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article imageSomali-Canadian Rally Drums up Support for Beleaguered Homeland Special

By Farid Abdulhamid     Aug 4, 2011 in World
Toronto - The stifling summer heat was no deterrent for the concerned Somali-Canadians who converged outside the US Consulate in downtown Toronto to galvanize action for their drought and famine ravaged homeland.
“Help Somalia!” “Save the Children of Horn of Africa!” “Stop the War!” and “No Peace, No Justice!’ were powerful chants that greeted the public, pedestrians and onlookers alike as motorists honked to express solidarity with members of the Project ARAN Canada, organizers of the Saturday, July 30th rally and march and the multitude of demonstrators waving banners and placards clad in white and orange T-Shirts emblazoned with “Help Somalia” slogans.
More chants of “Stand up Canada! Open Your Hearts! Open Your Wallets!” rang across the downtown Toronto streets. ARAN stands for “prosper” and “grow” and the nascent organization is credited with galvanizing action within the Somali-Canadian community and in mainstream Canadian circles.
With latest UN reports indicating that tens of thousands have already died and hundreds of thousands are at risk of starvation in the Horn of Africa, Somali-Canadians are stepping up efforts to raise greater awareness about the crisis as well as expand relief campaigns for their beleaguered nation.
Somalia is experiencing the worst drought in 60 years and the UN has declared the unfolding humanitarian disaster “the worst crisis” in the world today. Close to 12 million people in the region are affected while hundreds of thousands of children in Somalia are severely malnourished. The UN has officially declared a famine in the epicentre of the crisis – the worst hit regions of Bay, Bakool and Lower Shabelle while the rest of the country is classified to be “on brink of a famine”.
Compounded by ongoing conflict in South-Central Somalia, thousands of people continue to trek hundreds of miles in scorching heat across the Somali desert to overcrowded refugee camps located in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia. The majority of these refugees end up in Dadaab camp, in northern Kenya, the largest in the world where over 400,000 people are crammed in squalid conditions.
Nawal Isse, a social worker and Project ARAN organizer based in Toronto, arrived in Canada at the onset of the Somali civil war. She is determined to set foot on the ground to help in the relief efforts. Despite her unwavering commitment to support her homeland, Nawal, who arrived in Canada at only age 4, admits that going back to Somalia can be a challenge.
Project ARAN Canada organizers  Nawal (left)  and Hassan waving placards during the downtown  Toront...
Project ARAN Canada organizers, Nawal (left) and Hassan waving placards during the downtown, Toronto, rally.
Photo: Samir Tulloch.
“The only country I have known since childhood is Canada. I consider myself the lost generation. Canada is the only place I can call home. I feel lost in the middle but still have small, lovely memories of Somalia” said Nawal, adding that “I wish I could have been returning to Somalia on a pleasant, fun-filled vacation, but that’s not the case. The situation on the ground puts tears in my eyes knowing that I am going back for reasons of crisis. I can feel the pain from here already. I feel obligated to help my brothers and sisters back home who are dying. I want to help. I want to be their voice. I urge every Somali-Canadian to do the same”
Nawal equally expressed her solidarity with the entire Horn of African community that is engulfed in this crisis saying that victims of disaster in this region should be accorded all the help they need. A strong proponent of Somali-Canadian centred response , Nawal observes that self-reliant, self-directed action is the most viable mechanism of alleviating the human suffering in Somalia.
“ We need to take the initiative to act on behalf of our people. We shouldn’t rely on others to fix our problem. Somalia has a new generation of young people like me it can count on. We need to take back our country. Somalia has been led by others for far too long. It is time Somalia takes the lead. I can see Somali youth in North America, Europe, Middle East and elsewhere mobilizing and taking action. For Somalia! By Somalia! should be our motto.”
But it would take more than action to tackle Somalia’s intractable problems. Unity, Nawal noted, should be the cornerstone of the struggle to rebuild the war-torn nation.
“We don’t want Somalia to disintegrate. If we unite and consolidate our ranks, we can conquer all the ills and misfortunes in Somalia and the Horn of Africa at large. You can never underestimate the power of unity. We need to band together as one people. For that to happen, we must transcend tribal and regional loyalties. I don’t believe in petty tribalism. Those who have the same ideas and share the same goals to help Somalia are my tribe. The same is true of like minded youth in the Diaspora."
Like Nawal, Fahima Artan arrived in Canada at a young age. Fahima stated that Somali-Canadians are grateful to Canada for providing a safe heaven, re-settlement programs and education for those fleeing the protracted conflict and wished that she could one day “go back home to a peaceful, stable Somalia”.
“The reason I came out today is that I am disturbed by the fact that children are dying. We must show the world we can get together as a people and take action of our own. If each individual, young and old, donates $1 each, that would make a huge difference. I will do everything in my power to alleviate the suffering of the victims of the disaster” said Fahima.
Her views are echoed by youngsters Aisha Mohamed and Iman Issa who said “every penny, every dollar counts”. Aisha says that Canada is doing the best it can but hopes that it allocates the bulk of the aid geared for the East Africa famine relief to Somalia, the hardest hit nation in the region.
