The drought in East Africa is so massive it threatens over 13 million people with starvation. That is almost as many people as the population of Maryland and Virginia combined.
The hardest-hit area is conflict-torn Somalia where UNICEF says that a child dies every six minutes. Aid agencies are rushing to save lives. Millions of people have been displaced from their homes in the desperate search for food and water.
But will you see this story in the news? Not often, as reported by the Pew research center. Kate O'Malley of Rhode Island noticed this lack of media attention and took action to do something about it. She started a group called Irish Americans in Support of Somalia. She recently took time to talk about this group and how it connects the past with the present crisis in East Africa.
What gave you the idea to form Irish Americans in Support of Somalia?
I felt frustrated about the lack of media coverage about what was happening in Somalia. My husband is from Ireland and I am Irish American and we have two daughters who have grown up sharing time between both places. We were raised with stories of the bitter devastation of the Great Irish Famine of 150 years ago, when millions perished from starvation or were lost to the coffin ships as they fled in desperation.
We felt honoring our history by helping famine victims today was a compelling connection that would resonate with others, so we started this campaign to spread awareness and raise funds to aid in the biggest humanitarian disaster of this century. What’s happening in the Horn of Africa in 2011 is a complex mess and far away, but we hope people, Irish or not, will consider this: In 1831 tens of thousands Native Americans were forcibly relocated with more than half dying on the march now known as the Trail of Tears. Just 16 years later, despite their suffering and because they understood what starvation meant, members of the Choctaw Nation sent $710 to the starving in Ireland, a huge amount at the time. To this day the Irish are grateful. This history should inspire people to realize that if they could do that then, surely we can each do something today for the starving in Somalia and East Africa.