On September 20th, the American Refugee Committee distributed $1 million to 1,000 families across Somaliland. This enormous feat was accomplished through a collaborative effort between the American Refugee Committee, Love Army, and the international community.
In the wake of the drought, the international community was left wondering how to best contribute to relief efforts. Social media star Jerome Jarre also asked himself this question. After some research, he found that the only direct flight from the United States to Mogadishu, Somalia was through Turkish Airlines. With the help of a few friends, he started the online campaign #LoveArmyforSomalia to encourage Turkish Airlines to donate a plane to fly food and water to victims of the drought. The hashtag quickly went viral and had the support of celebrities including Ben Stiller, Colin Kaepernick and social media stars like Casey Neistat and Juanpa. Their efforts were successful and Love Army was able to fly in 60 tons of food and water to distribute with the help of the American Refugee Committee (ARC). ARC has been doing work in the region since 2011, with ongoing projects in Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland. ARC has set a precedent in providing relief, and one of the few NGOs that reaches the most remote parts of the region. Through this partnership, Love Army and ARC were able to distribute 6 million litres of water and 1300 tons of food in just a few months.
Mobile banking transfer
The online campaign was a roaring success. Love Army and ARC were able to provide life saving relief efforts to families affected by the drought, but after a few months it became apparent that food and water distribution weren’t the most effective ways to provide relief. Love Army and ARC chose to shift to a more efficient, cost-effective and reliable method: Mobile Money Transfer. With this method, the funds raised online by Love Army could be sent directly to those in need, and all it takes is a cell phone. Mobile banking services in the Somali territories are remarkably advanced and are used widely by Somalis throughout Somalia, Somaliland and Puntland. One method of mobile money transfer is through eDahab, a service developed by Dahabshiil, a bank and company most widely known for delivering remittances from the Somali diaspora, and Somtel, a telecommunications company in Somaliland. This method appealed to the Love Army team and ARC because it was a way to deliver funds directly to drought victims and empower them to help themselves. Providing each family with money and giving them the agency to choose what to spend that on is the first step to moving away from the traditional charitable framework and towards a more dignified and sustainable solution.
Pilot Project: Bodhley
To test out this method, a small village called Bodhley just south of Burao in eastern Somaliland was selected as a pilot project. All 336 families living in the village were given a SIM card registered with eDahab, which made it possible for the funds raised online by Love Army to be sent directly to their phones. Currently each family receives $75 per month, enough to purchase the necessary staples to survive and have some money left over for emergencies.
The $1000 cash transfer
Following the successful pilot project in Bodhley, Love Army and ARC began the second and much larger phase of this project. This time there would be more beneficiaries and more money. The project was restructured to do more than just feed people, it was designed to help the Somali people begin to rebuild the lives they had prior to the drought. One of the biggest devastations plaguing the region is the loss of livestock, the main source of food, milk, and income to people living in remote villages. To combat this, people need the money to cover the initial costs of repurchasing livestock. Instead of distributing the money raised by Love Army gradually, ARC instead chose to distribute a lump sum to their beneficiaries. For this phase 8 villages in Somaliland were chosen: Habaasweyne, Fadhi Gaab, Caynabo, Oog, Gabmadha, Adhi Caddeeye, Goljanno and Ceeg. The people living in these villages reported loss of family members, livestock, and income earning opportunities. ARC identified 1000 people living in these 8 villages, who were then registered and provided with cell phones and SIM cards registered with eDahab. Of these 1000 beneficiaries, the vast majority were women. Women and children remain the most vulnerable in times of famine, but also represent the backbone of their households and communities.
UN General Assembly
On September 20th, Love Army was invited to present their humanitarian work at the Bill & Melinda Gates foundation event GOALKEEPERS during the United Nations General Assembly. Other presenters included Barack Obama, Justin Trudeau, and Malala Yousafzai. Jerome, Casey and Juanpa took the stage on behalf of Love Army and ARC. Simultaneously, the ARC team was on the ground with the 1000 beneficiaries in 8 different villages gearing them up to receive their mobile money transfer. In a historical first, a livestream was set up between the beneficiaries and the GOALKEEPERS event, which meant everyone there was able to see just where the money raised was going. With everything in place Jerome and his team did something that came as a surprise to everyone in attendance. With no warning, they asked Bill and Melinda Gates to help them meet their fundraising goal of $1 million. The Gates’ agreed and in moments Abdirashid Duale, the CEO of Dahabshiil who was in the audience, was able to transfer the funds from his phone live. Each and every one of the 1000 beneficiaries instantly received $1000, and the moment was captured via livestream.
The American Refugee Committee is dedicated to bettering the lives of the Somali people. ARC recognizes the resilience of the Somalis in the face of adversity and is committed to supporting them as they rebuild their lives. With the help of Love Army and the rest of the international community, this goal does not seem so far away.
ARC is grateful for the support of Love Army, The Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, Turkish Airlines, Dahabshiil, and the entire international community that supported this cause.