Somalia

Tonight (Sunday, August 21) I’m hosting a dinner party in Salt Lake City.  We are asking participants to bring donations for Sister Somalia, an organization that assists victims of gender-based violence in Somalia.  I wish I’d thought to post it on this blog before because now it is late notice, but if by chance any readers are interested in coming, just send me an email at utahforcongo@gmail.com and I’ll give you the address.  You can also read more about the dinner party itself on the Utah for Congo blog.

It feels ironic to host a dinner party to raise money for people who are experiencing the effects of famine.  I thought long and hard about this.  Sometimes famines are viewed as being “an act of God,” which is our way of saying that we take no responsibility for them.  But famine is not an act of God and this one, in particular, is manmade.

There is a horrible, horrible drought in the Horn of Africa.  I am thinking of previous posts about climate change on this blog, and about the idea that those who bear the least responsibility for climate change are those who suffer from it the most.  The Somali people aren’t known for being big polluters, and yet the extreme weather is upending traditional growing seasons and creating mass food shortages.

Of course, there is a drought in the southwestern United States right now, and people aren’t starving.  (Although animals are, including farm-raised cattle, and I don’t think we’re paying enough attention to this.)  So obviously the famine is not just about the weather and the drought.  It is also about Somalia’s lack of a functioning government, and about the widespread insecurity and fighting.  It is about armed rebels who hijack supplies of food aid and rape women. 

I also keep reading articles about the “rising food prices” in Africa and other parts of the world,  and I’ve been trying to understand this “high food prices” thing, because somebody is raising food prices in the middle of a famine I’m in the mood to name names. But my internet search isn’t helping much, because all the articles I find just report “high food prices” in such a matter-of-fact tone, with no analysis as to the real causes and actors involved.  So I can’t tell you whose fault it is.  I wish I could.

And there are also land use issues at play when famine rears its ugly head.  Drought means that agricultural land in Africa can be purchased even more cheaply by multinational corporations and American hedge funds. I’ve been reading about these “land grabs” where the land is purchased extremely cheaply and used to cultivate products for export, like monoculture crops and biofuels. Then contracts are signed which ensure that even during times of famine, the companies owning the land can STILL export figures like 80 percent of the product produced on the land. 

So at tonight’s dinner party, we will be eating vegetables and fruit from Salt Lake’s own BUG Farms, and from my mom’s vegetable garden, and from the farmers market.  Industrial agriculture is not invited to dine with us, because it is guilty.  We will eat local organic food–not in celebratory gratitude for what we have, because I just can’t stomach that kind of a feeling right now–but as a symbol.  We will be eating because we need to, and eating to say: We are on to you, global food system.  And we are not with you.

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6 responses to “Somalia

  1. Howard August 21, 2011 at 11:32 am

    Thank you for this post. Drought and famine make the situation much worse but this is not new and rural Africa needs clean water even without severe drought I would love to see service missions drilling wells. How hard can it be? How much could it cost? Why hasn’t it been done???

  2. Alliegator August 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    One major thing that keeps charity groups out of places that need help is safety. The church does have service missions. My parents have friends who were recently on a service mission. She worked as a nurse, and he taught people about easier gardening methods. I’ve heard of wells being dug too. Obviously there is a lot more need out there than what is currently being met.

    I get nervous about donating to smaller charities that I don’t know much about, I’d like to donate to sister somalia, but how do we know the money goes where they say it does?

  3. Karmen August 21, 2011 at 3:53 pm

    Missy, wish I could make the dinner but won’t be able to this time.

    The more dinners, etc. we have, the more awareness we bring to people of the problem although I think you’d have to be from a different planet to be unaware.

    I just watched the film The End of Poverty and while it focuses on the specific issue of Poverty, that of course includes food. I wish everyone would see the film, see what the “haves” do to the “have nots.” It is such a huge, complex problem, and tied to global capitalism and the corporate food market, that it is going to take a solution where the local people themselves are empowered, producing and eating. This ties in very closely with comments many have made about the local markets (e.g. Missy’s “Salt Lake’s own BUG Farms, and from my mom’s vegetable garden, and from the farmers market”). There are places where this won’t work — urban areas, for example, will need to find a way to get food from producers into the population centers unless we start retrofitting buildings with vertical/wall gardens (which is actually a really good idea)! These are things we are doing in this country but the grow/sell/eat local idea works for Africa or anywhere in the world.

    I’ll say that I agree with Melanie that our world is fast moving to a time/place where this will be required for survival. Better to start now.

  4. missy. August 21, 2011 at 10:53 pm

    Alliegator, I actually really love donating to smaller organizations because assuming they are doing their job right, they manage to avoid many of the challenges that traditional large-scale aid projects face. More of your donation will go directly to projects (rather than to overhead and marketing, for instance). And people who initiate humanitarian projects in their own communities and nations are uniquely situated to understand local needs and norms.

    In this case, we are raising money for the Elman Peace & Human Rights Center, an organization founded by Fartun Adan that assists Somali women who are victims of gender-based violence. She is starting the country’s first rape hotline and provides various kinds of assistance (including counseling, relocation, and vocational assistance) to victims of rape and violence. Adan has partnered with some American organizations in order to raise funds for her ongoing work, which is how I know about it. You can read more about the organization here: http://athousandsisters.org/somalia/donate-now/

    And anyone who is interested in donating to this project, you can do so online here:
    http://athousandsisters.org/somalia/donate-now/

  5. missy. August 21, 2011 at 10:58 pm

    Karmen, it’s interesting that you would mention urban food production… Our sponsor for the dinner tonight, BUG Farms, creates urban farms in people’s backyards (in exchange for a share of the vegetables) then sells the rest of the produce in a co-op and at farmers markets. It is a really interesting model; you can read more about their work here:
    http://www.backyardurbangardens.com/

  6. missy. August 21, 2011 at 11:04 pm

    And sorry for just throwing up link after link here, but I want to respond to your point, too, Howard. Water is a huuuuuuuuge deal. The Church does have some well installation programs but certainly nothing on the scale of what many communities need. One organization that I don’t know a ton about, but which seems to do good work and is certainly doing a good job at leveraging the power of social media is charity: water. If you check out their website you can read a lot more about the solutions that people are coming up with in relation to their water crisis:
    http://www.charitywater.org/

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