PORTLAND – Young men from Somalia gathered for a soccer playoff Friday at Fitzpatrick Stadium to raise awareness of the hardships in their homeland.

They donned blue jerseys with a white star, resembling their national flag.

“Most of us are worrying about family back home, so we decided to have a tournament to try to help,” said Aweys Abdi, assistant coach of the Portland team that was started in 2001.

A poster on display in the bleachers showed photos of starving Somalians and read: “During the worst food crisis in 20 years, if action is not taken immediately, the famine will spread and over two million children will die. Four million are suffering from starvation and 11 million are displaced already.”

Portland is home to about 7,000 Somali refugees and Lewiston to about 5,000, said Ahmed Hassan of the Somalie Development Institute of Maine

“We are trying to mobilize the community and encourage people to donate what they can,” he said.

Four teams are competing in the tournament — one from Portland, one from Vermont, and two from Lewiston.

The newest player on the Portland team, Osman Hussein, 22, came from the Ifo refugee camp near Dadaab, Kenya, where he lived for 20 years after fleeing Somalia at the age of 2. Hussein said he was thankful to have family in Portland, and that the city suited him.

Mohamed Omar, 24, came to Portland from Kismayo, Somalia, in 2000. His father and five siblings remain there while he sends money to support their diets of rice and red beans.

“All of their neighbors are fleeing, they have no food and they haven’t had rain in two years,” Omar said. “They’re walking 200 to 300 miles, carrying what they can to the refugee camps. Many of them die along the way.”

Meanwhile, al-Shabab, a group of militants fighting to overthrow the government, is blocking food donations from organizations.

The Somali civil war that began in 1991 has taken the lives of many men, while women and children suffer from famine with no husbands to support them, Omar said.

People who rely on the land, manual workers and farmers, are hit hardest. Somalis with families in the United States and developed countries are the luckiest, he said.

“One way or another, we’re affected. Seventeen years ago, I was in those shoes. It brings all those memories back and really hits you hard,” Mohamed Deni said.

Deni said he helped raise money and awareness for the devastation in Haiti and for the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

“Now it’s hitting home,” he said. “We need to send help to Somalia, but we cannot do it alone. We need the people in Portland to help.”

On Thursday, the United Nations appealed for an additional $1.4 billion in an effort to save the lives of some 12 million people across the Horn of Africa. Donations by the public can be made at www.unhcr.org.

Staff Writer Colleen Stewart can be contacted at 791-6355 or at:

[email protected]