“Every 6 minutes, a child dies in Somalia. We must raise awareness to get people to join and donate generously toward our cause” adds Aisha. Hawa Kin Mohamed concurs with Aisha and Iman stating that “kids and women with no food, water and shelter are dying. Every penny counts! We must stand up for Somalia.”
Suad Aimad, an organizer with ARAN said that the organization came up with the initiative to encourage every Somali-Canadian to participate directly in relief efforts to rescue their beloved homeland. But Suad is increasingly concerned that the ongoing crisis and overall political instability in Somalia could have far reaching implications that may potentially threaten the very existence of this nation.
“The protracted conflict in Somalia and recurring crises are creating a disturbing pattern of exodus and depopulation which in the long run, may drive this nation into extinction. If Somalis don’t unite to end the ongoing mayhem, we may end up in the annals of history as a nation that was driven into extinction by disunity and societal fragmentation” said Suad. She issued a stern warning that if Somalis are not careful, “Historians will teach future classrooms that once upon a time, a prosperous Horn of African nation called Somalia collapsed and never recovered, its people were dispersed all over the world and lost all traces of their identity and the entire nation was wiped out from the face of the world map.”
Somali-Canadians holding placards during the rally.
Somali-Canadians holding placards during the rally.
Photo: Samir Tulloch.
Suad said that she doesn’t want to sound pessimistic about the future of Somalia but thinks that it is time someone raised the alarm. “Like no other country in the world, Somalis are being driven out of their country or choose to leave voluntarily on a massive scale. We have never seen this level of exodus in recent memory. If our people continue to flock in large numbers into Kenya and Ethiopia, they will down the road, become Kenyanized or Ethiopianized. The foundations upon which we can rebuild and save our country are rooted in Somalia, not neighbouring countries. To prevent the situation from turning calamitous, we must unite.”
Sagal Ahmed, ARAN’s assistant co-ordinator, said that unity and action on the ground hold the key to unlocking Somalia’s dilemma.
“Our people must stick together and unite in the face of the unfolding crisis. We are obligated to help each other and must do everything in our power to facilitate relief operations on the ground. The most effective way to alleviate the suffering is to step up disaster response inside Somalia. In the next 3 months, 3.5 million people may perish if immediate actions are not taken to halt the famine. It is imperative that Somali-based initiatives and global relief campaigns establish a solid base inside Somalia to directly assist the victims of the disaster” said Sagal.
While Project ARAN Canada calls upon Somali-Canadians to stand up for their country, Hassan Sheikh, an organizer with the dynamic group says that it is encouraging to see Canada taking a prominent role at state level response.
“We thank the Canadian government for its excellent response and the Canadian citizens for doing their part. Canada and its people are known for their culture of giving and commitment to help others. There is no better way and time to demonstrate this level of generosity than in the current crisis” said Hassan.
Of late, development analysts have criticized northern-led NGOs for taking an easier route - turning the Dadaab refugee camp into a hub of relief efforts. Like many other concerned Somali-Canadians, Hassan is calling for aid agencies to go beyond Dadaab by reaching out to victims of disaster trapped in the epicentre of the ongoing crisis.
“Right now, 3.5 million people in the Bay, Bakool, Gedo and Lower Shebelle regions are at risk of perishing in this famine struck zone. When it comes to humanitarian response, the UN and other international aid agencies can’t pick and choose where to operate. They should go beyond Dadaab by reaching out to the worst hit areas inside Somalia. While emergency disaster response can be tricky and complex, humanitarian intervention should have no borders” said Hassan, adding that “Project ARAN Canada is ready to help aid agencies navigate around language and cultural barriers and facilitate the smooth delivery of aid to where it is needed most inside Somalia while coordinating closely with local communities”.
Stating that ARAN will act as the voice of the voiceless, Hassan believes that the ongoing crisis should not be solely seen as a Somali problem but an issue for entire humanity.
“This should be no different than the disaster responses for Haiti and Japan where people from across the world acted together. Regardless of their race, colour, religion or creed, we want everyone to participate in the relief efforts, not just Somalis, or Africans or Canadians but entire humanity in general” said Hassan.
Apart from calling for international humanitarian appeal, protesters also felt that everything should be done to bring the devastating Somali civil war to a halt.
“While we are here to demonstrate to fellow Canadians that Somalia needs help, Somalis must do something to stop the bloodshed. The ongoing crisis is compounded by the 20 years long political turmoil. We don’t want Somalia to go down further than this” noted Mohamed Omar.
Suad (second right)  leads the chanting during the Toronto rally.
Suad (second right), leads the chanting during the Toronto rally.
Photo: Samir Tulloch.
According to Mohamed, only an end to the political upheavals can save Somalia.
“People are needlessly dying of war and hunger. There had been no stable government in Somalia for 2 decades now. We better put in place a stable, competent government. Somalia would be in better position to tackle any impending crisis if it re-establishes a functioning government.”
Karim Nur also emphasized the unity project. “The saddest thing to ever happen is for an entire nation to be struck by a famine. We must come together for the future of our homeland. We can make a difference if we work together as one people.”
