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article imageFeed Somalia subway drive raises funds for famine relief Special

By Farid Abdulhamid     Aug 14, 2011 in World
The campaign to feed Somalia’s starving hit Toronto’s underground as an energetic team of young volunteers descended on the TTC subway system to raise much-needed funds for their famine ravaged homeland.
Deployed in nine select subway stations along the Yonge-University-Spadina and Bloor-Danforth lines, the mostly student volunteers from the Feed Somalia youth-led international aid initiative collected money from Toronto commuters, between 7:00am – 9:30am and 3:00pm – 6:30pm during the Monday, August 8 and Wednesday, August 10 morning and evening rush hours.
By the end of the two-day subway funds drive, over $24,000 was raised for the victims of disaster in Somalia. Thanks to Toronto and Canada's culture of giving as well as the tireless efforts of dedicated volunteers and coordinators doing their best to alleviate human suffering in the disaster zone.
Feed Somalia is working in partnership with Human Concern International (HCI), a Canadian, charitable organization operating in 34 countries including Somalia. All proceeds from the subway blitz will go toward famine relief in Somalia.
Facing its worst drought in 60 years, the war-torn Horn of African nation is gripped by a devastating famine that is threatening millions of lives. The UN says 12 million people in East Africa are affected by the famine with conflict-prone Somalia being the hardest-hit country.
Volunteers donning Feed Somalia T-shirts pose for a photo at the St. Andrew Subway Station.
Volunteers donning Feed Somalia T-shirts pose for a photo at the St. Andrew Subway Station.
Photo: Omar Nur
Latest reports indicate that 30,000 Somali children have already died in the last three months. If immediate action is not taken by the international community to curtail the preventable famine, over 600,000 severely malnourished children on brink of starvation may perish in the next few weeks.
Displaced by drought, famine and conflict, thousands of people are forced to trek under scorching hit for hundreds of miles across the Somali desert to refugee camps in neighbouring Kenya and Ethiopia. Children, the weak and elderly, have succumbed to the harsh terrain while emaciated mothers and babies have reportedly died at the doorsteps of refugee camps. Those who survive the harrowing journey end up at the inhospitable Dadaab camp, located in northern Kenya. Nearly half million Somali refugees are crammed in squalid conditions in what has become the world’s largest refugee camp.
“The response has been good as people have been donating” said Elham Ashkar, the co-ordinator of Feed Somalia’s subway campaign who on Monday evening, led the drive from St Andrew Station. She was joined by volunteers Muna Rage, Mahad Mohamed and Suad Abukar. The Toronto fundraising drive follows a similar event in Edmonton where volunteers recently raised $14,000 during a walk for Somalia, exceeding their $10,000 target.
A Feed Somalia volunteer holding a donation box stands beside a giant poster depicting the images of...
A Feed Somalia volunteer holding a donation box stands beside a giant poster depicting the images of the famine.
Photo: Omar Nur
The well-co-ordinated funds drive has received a good share of media attention with reports that CP24, CBC and OMNI TV had conducted interviews at the Kipling and Yonge/Bloor subway stations.
According to Elham, Feed Somalia started in Toronto but has quickly grown into a global movement. Thanks to social media as tweeting and facebooking activists helped create other chapters in Edmonton, Winnipeg, London, Ottawa, Nairobi and California etc. The Feed Somalia website includes tabs for all chapter cities where potential donors can submit online donations via HCI. The youth-driven initiative has partners in different parts of the world.
Elham urged the Canadian public to donate even beyond the subway blitz saying that “the Canadian government will be matching donations dollar for dollar till September 16th”.
“Donations are tax deductible with no overhead cost to donors as hundred percent of money donated will go toward local NGOs. HCI is also donating additional money from its own budget” said Elham adding that “donations are directly channeled to two reliable partners on the ground; the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation and Himilio, another local NGO. These organizations are engaged in food distribution initiatives.”
Elham notes that HCI and Feed Somalia are reputable organizations that are transparent and accountable to the public.
“We monitor the situation closely and our partners update us regularly on the operations on the ground. This serves as a proof that we are openly accountable to the donors.”
Volunteers strategizing at the Dundas Subway Station.
Volunteers strategizing at the Dundas Subway Station.
Photo: Omar Nur
Apart from the ongoing famine, Elham says Somalia is facing long term development challenges. In the interim, concerted efforts should be taken to alleviate the humanitarian crisis but the world should keep in mind Somalia’s long term needs.
“Right now, our main focus is the famine. Later, in the long run, once stability returns to the country, we would help with infrastructural development and other needed projects” said Elham.
In addition to raising funds, the campaign is also raising greater public awareness on the unfolding crisis.
“People have been asking questions and I think the public has a right to know where the money goes and what’s happening on the ground. It is our duty to inform and enlighten potential donors. The more people get informed, the more they are inclined to donate,” said Elham.
Armed with pamphlets, photos, placards and sound knowledge of the crisis, volunteers in nine TTC subway stations were doing precisely the same - inform and enlighten.
“We give out fact sheets to potential donors and explain to them what they are donating for” said Suad Sidow, a grade 12 student planning to pursue university education. Her grade 12 colleague, Halla Ahmed, reached out to commuters at the Yorkdale station chanting, “Feed Somalia! Help Save Lives! Children are affected most by the drought!” Both Suad and Halla were born in Canada. Their parents fled at the onset of the Somali civil war in the early nineties to seek refuge in Canada.
