Swedish 9-Year-Old Milla Martin Raises Money for Famine Victims with Cinnamon Buns

By: Cyndi Amaya

While many times we see or hear news about atrocities in other countries, most of us can be accused of apathy due to our lack of effort to actually try and help. When news broke out of the famine in the Horn of Africa, many chipped in with donations for the famine victims upon hearing of the millions that would be affected.

Even our own Marcus Samuelsson hosted a brunch in this own home to raise fund for the afflicted which was then brought directly to those suffering by his lovely wife Maya.

Aside from his strong philanthropic leaning, clearly Marcus' strong ties and origin from Ethiopia would draw his attention and earnest to help. But few times do we see someone with no direct connection pitch in to help remedy a situation (Kony campaign aside).

Thankfully, this was not the case for 9-year-old Milla Martin from Sweden. So moved from news stories and photographs of children, like herself, starving in Africa, Milla launched her own campaign to raise money for famine victims in Ethiopia. Through the sales of her cinnamon buns and calling for hundreds of Swedish children to join in the campaign, Milla was able to collect more than 200.000 Kronor (about $35,000) to help the starving children in Africa.

I was able to connect with Milla and her father, Henrik for a quick interview on how she started her bake sale fundraising. Check out Milla's story in her own words...

How did you first hear about the famine in Africa?

We talked a lot about it at home, since it was all over the news last summer. I saw many terrible pictures with starving kids both in the newspapers and on the television, they were so thin. It was awful.

What made you want to do something to help?

I felt frustrated and angry that the world is so unfair. We have so much food and so many things, and they have nothing. It must hurt a lot to starve. So I felt I had to do something.

Tell me about your fundraiser.

I don't have any money, and no job. I am only nine, you know. So I realized I had to sell something to raise money for the starving children. I really like cinnamon buns, so I figured I could bake some and sell them. Most people in Sweden like cinnamon buns.

But I needed to find a place where there were lots of people. So I went to the local supermarket and asked if I could sell my cinnamon buns outside their entrance. They were very kind. They even suggested that they could bake the cinnamon buns for me. So they baked 200 cinnamon buns that it took an hour for me to sell (I charged about US$ 2 per cinnamon bun, since that is the amount needed to save one starving child.)

Then I donated the money to a Swedish charity that focuses on Africa's Horn. That felt very good, and I realized that many more Swedish children can do this. So I started a blog and a Bacebook page called "Bullhjalpen" (the Cinnamon Bun Aid).

How much do you want to raise in total? and How can people help?

Thanks to the blog and Facebook, and some newspaper articles, the word has spread in Sweden. Thousands of children have now sold cinnamon buns and donated the money to the charity I donated to. In total, we have raised more than US$ 35,000. That's a lot of money, I think. I really don't have a goal, I just want us to send money until the children have stopped starving. The world is still unfair, you know. It would be great if children in the US could start doing the same thing!

Do you plan to help other causes in the future, too?

I think I would like to help with other causes too. I have learned so much and it feels very good to help people who are not as fortunate as me. But right now I want to focus on the children in Africa, there is still so much to do for them.

Click here to read Milla Martin's blog (in Swedish). To see how you too can help famine victims, check out ways to donate by clicking here. 

Photos courtesy of Henrik Martin

For more interviews and updates, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Somali Famine Victims Afraid to Return Home

By: Michele Wolfson

Last Friday, we reported about how the number of famine zones in Somalia was cut in half, as U.S. and U.N. food agencies said aid had reduced death rates due to malnutrition. Since the July 20th famine declaration, these regions are slowly beginning to repair from this devastation.

But many Somali women who fled their villages have no interest in returning to their homeland. Somali women living in the town of Dolo on the Ethiopian border say they won't return home for fear that they will not be able to provide food for themselves and their children and are afraid of violent Islamist militants invading the region. There are many others who have fled to Kenya and Ethiopia that share similar concerns.

A Somali U.N. worker, Abdi Nur, said many of the men at the Dolo camp have returned home to plant crops, but the women won't be following. "I don't want to go back," said Hafida Mamood, 62. "There's no security and no animals. We don't want to go anywhere. The food is here." Other women nodded in agreement. "I want to stay here because of the security," said Fahim Mohamed Mahmood, a mother of four.

Drought wiped out much of Somalia's crops, and the conditions brought upon by the famine were made more severe by al Shabaab militants obstructing the work of aid agencies. Additionally, Kenyan forces have recently moved into southern Somalia to battle the Islamic extremists, which have prevented food supplies from being delivered. The conflicts are expected to keep food production at only 30 percent of Somalia's needs, even as the rainy season approaches.

