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.
The Irish National Famine Memorial Coffin Ship in County Mayo. Erected “To honor the memory of all who died, suffered and emigrated due to the Great Famine of 1845-1850, and the victims of all famines.” (photo courtesy Irish Americans in Support of Somalia)
Do you have fundraising events planned?
Since the start of this campaign a few weeks ago, our focus has been to grow this all-volunteer grassroots campaign through online efforts to spread the word. Just like on St. Patrick’s Day, when everyone can be “Irish,” we’re inviting everyone to “like” our Facebook page or to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We’re providing information on how to donate, highlighting compelling historical connections and offering updates about what is happening in East Africa. We’re hoping people will share this information with their own networks, family, and friends. This week we met with the Rhode Island Irish Famine Memorial Committee who spearheaded the building of a beautiful memorial to the victims of the Great Irish Famine. As a living memorial, fighting hunger today has always been a part of their mission. They plan to present a donation at an October 9th ceremony at the Memorial in Providence and to encourage their many member Irish American organizations to get behind this effort. Folks should stay tuned for information on upcoming events.
Where will the funds raised by Irish Americans in Support of Somalia be distributed?
We are supporting Edesia, a non-profit operating its Providence, RI factory around the clock to produce enough Plumpy’nut to feed 50,000 children a day in the Horn of Africa. Plumpy’nut is designed to treat severe malnutrition in young children who can make a full recovery in just 4 to 8 weeks. Just $50 provides a full life-saving treatment. Edesia supplies its products at cost to such organizations as USAID, UNICEF, World Food Programme and Save the Children. Donations help them lower the cost even further so their partners can buy and distribute larger quantities.
I visited the plant to see production, learn how it’s being distributed, and to meet the people behind Edesia. They’re creating local jobs, they’re saving lives globally, and they need our help now. We’re asking people to donate to them directly at the Edesia donation page and to please write Irish Americans in Support of Somalia in the purpose line of the donation page or on the memo line of their check. This way we can track total donations and determine how effective we’re being.
How can someone get involved with Irish Americans in Support of Somalia?
Helping to spread the word, through Facebook, email, or conversations with family and friends is key to launching this effort and getting people to start paying attention to what’s happening in the Horn of Africa. Our effort is not limited to just Irish Americans, and we are hoping to work with as many individuals and organizations as possible to get the message out. We hope such groups will consider hosting events for this cause, making appeals to their members, or distributing information at their regularly scheduled activities. We have print and electronic materials we can offer. We also ask that people help us with networking and with media contacts, particularly in the Irish American press. If they can make a donation in the name of Irish Americans in Support of Somalia at the Edesia Donation Page, all the better.