Nancy Pelosi visits Somali mall in Minneapolis
MINNEAPOLIS - A forum on the famine in the Horn of Africa drew House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi to the Twin Cities Wednesday. The California Democrat was part of a seminar at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.
"The Bible, in Old Testament, says that to minister to the needs of God's creation is an act of worship," Rep. Pelosi told people who gathered in Cowles Auditorium. "To ignore those needs is to dishonor the God who made us."
The crisis was sparked by the worst drought in 60 years, but relief efforts in southern Somalia especially have been hampered by the Al-Shabaab rebel group which is seeking to overthrow the Somali government.
Congressman Keith Ellison, the Minnesota Democrat who organized the event, said he invited Pelosi in hopes of drawing more media attention to the humanitarian crisis in Somalia and relief efforts.
"She's doing it perhaps in the most important place in the United States to do it, which is the place where the highest concentration of Somali residents are," Rep. Ellison said.
Dr. Raj Shah, who heads the United States Agency for International Development, also came to Minnesota to take part in the forum. He said an estimated 12.4 million people in that region are suffering from malnutrition.
"We've already seen in Somalia more than 30,000 children under the age of five die because of a lack of access to food," Shah said. "We believe epidemiologically over the course of the next few months that number is likely to go up significantly."
Shah used the occasion to announce the U.S. government is awarding another $23 million in grants to the crisis. He said the nation has already committed $600 million to relief efforts in Somalia, which is represents half of the global effort.
But because of Al-Shabaab's efforts to block international aid, many starving Somali families can't get help until they walk long distances to refugee camps such as the Dedaab Camp in Kenya.
"We met a woman when we were there with Dr. Jill Biden a few weeks ago who described how she had to choose between her children because she couldn't carry both on the 120 mile trek," he recalled.
Rounding out the panel were Hashi Shafi, the executive director of the Somali Action Alliance and Daniel Wordsworth, the president of the American Refugee Committee. The international aid organization based in the Twin Cities has been working to deliver aid to 60,000 families in capital city of Mogadishu.
For those raising money for famine relief in the Twin Cities have tried to impress upon potential donors that time is of the essence.
"We need everything and anything that we can get, especially right now," said Jaylani Hussein of the America Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa, or ARAHA.
The Minneapolis based agency has been working in Somalia for 11 years, and has offices in Mogadishu and Harggeisa.
"With famines, you have to understand, we really need the help now because we are trying to save lives today," Hussein told KARE. "People are literally dying right now. There are people we can reach, and can help."
Pelosi visits Somali community
After the panel, Ellison escorted Pelosi to the Carmel Mall, a Somali shopping center in South Minneapolis. She addressed a group of women who born in that war torn nation, some of who still have relatives there.
Pelosi told them there's a strong Somali presence in California as well. She reassured them that government leaders in the U.S. are taking the situation in the Horn of Africa very seriously.
The former Speaker of the House also said she appreciates contributions Somali immigrants have made to American society.
"Thank you for your optimism for the future, your concern about family, your deep faith and your strong work ethic," Pelosi told the women, all of whom were dressed in traditional clothing worn by Muslim women in their native country.
"All of those are called 'American values'. And your Somali American commitment to those values makes America more American."
How you can help
More information on how to help combat East African famine is available on the following websites:
American Refugee Committee
American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa
(Copyright 2011 by KARE 11. All Rights Reserved.)