Somalis in Ottawa raise funds for drought victims

Ottawa's Somali community is rallying to raise money to help those devastated by a severe drought that the U.N. refugee agency has called the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

Community leaders fight negative perceptions in bid for humanitarian funds

Ottawa's Somali community is rallying to raise money to help those devastated by a severe drought that the UN refugee agency has called the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

But while Somali community leaders in the capital gather to plan fundraising initiatives, the challenging part may be combating negative perceptions about the strife-torn country, where a staggering 10 million people desperately need food, water and medical services.

Mukhtar Ibrahim is among the Ottawa community activists trying to raise funds to help Somalians devastated by a serious drought. (CBC)

"We have to act, and just help inside the country," community activist, Mukhtar Ibrahim said.

'Somali women with kids are the ones that are dying. They are not pirates, are not Islamists.'—Somali community activist Abdi Guled

Those interested in fundraising have acknowledged that one of the biggest challenges will be convincing donors their money won't end up in the wrong hands.

Abdi Guled is a Somali community leader. He said people are mindful of political chaos, terrorism and piracy in news reports about Somalia, and that could hamper how much people are willing to donate.

Militants reopen aid channels

"Somali women with kids are the ones that are dying," Guled argued. "They are not pirates, are not Islamists. They're not coming over to bomb anybody. They're not killing anyone. They're victims."

There have been difficulties in securing aid for Somalia in the past.

El-Shabab, the most feared militant group in the region, has previously kicked out aid organizations. But desperation has now reached such levels that the armed group has promised to open its borders to aid agencies, and is appealing for help and expressing a willingness to co-operate.

Kaleem Akhtar, executive director of Ontario-based Human Concern International, said the focus of fundraising efforts should go towards community building and sustainability. (CBC)

The Gloucester, Ont.-based charitable organization Human Concern International, which has worked for more than 20 years on projects for Somalia, is hoping to raise at least $1 million.

Kaleem Akhtar, the organization's executive director, said much of that money would be directed towards community-building initiatives with a focus on sustainability.

"We have to think long-term about them as a community; as a world which is maybe distant, but it will be affecting us as well in the long term," Akhtar said.

For the time being, many who are desperate to get aid flowing to Somalia say their hopes have been buoyed by the possibility that channels have been reopened to help get aid through.

With files from CBC's David Gerow