September 2, 2011

Faith, Hope and Charity / David Siler

We must do ‘something’ to assist our brothers and sisters in Africa

David SilerLast fall, I wrote about my journey with Catholic Relief Services to Eastern Africa where 12 of us from the United States visited the countries of Ethiopia and Tanzania, with a brief stop in Kenya.

The people of eastern Africa left an indelible imprint on my heart. Because of that experience, I have been especially saddened by the recent drought and resulting famine in this part of the continent known as the “Horn of Africa.”

The United Nations has officially declared a famine in parts of Somalia, the eastern-most country of Africa that borders Ethiopia and Kenya, the first such declaration in decades. The famine is being called the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today.

Because of the drought and resulting famine, in addition to the horrible political circumstances in Somalia, Somali citizens are migrating out of their home country to Kenya and Ethiopia. Every day, 1,500 people are crossing the border into Kenya looking for food, water and shelter.

The Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya were built for 90,000 people 20 years ago, and today they are home to more than 400,000! It is estimated that there will be an additional 160,000 people arriving in the near future.

The majority of the refugees are women and children who travel by foot for several days or weeks, and are subject to bandits who rape them and rob them of what little they carry. Many of the refugees are attacked by hyenas and lions. Thousands are dying of starvation and dehydration as they make the journey.

Having seen firsthand how much of the population of eastern Africa lives, it is easy to understand how a sustained drought can have such devastating consequences.

The vast majority of residents are subsistence farmers, meaning they farm enough to provide for their family and some just a bit more to sell at market to buy food and supplies. Therefore, when it doesn’t rain, the crops don’t grow and the animals that they raise starve and die, cutting off their entire food supply and livelihood.

Recently, in a conversation with one of our Catholic Charities refugee resettlement staff members, Helen Sanders, who is originally from Kenya, I remarked about the thousands dying.

“It is just NOT OK,” I said.

She looked up with tears in her eyes and said, “That’s right, it’s not OK—and we need to do something about it!”

The two very real “somethings” that we can do from half a world away are: 1) pray for the people suffering, for those offering relief and for political reform in Somalia, where they are actually blocking aid workers from entering the country; and 2) join with Catholic Relief Services, which is on the ground in Kenya and Ethiopia providing food, water, hygiene and shelter for many of the refugees.

To donate to CRS, call 800-736-3467 or log on to their website at

(David Siler is the executive director of the archdiocesan Secretariat for Catholic Charities and Family Ministries. E-mail him at

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