The U.N. reduced the number of people at risk of starvation to 250 million from 750 million as of last week, but aid must continue or recovering regions will be plagued by famine hardships. The U.S. has provided $650 million to drought-stricken Horn of Africa nations, including Somalia. Still, one of the worst humanitarian crises is unfolding as the fate of 13 million people affected by East Africa's worst drought in decades remains in doubt. Tens of thousands have died from this disaster and U.N. officials say it could be a year before anyone is sure the danger has passed.

Meanwhile, Islamic militants deny there's even a famine and they dispute claims that people are dying in the county's inaccessible interior where aid agencies have been denied access.

Photo: Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Photos  

For more updates on the Horn of Africa, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Update on East Africa and the Famine

On Friday, the number of famine zones was cut in half, as U.S. and U.N. food agencies said aid had reduced death rates due to malnutrition. In spite of this good news, 250 million Somalis are facing starvation largely because military battles are preventing food deliveries. The famine in Somalia is reported to be the worst in the world as well as the worst in the Horn of Africa since the region's 1991-92 famine.

International aid effort has been credited with helping to decrease the food shortage. The U.S. and U.N. food agencies downgraded the famine rating in three areas of Somalia to emergency status. However, there are three other areas, including the refugee communities of Somalia's capital, Mogadishu, that still remain in the famine zone. In Mogadishu, the crisis is far from over as the high mortality rates among children are rising. The conflicts in Somalia are continuing to slow relief efforts because of the hundreds of Kenyan troops that moved into Somalia to fight the Al Qaeda-supporting group. The combat ultimately suspended aid to 27,000 people in Somalia's lower and middle Juba regions.

Substantial aid has been provided since July when the famine was first announced and according to The U.N. children's agency "thousands of children's lives have been saved thanks to international donations." However, the UNICEF representative to Somalia, Sikander Khan, said children are still in "imminent danger." The food situation has improved, but the crisis is nowhere near over.

While hundreds of thousands of Somalis flee to the Ethiopian border to find humanitarian aid, the Ethiopian government has also been under scrutiny for its own food security program. An Ethiopian official has strongly rejected accusations that the government deliberately excludes opposition supporters from its food safety net program. Tadesse Bekele, Deputy head of food security and early warning systems, insisted that the productive safety net program (PSNP), which provides food and cash to vulnerable families for work on public projects, worked for the benefit of all Ethiopians regardless of their political affiliations.

These allegations began last year when Human Rights Watch issued a highly critical report of the Ethiopian government, accusing it of excluding opposition supporters from the safety net program, thereby restricting food aid to particular individuals. Pledges came in strong when Ethiopia launched its drought appeal in July with the UK being one of the first to step in and contribute roughly $60 million to the World Food Program. Bekele attributes the generous international response to Ethiopia because he says "it had credible and transparent systems in place." Ted Chaiban, the representative of Unicef, the UN children's agency in Ethiopia, agrees that if Ethiopia did not have its food security systems in place, the situation would have been much worse.

Movements made by the Ethiopian government are being reported worldwide for quite a few reasons. Ethiopian troops may join the war in Somalia against Al Qaeda linked insurgents. The big question is: how much relief will this actually bring? The fear is that this will continue to prevent food aid to reach war-ravaged Somalia. CBS news reports that "If Ethiopian troops cross into Somalia in substantial numbers, it would further stretch the Islamist al-Shabab militia by opening a third front." Additionally, it could also hand the Islamists a propaganda victory because Ethiopian forces are wildly unpopular in Somalia.

The U.N. and U.S. agencies said earlier this year that 13 million people across the Horn of Africa were in need of emergency assistance and now the two agencies said the population in need of aid in Somalia is currently around 4 million people. These groups also said famine would persist at least through December in the Mogadishu and Afgoye refugee camps and in the Middle Shabelle region predominantly due to military battles.

Photo: IRIN Photos 

For more updates on the famine, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Maya's Trip to Ethiopia, Part III: Visiting the School

By: Maya Haile

Today I discuss the final part of my journey to Ethiopia. After giving out our donations at Togojalya, I decided to visit further deep into Somaliland. We were advised that since it was Muslim land that my arms and legs must be covered in order to be allowed to enter. I had just regular clothing so I had to improvise. I found a quick solution when we found a street tailor that could make me a quick garment. I bought the fabric and within a few moments, I had a handmade dress made from native fabric that I could wear when crossing the Muslim lands. I also had a scarf with me that I could wear, so I felt like I fit in. I was happy to be able to partake of the local culture at least with my clothing; especially being in Ethiopia and Somalia, since both cultures are so similar, so I was super happy to follow their culture.

