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The Watchdog Offers Three Suggestions in Choosing a Somali Famine Relief Charity
Thursday, August 4, 2011 10:40 AM

If you want to donate for famine relief in Somalia, how do you know which charity to choose?

1. Consider a local agency with a powerful reach.

A good example is the American Refugee Committee, headquartered in Minneapolis, which has strong ties to Somalia. It is one of the few nongovernmental agencies that already was in the country when famine was declared by the United Nations. It has been working there since 2006, and the agency's relationship with the transitional government agencies enabled it to be instantly effective, spokeswoman Therese Gale said.

The agency is initially funneling food to about 400 families in Mogidishu and hopes to expand its operations, which, of course, will take more money. It has been working with the much-smaller, but well-connected, American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa, which also is another Minneapolis-based organization.

"When this happened, we were in the right position to be able to help," said Mohamed Idris, executive director of the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa. "Our organization was in a good position to start right away. We started raising awareness here, and at the same time we were able to deliver food baskets to hundreds of families."

2. Watch what the big boys do. This week, for example, the General Mills Foundation announced a $50,000 donation to the American Refugee Committee, plus another $50,000 to match donations from other companies to the relief agency.

"We wanted to put cash in their hands as soon as possible," said executive director Ellen Goldberg Luger said. "We certainly hope companies will step up soon, as this is an urgent matter."

Individual donors who are stockholders or even just customers can contact companies' headquarters, either to find out where they're donating or to tell them where to put charitable dollars.

3. Choose an agency with a proven reputation. For local and regional nonprofits, look at smartgivers.org, the website of the Minnesota Charities Review Council. Both the American Refugee Committee and the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa are on The List - nonprofits that meet the council's standards on transparency, effectiveness and efficiency.

Editor's note: Feel like an underdog because of a problem with a business, government agency or school? To ask the Watchdog for help, go to TwinCities.com/watchdog, call 651-228-5419 or e-mail watchdog@pioneerpress.com.

HOW TO HELP

For information about what charities near and far are doing to respond to the African drought, visit:

- The Minneapolis-based American Refugee Committee has local programs for Somali-Americans, such as Neighbors for Nations, and works in seven countries affected by war or civil unrest. arcrelief.org

- The Minneapolis-based American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa works in emergency situations as well as in programs to help people become self-sufficient. It also has Twin Cities programs. araha.org

- InterAction is an alliance of U.S.-based international nongovernmental organizations. interaction.org/crisis-list/interaction-members-respond-drought-crisis-horn-africa

- The U.N. Children's Fund works to prevent child deaths from malnutrition and disease. unicef.org

- The World Food Program of the United Nations responds to emergencies and works to prevent hunger. wfp.org

Women line up for water Thursday at a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. The camp designed for 90,000 people houses about 440,000 refugees with more than 1,000 new arrivals daily. Almost all are from drought-stricken, war-ravaged Somalia. After an earlier sluggish response, aid donations have risen sharply in the past two weeks, but violence in the south of the country has limited humanitarian agencies' access. The United Nations is seeking to raise $1 billion to address the crisis.

To view this article on the Star Tribune website, click here.