Saida Gawido’s heart is with the Somali people.
Gawido, a dual Canadian-Somali citizen and resident of Williams Lake, knows the current plight of her home country is dire. Somalia is experiencing a drought and food shortage of such magnitude that the United Nations recently used the term “famine” to describe it. The situation is worsened by war and spiralling prices.
“I am concerned; it hits me personally,” Gawido says. “I still have relatives and family and it is my country of birth.”
Gawido contacted the Tribune with the hope of spreading the message about the crisis in the Horn of Africa and that Canadians will respond.
“We need people in Canada to open their hearts and wallets,” she says.
Refugees from Somalia have been fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya by the thousands for several weeks.
According to the UN, Somalia is facing the worst food security crisis in the last 20 years.
Gawido has relatives in the country to whom she sends money frequently. She is in sporadic contact with them via telephone; the last contact she had was about a month ago. At that time, they requested she send some money and had told her of the famine and how they’d lost their livestock. She’s unsure where they are now. Letters she sends go through the Red Cross.
Gawido and her family fled Somalia in 1979 due to a border dispute between Somalia and Ethiopia. Her childhood was spent in northern Mogadishu, a time of stability despite the fact that the country was ruled by a dictator. Her mother was teacher and her father an officer in the army.
After fleeing the country, the family was housed in a refugee camp in Kenya for a period of time. But because they had relatives in that country they were able to move beyond the camp and establish a life in Kenya. Later they moved to the U.S. and then to Canada. Gawido is the only member of her family in Williams Lake. Her mother and three brothers are currently living in Minneapolis.
She hasn’t been back to Somalia since but feels a profound sense of duty to her people, and her country and wants to help both get back on their feet. Somalia, she says, is a beautiful, undiscovered land where through the centuries cultures have collided and intermingled, but now it is wracked by strife and natural disaster.
“Somalis are a proud people,” she says. “We don’t want to be refugees in another country.
“We don’t really want money, we want government change and peace and we want our homes back.”
There are many aid agencies currently at work in the region. Residents who wish to help can send donations to: The Humanitarian Coalition; a network of Canadian NGOs: CARE Canada, Oxfam Canada, Oxfam-Québec, Plan Canada and Save the Children Canada; the UN World Food Programme, which is targeting the most vulnerable individuals with much-needed food. They aim to reach nearly six million people in the coming months; UNICEF Canada, which is on the ground in Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia to meet the immediate needs of vulnerable children and families; the Canadian Red Cross, where money raised goes to support the work of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement in the region, providing emergency relief and helping people recover their livelihoods; Doctors Without Borders, which is working in the refugee camps offering medical services in Dagahaley camp, providing a general hospital and five health posts; the Mennonite Central Committee, which has committed $1.2 million through Canadian Foodgrains Bank to support two food-for-work programs in Kenya that will have short- and long-term benefits; and World Vision Canada, which provides food, clean water, agricultural support, health care, and other vital assistance to children and families in need.