At the beginning of March, Somalia’s prime minister announced the unfortunate death of more than 100 people in just 48 hours due a famine in the drought-plagued country. The famine has left 6.2 million people in urgent need of help. The UN has said that Yemen, South Sudan and Nigeria have also witnessed distressing levels of starvation and famine in what is being seen as one of the greatest humanitarian crisis since 1945.
Plan Australia Program Director Dave Husy said, “We’re looking at 40–50% of the population facing acute food shortages, and a good proportion would be reaching a desperate state.” According to the BBC, “continuing attacks by Islamist militant group al-Shabab, lack of a rule of law and under development have been given as other reasons for the difficulty in accessing food and water.” While the situation has continued to worsen, it has attracted very little international coverage.
However, on March 15, Vine and Snapchat star Jérôme Jarre released a video message expressing his concerns about the situation in Somalia and the lack of international recognition about the humanitarian situation. The death of a little girl triggered Jarre to post an appeal on Twitter informing his followers of the crisis unfolding in Somalia.
The social media personality’s initiative was heavily promoted by other social media celebrities, including filmmaker Casey Neistat, Amanda Cerny, Calvin Harris, Ben Stiller and others united under the name of Love Army. Hoping to initiate change, Jarre approached Turkish Airlines for help as it was the only airline that offered flights to Somalia from Europe.
The group requested Turkish Airlines to fill a plane with basic necessities such as food and water for Somalia. Within a day, Turkish Airlines responded by pledging to make available a full cargo flight with room for 60 tons of food. “We [love] Somalia,” Turkish Airlines said in a tweet. “We got the call for this meaningful flight,” they added. The airline also pledged to ship food containers on its commercial flights until the humanitarian crisis ends.
With the aircraft secured, the Love Army launched a GoFundMe page. The influencers asked their followers to tweet and donate with the hashtag #LoveArmyForSomalia to raise awareness about the crisis. While they hoped to raise $1 million in 10 days, the goal was met within 19 hours. Since then, the page has collected more than $2 million.
The fundraising page stated that donations were collected through Stiller’s charity and then passed on to the American Refugee Committee (ARC). The group admitted that sending tonnes of food could crash the local market price and hurt the small businesses there. Thus, while the first flight took 60 tonnes of food, including rice, cooking oil, porridge, nutritional biscuits, flour, and sugar from Istanbul, the group hoped to source the items directly from Somalia to support local industries later on.
“There are so many things happening here in the USA and all over the world, the famine in East Africa is not getting nearly the attention it should. It is hard to imagine a greater priority than feeding those who are starving,” said social media personality Casey Neistat. Often criticized for their ‘slacktivism’, the initiative has become another wonderful example of millennial social media activism, and its ability to not only raise awareness, but also bring the international community together to promote about real change in the lives of those affected by humanitarian crises around the world.
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