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Young Somalis raise funds for famine prevention - one dollar at a time

15 May 2017
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In Somalia, close to 3 million people cannot meet their daily food needs. Over 680,000 people have fled their homes this year alone in search of food, water, pasture for their animals, and safety. To avert catastrophe humanitarian organizations have scaled up their emergency assistance throughout the country. However, to date the Humanitarian Response Plan remains only one third funded, leaving a staggering US$987.5 million funding gap.

And Somalis are bridging the gap by pooling their own resources to support each-other.

Growing up in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, Ahmed Ibrahim has seen war, diseases and hunger threaten the lives of people in some parts of the country. But he has also witnessed the enduring resilience of the Somali people in the face of adversity.

“I have come to admire the strength and resilience of our people, their resolve to sacrifice the little they [have] to assist one another, and the passion of young men and women to make a positive impact [in] the society,” he said.

One afternoon in January this year, Ahmed received a tweet from a friend about acute watery diarrhoea (AWD)/cholera-related deaths in the Bakool region. He knew it was time to act. He churned out a series of tweets highlighting the gravity of the situation. It was a game changer. He rallied his friends and they rolled out an online campaign to marshal help for the drought-affected people. Baidoa, the capital of the south-western Bay region, bore the brunt of Somalia’s devastating drought, which has put millions of Somalis at risk of famine. Some 6.7 million people—more than half the population—need humanitarian assistance.

“The tweet was on the drought in the Bay and Bakool regions, with distressing accounts that some people were already dying. However, the severity had not been reported widely,” said Ahmed. 

When Ahmed and his friends reached out for help through social media, the response was overwhelming. As well as launching an online fundraising campaign using the hashtag #CaawiWalaal, they dispatched teams to sensitize people they could not reach through social media. Word spread fast in the country and the diaspora about the initiative, and in just three days they had raised US$550. Their target was $10,000. Two weeks later, they had raised $8,000. 

The funds were used to respond to the AWD/cholera outbreak in the Bay and Bakool regions, and to procure medicines and water for about 500 people in Baidoa, Burhakabo in Bay and Burduhunle villages in Bakool. With a team of volunteer doctors, they were able to reach the targeted people. Local medical suppliers agreed to supply medicine and equipment at discounted prices.

Through the support of teams in the diaspora, #CaawiWalaal has evolved into a GoFundMe campaign. It has surpassed the initial target, and the goodwill continues to grow. #CaawiWalaal appeals to people’s solidarity and counts on civil-society organizations and NGOs to deliver much-needed aid. “We are grateful for what the international community has done to help the drought-affected people in Somalia, but Somalis must join forces and proactively help people in need,” said Ahmed.

With an army of volunteers, CaawiWalaal  is now providing free water-trucking services in remote villages, medical supplies to treat AWD/cholera, and food assistance. The initiative has expanded to other areas of Somalia including Puntland. 

A feeding centre catering for up to 200 people a day has also been established at a health facility along the Afgooye corridor. An outreach programme is ongoing, through which a team of four volunteer doctors and six nurses visit displaced people’s homes twice a week to offer treatment and raise awareness.

“The water shortage in some of the drought-affected areas is so bad that some people are even ready to buy it from us in exchange for their animals, but we tell them we are providing it for free,” added Ahmed.

CaawiWalaal has now nominated ambassadors in almost a dozen countries to help mobilize additional resources. They are asking for as little as $5 in donations. So far, they have collected some $80,600. Regular fundraising events are organized in Mogadishu and in countries where they have representation. All the funds raised by the group are used to buy much-needed supplies. Volunteers pay out of their pockets for any individual or logistical costs incurred. 

To date, nearly 67,000 people in 12 regions of Somalia have benefited from life-saving assistance including food, water and medicines. “More importantly, we are inspiring thousands of Somalis to help their families and communities back home. This does not necessarily have to be through CaawiWalaal,” said Ahmed.

As a result of the drought, more than 680,000 people have left their homes in search of food and water. Major disease outbreaks are spreading, with over 36,000 cases of AWD/cholera and 7,000 cases of suspected measles so far this year. Acute malnutrition is increasing in most parts of the country.

Photos: Giles Clarke for Getty/OCHA