PORTLAND – A group of Portland residents wants to make Mainers aware that a famine that’s happening thousands of miles from their homes is affecting people right here.

They plan to hold a community walk next month in Portland, as well as car washes, to raise money to provide relief to the famine victims in Somalia.

Experts say the famine is the result of one of Africa’s worst droughts in 60 years.

It has been particularly difficult for many of Portland’s Somali refugees, who must stand by and watch as loved ones back home fight starvation and thirst.

The refugees hope that events they are planning will educate the public about the severity of the crisis in East Africa.

Hamza Haadoow’s 70-year-old mother lives in a refugee camp. Each time he talks to her, she tells him the names of people who have died or who have arrived at the camp with no food.

“It has been a tough time for her,” said Haadoow, who moved to Portland five years ago and is now running for mayor. “Anything the community can do would be good.”

Haadoow belongs to a group that is organizing a famine awareness walk in Portland on Sept. 9. Participants will walk 4.1 miles from the Veterans Memorial Bridge to Tukey’s Bridge.

Though that might seem like a long walk, it is nothing compared to how far starving people in Somalia are walking to find food. Haadoow said people are walking more than 200 miles to reach refugee camps. Once they reach the camps, they sometimes find little or no food.

“If they can walk hundreds of miles, then we can walk 4 miles,” Haadoow said.

Mohammed Dini, a Portland resident who came from Somalia in 1997, said, “The situation in Somalia is a catastrophe,” with the famine continuing and no apparent end to the deaths.

Dini said his group plans to hold car washes around the city to raise money for famine relief. Those events may be held at Portland’s fire stations, Dini said. People will be urged to donate as little as $5.

“Anything they give could make a difference, it could save a life,” he said.

Dini hopes that everyone will give something.

“We in Maine are one community. If we all stand up we can make a difference. This could be an event that unites us,” he said.

Rachel Talbot Ross, Portland’s director of multicultural affairs, is helping the Somali community as it organizes the walk and car washes.

“We are really trying to localize what is going on in Somalia,” she said, “to get people to understand that this is not a crisis happening thousands of miles away, but a crisis that is impacting people right here in Maine.

“There are people living here whose friends and relatives are slowly dying (of starvation),” Talbot Ross said. “People really need to get engaged because this is a humanitarian crisis.”

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

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