Project ARAN Canada has been hailed in media circles as an initiative of Somali-Canadians of the Lawrence and Weston neigbourhood, the commercial hub of the community. Nasro Sheikh Hassan, the proprietor of Golden Hair designs, is a member of group of mothers who pioneered community mobilization that culminated with the founding of ARAN. Nasro would like to see an end to the influx of Somali refugees into neighbouring countries where they are often mistreated and forced to live in deplorable conditions. She also confers tangible solutions to check the flow of refugees across borders.
“We must stop the influx of the displaced into refugee camps in Kenya and Ethiopia where they are often abused. Worse still, the weak, including children, mothers and the elderly, lack the energy to walk hundreds of miles in difficult terrain. They mostly end up dying on the way. The solution is to set up three refugee camps in the border areas inside Somalia in places like Bulla Hawo (Beled Hawo) and Doble while an interior camp should be opened in the Kismayo area. We also want the establishment of transit camps where aid workers operating on the ground can provide temporary relief for the displaced people who are trekking long distances in search of help” said Nasro who decried the actions of NGOs that profit from the suffering of Somali people.
Nasro would like to see more direct action from her community insisting that it is an obligation to help the suffering. Saying that every single dollar counts, Nasro feels that even minimal steps can produce results.
“If mothers who feed their children with MacDonald can cut back on that and every individual cuts back on their daily intake of coffee, it would free much needed dollars that can be re-directed to the needy in Somalia.”
Her fellow community activist and organizer, Suad Aimad, recently told Ogaal Radio (88.9FM) that “Canada is the land of plenty where people throw food into garbage while people in Somalia are starving.” These calls for food recovery models that have been applied elsewhere are now finding some traction in the Somali community.
Nasro believes that the ultimate solution lies in the establishment, of a strong, united, and competent national government in Somalia. Since parents are more concerned with the disintegration of a homeland they may not have the ability to rebuild by themselves, she sees hope in Somali youth who are mobilizing and taking action across the world.
“Without peace, there is no life. Hundreds of millions of dollars have been pumped into what the international community calls a government in Somalia. No one knows where the missing dollars end up. Somalia should rely on the youth who were born and raised here in the diaspora to rebuild our homeland. These youth are free from the scourge associated with clanism. They are the best asset we have today. They are here to build Canada and they have the potential to rebuild Somalia as well” said Nasro.
Left to Right  Aisha  Suad  Leila  Nasro and Nawal  during the rally and march in downtown Toronto.
Left to Right, Aisha, Suad, Leila, Nasro and Nawal during the rally and march in downtown Toronto.
Photo: Samir Tulloch.
Like everyone at ARAN, Nasro is of the view that Somalia is both a problem for Somalis and entire humanity.
“Canada is our home and we are all Canadians. Our primary objective is to help our people and Somalis should take the lead in the ongoing relief efforts. But the crisis we see today is also a call for humanity to act. Humanity came together for Haiti’s sake, which is laudable. It must also do everything to help rescue Somalia” said Nasro.
The mere mention of her name sends cold chills running up the spines of the Ford brothers. During her last year’s municipal campaign for Etobicoke North’s Ward 2, Dr. Cadigia Ali gallantly took on the Ford brothers (Mayor Rob Ford and Councilor Doug Ford) and won the public debates hands down. Despite missing out on City Hall, Dr. Cadigia Ali is still fighting to stop Rob Ford’s agenda. Protestors were encouraged to see Dr. Cadigia plying her familiar territory- grassroots community mobilizing and on this particular day, the rally for Somalia.
“In 1993, I was at this venue (outside US Consulate) for a famine relief rally for Somalia. It hurts me that almost 20 years later, I am back at this very venue for the same reasons” lamented Dr. Cadigia.
“I am upset and tired of the leadership vacuum in Somalia. The people of Somalia are caught in between a corrupt and ineffective government and the deadly Al-Shabab insurgency wrecking havoc on Somalia. Instead of helping Somalia’s children at this hour of need, these forces are still battling in the streets. We have had warlord MPs and Ministers who are not accountable to anyone and the reckless Al-Shabab who are blocking aid while innocent people starve” said Dr. Cadigia.
“Our children are being abducted, drugged and forcibly recruited as child soldiers by the insurgents. Our women and children are paying a heavy price in this protracted conflict. Blocking humanitarian aid is a serious crime. For whom does The Hague exist? asked Dr. Cadigia.
Dr. Cadigia says Somalia is technically under “a forced trusteeship that has illegally placed its sovereignty in the hands of member countries of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) notably, Uganda and Ethiopia. It is basically run by outsiders. Good people who went back to help their country are not allowed to work” noted Dr. Cadigia, emphasizing that “Somalis must come together and build effective security in Somalia. Without security, nothing will work.”
To donate money toward humanitarian relief in the Horn of Africa, donors can reach Project ARAN Canada by phone at the following numbers:
Hassan Sheikh (416) 837-1948, Suad Aimad (647) 703-7229.
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More about Project ARAN Canada, Somali Canadians, Somalia
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