As Halla chanted, a smiling commuter placed a donation in the collection box.
“People in Somalia are in desperate need of help, that’s why I am donating” said John Dickenson, a Torontonian preparing to catch a subway train during the evening rush at Yorkdale station. Another commuter, Muhammad Al-Hashti, handed a donation to the volunteers. “I have an obligation to help my brothers and sisters in Somalia” said Al-Hashti, originally from Saudi Arabia.
Feed Somalia volunteers reaching out to Toronto s subway commuters.
Feed Somalia volunteers reaching out to Toronto's subway commuters.
Photo: Omar Nur
At the Dundas station on Monday evening, Hassan Abukar led volunteers Mahad Mohamed, Leila Ibrahim and Roda Abdi.
“People are donating. We have had a good response so far. Commuters have been placing all types of donations; $5s $10s, $20 bills etc. In the first 2 hours of the morning rush on Monday, we collected approximately between $500- $700” said Hassan.
A commuter reaching out for change chats with a volunteer during the subway funds drive.
A commuter reaching out for change chats with a volunteer during the subway funds drive.
Photo: Omar Nur
Non-Somali volunteers at Dundas station were pitching in as well. Vimo Kumar, a Canadian of Sri Lankan origin said “I want to help Somalia. I have lots of Muslim and Somali friends.” Sennai Russom, an Eritrean-Canadian volunteer, concurred with Vimo, saying that he came out to lend support to the Somali cause.
“Help Somalia! Please Donate! Any Change would Help!” chanted the volunteers as concerned commuters chipped in their donations.
Maimuna Diop, a Senegalese donor said that “it is unfair we have everything in Canada while people in Somalia are starving. I would encourage everyone to donate”.
Valerie, a Torontonian, made a donation noting that she understands Horn of African issues well having lived and worked in Eritrea and Ethiopia in the past.
A team of smiling volunteers holding donation boxes  photos and placards.
A team of smiling volunteers holding donation boxes, photos and placards.
Photo: Omar Nur
At Yonge & Bloor station, Sahra Mohamed and Shukri Abukar were very busy reaching out to potential donors during the Monday evening rush. “Torontonians are giving” they said.
The Wednesday evening rush was abuzz with hundreds of commuters milling around the busy Downsview station. Ibrahim Ali, a Feed Somalia co-ordinator, was upbeat and felt that things were going pretty well.
“I am impressed by the generosity of Torontonians. They empathize with our cause and seem to be aware of the issues. It is good to be generating bucks for this often overlooked cause” said Ibrahim.
A Feed Somalia  volunteer collects a donation from a Toronto commuter during the rush hour subway fu...
A Feed Somalia volunteer collects a donation from a Toronto commuter during the rush hour subway funds drive.
Photo: Omar Nur
Khadija Ahmed, a volunteer at Downsview, said that “nobody should be starving. I am here to help the cause for our country.” The Canadian born, York University Liberal Arts student hopes to visit Somalia in future once peace and stability returns to her homeland.
Ibrahim notes neighbouring countries are also suffering but Somalia remains the hardest hit stating that that the current crisis is affecting all of Somalia, not just the south.
“The only difference is that the northern and central regions of Somalia have relative stability. In the south, there is no stability and no effective central government. That’s why HCI is focusing its attention in the south but we invite other big NGOs to help northern parts that have regional administrations, but albeit, fledgling ones and hence still need help” said Ibrahim.
Ibrahim reminded the public that fundraising for Somalia goes beyond the subway blitz.
“We understand that not everyone can make it to the subway stations to donate. People can still donate online by visiting the HCI website or by contacting the organization directly” said Ibrahim.
Dahaba Hassan is a student at Seneca at York. Overseeing fellow volunteers during the Wednesday evening rush at Dundas station, Dahaba said that “a lot of people are generous. They realize that the humanitarian crisis is an issue not just for Somalis, but for the entire human race. That’s why we are reaching out to non-Somalis”.
Feed Somalia volunteers raising funds at a a busy Toronto  subway station.
Feed Somalia volunteers raising funds at a a busy Toronto subway station.
Photo: Omar Nur
Even volunteers  took time out to donate.
Even volunteers, took time out to donate.
Photo: Omar Nur
A volunteer co-ordinator raising public awareness on the plight of the victims of the Horn of Africa...
A volunteer co-ordinator raising public awareness on the plight of the victims of the Horn of Africa disaster.
Photo: Omar Nur
A Toronto commuter digs into her bag ready to donate.
A Toronto commuter digs into her bag ready to donate.
Photo: Omar Nur
A volunteer holds the donation box as a commuter donates.
A volunteer holds the donation box as a commuter donates.
Photo: Omar Nur
Feed Somalia volunteers at the Dundas Station getting ready to hand out pamphlets to commuters.
Feed Somalia volunteers at the Dundas Station getting ready to hand out pamphlets to commuters.
Photo: Omar Nur
Toronto commuters enter a TTC subway station during rush hours.
Toronto commuters enter a TTC subway station during rush hours.
Photo: Omar Nur
Volunteers at a TTC Subway Station.
Volunteers at a TTC Subway Station.
Photo: Omar Nur
For more information, please visit:
Feed Somalia: www.feedsomalia.com
Human Concern International (HCI): www.humanconcern.org
Read More: http://www.digitaljournal.com/user/740948/news
Farid Omar can be reached at: faridoma@gmail.com
More about Feed Somalia, Somalia, Somali Canadians, Human Concern International HCI
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