Somalis In America Strive To Help Those Back Home As drought engulfs the Horn of Africa, Somalia is among the hardest-hit because of its ongoing civil war. In America, refugees from Somalia are doing what they can to help — from organizing aid groups to holding charity events, such as car washes.
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Somalis In America Strive To Help Those Back Home

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Somalis In America Strive To Help Those Back Home

Somalis In America Strive To Help Those Back Home

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One place where those appeals are being heard is Minneapolis. The city has a large community of Somali immigrants, and some came following a devastating famine in their homeland two decades ago. Sasha Aslanian of Minnesota Public Radio reports on efforts there to mobilize help for Somalia.

SASHA ASLANIAN: Sultan Aliyoow is consumed by the suffering in his homeland. This afternoon, he's going door-to-door to Somali-owned businesses in South Minneapolis.

Mr. SULTAN ALIYOOW: So we have Somali tribes that own businesses, and I got to talk to them also, one by one, we'll go upstairs.

ASLANIAN: The Karmel Mall is a warren housing small merchants, travel agents, money transfers and tax offices. Shaking hands with everyone, Aliyoow reminds them to come to a weekend fundraiser.

Mr. ALIYOOW: (Foreign language spoken)

ASLANIAN: He urges them to call relatives back home in Somalia to check on them. Wiring money is an expected part of life in this new immigrant community, but Aliyoow is imploring them to do more.

Mr. ALIYOOW: Most of Somali, they help their family. That's the reason the last 20 years we never had this kind of issue. But right now, there are some people, they don't have anybody in - out of the country, they don't have anybody who could help. They just used to help theirself. But who's going to help those people?

ASLANIAN: Many of the hardest-hit areas are controlled by al-Shabaab, an Islamic militant group the U.S. government considers a terrorist organization. In the past two years, prosecutors have charged 20 Minnesota Somalis as part of the FBI's investigation of alleged material support to al-Shabaab. One of the fears in the Somalia community is that the money wired for famine relief could fall into the wrong hands. To try to avoid that, they're forging partnerships with humanitarian groups.

Daniel Wordsworth heads the Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee. Two years ago, he was approached by local Somalis who wanted ARC to go into Somalia. The U.N. World Food Program considers Somalia the most dangerous country in the world and Wordsworth said he would go in only with the help of local Somalis. After two years of planning, Wordsworth says ARC now has a Somali team working in Mogadishu.

Mr. DANIEL WORDSWORTH (American Refugee Committee): They have family members on the ground that they're talking to every single day, and many of these people have been here for more than 10 years. So they're trained doctors. They're trained engineers. They have skills that can be taken back to their country to make a difference.

ASLANIAN: And there's a feeling in this immigrant community that they have to make a difference. Twenty-six-year-old Fadumo Mohamed runs a home health care business. She's haunted by thoughts of her elderly uncle, left alone in the drought.

Ms. FADUMO MOHAMED: After a couple days, they found him, and he was blind. He lost his sight, lack of water. And I'm like, every single time I'm showering and I have all this water around me, I just thank God for what we have here.

Unidentified Woman: Would you like a car wash for $5 to help the famine?

ASLANIAN: In a grocery store parking lot in south Minneapolis, Somali college students hold a fundraiser. Twenty-six-year-old Ifrah Esse is one of the organizers. She graduated from the University of Minnesota and now works as an international sourcing specialist for Target.

Ms. IFRAH ESSE: Twenty years ago, I was in a predicament where I was in a refugee camp. And no one could imagine that here today, being a college graduate and working and - that that was me 20 years ago. But I know. That was my reality. When I see pictures, when I see people starving, when I see people that have no hope, I can relate to that.

ASLANIAN: In this parking lot in Minneapolis, they earned $860 dollars washing cars, and that money went directly to the American Refugee Committee to help those suffering from hunger in Mogadishu.

For NPR News, I'm Sasha Aslanian in Minneapolis.

(Soundbite of car horn honking)

Unidentified Group: Whoo! Thank you! Thanks a lot.

(Soundbite of music)

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