A Somali family affected by the drought.

Why we help in places like Somalia

As I read the daily news articles about the famine in the Horn of Africa, I’m continuously shocked at the angry comments posted at the end of these articles. Many of them are downright hateful, and imply that we as Americans should not help other countries where there are groups that have expressed hatred toward the U.S.

I’ve even heard questions like, “Why should I care?”  Or, “Haven’t those people brought this on themselves with their violence?”

A Somali family affected by the drought.
Somali families like this are suffering in the drought and in need of humanitarian aid.

To me, this is irrational thinking. Humanitarian organizations provide aid in some challenging places. We do so because there are innocent children and families who are caught in the middle and need help. In the case of Somalia, these families have no government to turn to for help. It doesn’t exist. Their crops have failed, their animals have died, and they have left their homes in search of survival.

In almost all suffering it is possible to point to people individually or corporately that are responsible for the injustice.  The most intense suffering and hardest to overcome is that which people inflict on others.  Injustice is not limited to the rich oppressing the poor.  Wherever people have an element of power – whether wealth, land, social, political or positional – over another person, there is the risk for oppression.  This is the situation in Somalia.  There are those with power that are oppressing the powerless.  This has held people down so they have been living just above the survival line in the best of times. The drought has limited food production for the last two years and plunged the population below the survival line. Oppressed people are dying.

So what is to be done about the oppressors in Somalia and the rest of the world?  As humanitarians, we believe reaching out to people in need shows a path other than violence as the answer.  I am not suggesting that if we care for those in need the oppressors will see the acts of kindness and change their ways. But those who receive help are given a chance to see compassion, rather than violence, in action.

All other concerns aside – these are people that are dying. When a child is withering away it really does not matter whether the cause is drought, ignorance, or social injustice. It is a precious child that is dying.  If we determine that any person is of less value because of where they were born, we have lost our humanity.

Providing supplies to Somali families.
A World Concern staff member provides emergency supplies to a displaced family in Somalia.

As one who deals with the issues of injustice everyday in my profession, I realize the impossibility of meeting every need myself. I feel the frustration of the overwhelming need weighed against limited resources.  But I also know that the real question I must answer is not how much can I help? But rather, should I care?  We can all do something.  If everyone did what they could, then extreme poverty could be conquered.

What is the purpose of our freedom if not to help the powerless?  We must do more than “do no evil.”  We must “do good.”  It is not enough to point fingers at the oppressors. We must help those that are oppressed.  We must reach out to those who cannot repay us and will never know our names.

This is what compassion is about.  This is what makes us different from those that oppress.

23 thoughts on “Why we help in places like Somalia”

  1. Thanks for saying what needs to be said! I would add that organizations other than governments can/do make greater impacts on these areas, because the goals and objectives of WC (who we serve and why we do that) can be quite different than those of governments and their motives!

  2. Even on a purely political basis, assuming no moral obligation, it’s a fruitful endeavor. Showing troubled countries that we come in peace as friends to help in their hour of need is central to breaking the distrust and misperceptions that are sometimes endemic.

    But the moral aspect is surely self-evident. If you saw someone in urgent need of medical attention lying in the street, you wouldn’t say, ‘well, they probably brought it on themselves’. Why is it any different?

    The tougher challenges include whether we can help in time… whether the logistical challenges can be overcome… whether the aid will actually make it to the people who need it or be diverted through corruption. It’s great to see World Concern are already on the ground: praying for wisdom and success in establishing an operation that scales and is efficient.

    1. Thank you for your thoughts, Tim. I agree 100%. I think Dave and you have hit on something very important – that even though we may not change the minds of those who are corrupt, we at least are an example to them as selfless givers. The scaling aspect of the program in happening now, and it is not without pain. World Concern staff responding to the famine are working from about 5 or 6 in the morning – until they must rest around 11 or so. Non-stop. The need is truly overwhelming. We are adding staff to this response and growing, in tandem with our active response to those in crisis. I am encouraged that this is gaining international attention, and funding. However, this disaster will likely be bigger than the Haiti quake, but may not get nearly the funding or attention needed.

  3. Asian Science Association like to initiate Walk to support Education Worldwide. Can the walk of each person join the walk count on hours can contribute the to organization to support immigration, refugees, and people who live in poverty.

  4. Great article, It really gets the message out to all who would be moved with compassion and help those in need no matter what the situation may be.

  5. Great article, Dave. It was a pleasure meeting you there and I appreciated hearing from you about World Concern. I came away very convinced that World Concern is an organization I could give my life to work with and will be following up on that in the weeks to come. Thanks for coming.

  6. What a powerful article, truly inspirational. Thanks for all you do and for spurring others on to help those that cannot help themselves.

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