearning to give.
“Many community members were donating what they could afford, whether it be their voice if they did not have money, whether it be water, food, their time," Abdi said.
At a recent car wash fundraiser, some in the community pressed $100 bills into the hands of organizers. There’s a deep desire to help from non-Somalis as well. One of the youth league’s co-workers gave him the $600 she had saved to buy a new washer and dryer.
For many within the Somali community, like Hodan Ugas, the famine is a stark reminder of the abundance she has compared to relatives back home.
“Sometimes after we have a meeting or I watch a YouTube clip and I’m starting to eat, I feel guilty for eating because it’s kind of frustrating when you have everything to eat but they don’t have anything," Ugas said. "That’s why I work so hard.”
The Somali Youth League wants the work they’ve started on behalf of Somalia to continue even after the famine ends. The country has been wracked by civil war since 1991. Millions of refugees have fled the violence and landed in Europe and the United States. San Diego is home to one of the largest Somali communities in the U.S.
The Islamist rebel group al-Shabaab, which is affiliated with Al Qaeda, controls most of the drought stricken areas. The civil war between al-Shabaab and pro-government forces has only worsened the food crisis. The group has refused to allow some Western agencies permission to deliver food. And some food aid has been stolen and sold in Somali shops.
Abdi Buul’s wish is that the famine unifies Somalis back home and everywhere else.
“This could be the catalyst to the youth uniting in the diaspora community," Buul said. "The youth that are educated in the west…we can take the best talents from here and our education and our experience and hopefully be able to give back.”