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Students Raise Funds for Somali Refugees

By Hyun Soo Kim
Staff Reporter

The African Students' Associa-tion and the Hunger Action Group have recently joined the international effort to send food and supplies to the war refugees in famine-struck Somalia. In a three-day fundraiser last week, they collected $1000 for Oxfam America, a famine relief organization.

The Lobby 7 fundraising booth featured photographs of the suffering Somali children taken by Janet Green, the Director of Education and Outreach for the Oxfam Boston office.

The money will be spent directly on food and supplies, without any being used for administrative or overhead costs. The food is purchased in Kenya, then sent to Somalia by boat.

"It is important to raise funds which directly go to the Somali people, and to raise consciousness in the American public, like the students at MIT did. People can't do something if they don't know [the famine] exists," Green said.

The long-term goals of Oxfam are to provide seeds, tools, and other farming necessities to the refugees. Also, Oxfam plans to develop irrigation projects to ensure that a similar disaster does not occur in the future.

"The main theme of the African Students' Association is to see the relevance of technology against problems such as famine in Africa. We must reconcile our technology education with the reality of the world," said Safroadu K. Yeboah-Amankwah '93, president of the ASA.

"We'd like to thank the MIT community for donating money," he added.

Somalis die from famine and war

The United Nations estimates that 300,000 Somalis have died so far from famine and civil war among rival Somali tribes. The fighting is threatening food shipments, and relief trucks carrying food can not reach the rural villages, which have been hit worst by the famine. Relief centers set up by the International Red Cross and Oxfam cluster around the capital, Mogadishu, and the major cities.

"We found that food is getting to the major centers. For example, over 400,000 people are being fed daily in Mogadishu, but the problem is getting food to the outlying areas," Green said.

It is estimated that 1000 to 3000 people are dying daily from starvation and diseases, according to Green. In addition, Time reported that 1.8 million of Somalia's nearly 6 million people are at risk of dying of starvation.

"A quarter of all Somali children under age five are dead. ... This should not happen," said Yeboah-Amankwah.

The tragedy has also touched a member of the MIT community. A Somalian graduate student has lost half of his family in Somalia, according to Yeboah-Amankwah.

A first-hand view of war

Green visited Somalia last month to assess Oxfam's relief efforts. She traveled with three armed guards at all times in Somalia, she said.

"As you go further out, the security situation becomes precarious," Green said. "When I went to a countryside town, Baidoa, the situation was drastic. People are starving to death ... so much that the burial of the dead has become a health hazard."

People lay out bodies on the side of the road, where they are picked up by relief trucks. "When you drive by, you see these rows of bodies laid out by the road. It's an outrage that it is happening," Green said.

Somalis dwelling in the remote villages walk many miles to the refugee camps. But many die on the way or when they finally reach their destinations.

The surviving Somalis are trying to cope with the crisis. Although most resources are donated by foreign nations, Somalis staff the relief centers and distribute food, according to Green.

Normal life has become impossible for Somalis. "Thirteen-year-olds were carrying grenade-launchers, automatic machine guns. ... There is the sound of guns going off every day," Green said.