Friday, September 16, 2011

Ottawa pools $1.6M for Africa

Federal government to match funds for famine relief

As the government deadline for matching funds looms, humanitarian groups say Ottawa residents have contributed more than $1.6 million to famine relief programs in the Horn of Africa.

Most of those funds are eligible for dollar-for-dollar matching by the federal government, potentially boosting the total raised in Ottawa to more than $3 million.

It is estimated more than 13 million people in East Africa have been affected by one of the worst famines in recent memory, exacerbated by complex political tensions in the region. The hardest hit areas include Somalia, southern Ethiopia and northern Kenya. According to the aidagency umbrella group the Humanitarian Coalition, this is the largest such crisis in the world.

In response, a groundswell of grassroots action in Ottawa has helped to raise millions, often one dollar at a time, primarily through events organized by Somali-Canadian residents. Even Mayor Jim Watson got in on the effort, hosting a fundraiser at City Hall Wednesday night that raised $35,000 (before matching funds).

The mayor agreed to host the fundraiser after two community developers wrote a letter asking him to help them raise funds for famine relief.

Kyle Kearnan of the Nepean-Rideau-Osgoode Community Resource Centre and Ismail Mohammed of Hunt Club-Riverside Community Resource Centre wrote to the mayor on behalf of a coalition of resource centres in Ottawa, asking him to throw municipal support behind the grassroots efforts underway.

"We asked Mayor Watson to create a mayor's dinner and his team took it on with open arms," Kearnan said. "We had more than 300 guests who each bought at least one, in some cases two or three, tickets. More than 20 embassies provided all the food. It was great to see it all come together."

Somali Relief Ottawa, a group of students and young professionals of Somali heritage, raised $125,000 through barbecues, a basketball tournament, a lecture and canvassing.

They are directing their funds to Human Concern International, an Ottawa-based international agency. HCI officials say they have raised $1.8 million for Horn of Africa relief.

"The amount of our donations that were raised from Ottawa was around $950 000, about half of our total donations," said Heidi Vallinga, events and communications co-ordinator for HCI.

"The response has been much more than we expected.

"Our initial goal in this appeal was to raise $1 million, and, though the final count has yet to be made, we believe it will be close to $2 million."

Vallinga said donations were slow over the summer, but picked up pace in August.

Donations are being used to provide food, water, shelter, blankets, and plastic sheets in a several feeding camps HCI supports inside Somalia.

The agency provides emergency relief and sustainable development projects in more than 40 countries.

"We also have a team going in two weeks to Somalia to look into more projects and what we can do in the long term for sustainable projects and rehabilitation."

Nicholas Moyer, executive director of the Humanitarian Coalition, says the umbrella group of relief and development agencies has raised more than $600,000 in the Ottawa region.

The funds will be distributed between member agencies working in the Horn of Africa, including Oxfam, CARE, Plan and Save the Children.

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