When we went further into that area, we visited the children's school. But their school was nothing like we know a school to be, in fact it was technically just two trees. All of the children of the village, from ages 4-20, come and gather around these two trees to study the day's lessons. There is no house or building, they simply gather at the trees and bring their animals with them (the ones that they are in charge to take care of), which they let graze in the fields. The boys sit separate from the girls, and there are about 60 kids, so about 30 girls and 30 boys. They don't even have a teacher, instead an older child or teenager leads their group in reciting the alphabet and in counting numbers. Every child, no matter what age, repeats the same lesson the whole day and at the end of the day, they gather their animals and return home. They also will carry water with them home at that time too.

It was beautiful to see that the children of the village have some form of education, but it was disheartening to see that they had no school. The village also has no clinic. Some of the villagers told me that they would have to walk 30 kilometers (18 miles) to a nearby village or clinic for just pain-killers or Advil. Yet, these were some of the kindest and humblest people I have ever encountered. Even when we offered them the food donations, they got together and brought over 3 goats to give us as a present in gratitude for the food. Of course, we didn't accept them but even during their time of most need, they are still a very grateful people.

As an Ethiopian, I feel very lucky, not only to visit my homeland, but very lucky for the blessings I've had in my life. I've gotten the chance to live in Europe and in America, and I also have good friends and family that also care about where I came from and also want to help. I believe if we use our connections more, we can help more people, not only in Ethiopia, but in all parts of the world that are in such need of basic necessities like food, water, shelter, education, and health care. In our case, the government of Ethiopia was very open to our help and donations, so it was proof that helping others in need doesn't have to be that difficult.

I know that together we can someday help bring clean water and food to all those in need. I wish at this moment I could help those tribes better water and possibly build the children a school, and with support from our friends and good-hearted people we can hopefully do that soon!

For more information on the famine in the Horn of Africa, click here. Also visit here, for ways you can help.

Photos: Abraham Wolde of Balageru Records

A big thank you goes out to all of those that helped me in my journey, including the photographer and videographer Abraham Wolde, and all others who helped me bring aid to the most affected in Ethiopia. Thank you!

For more updates on the Horn of Africa, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)

Maya's Trip to Ethiopia, Part II: Distributing Food and Learning About Their Water Supply

By: Maya Haile

As I described in Part I of my journey, we were welcomed to Togojalya with open arms. Togojalya is comprised of 5 tribes, each comprised of 200 families, totaling 1000 families in that area. We visited one in particular named Muhammad's Tribe, which is registered with the Ethiopian government and are more willing to accept visitors. In this case, they welcomed us since we went with good intentions to help the families affected by the famine.

At Muhammad's tribe, we passed out our donated food to each family, about 75 kilos (165 pounds) of food; 25 kilos (55 pounds) of each grain (rice, corn, and lentils). When I asked how long they thought this food could provide them with meals, they said about one month; which astounded us, since this small offering on our part will make a big difference to them. Although, our donations did provide them with a substantial amount of food, they are still in need of one of life's greatest resources- water. Water is often more hope for them more than food, I think. I wish we could have given them water, since they do not have a good supply of it. Currently they drink rain water, yet they only get rain twice a year, so they save that water all year round. The tribe showed me how they conserve the water by digging large holes in the ground and lining them with plastic. The rain water is then collected in the holes, and the families fetch the water from these holes and store it in their house for daily use.

You can imagine how unsafe this water is since it is stagnant all year round. I was surprised when I saw it since it was full of dirt and sediment. As Westerners, our first instinct would be to boil the water in order to make it clean enough to drink. Yet when I asked if they boiled the water to clean it, they said no since during the boiling process a lot of water is lost and their supply is so small, they try to conserve as much water as possible. So the water is taken and used by them as is. When you have an abundance of a resource, you have options and you think about those things. But they don't have options so they just need the small amount of water they have in order to survive.

Their lack of water was one of the most saddening parts of my visit to Togojalya. What was also heart-wrenching was also their tales of dangers they encounter when going to fetch that same water. Since the same watering hole is shared between all five tribes of the region, a lot of conflict can arise between them, especially if supply of the water is low. Many times it is the women and girls of the tribe that must go get the water for the family which puts them in great danger of encountering another hostile tribe along the way.

There are still more aspects of their hard life that I have yet to cover. Stay tuned this week for Part III of the trip, where I discuss their need for clinics and schools.

Photos: Abraham Wolde of Balageru Records

A big thank you goes out to all of those that helped me in my journey, including the photographer and videographer Abraham Wolde, and all others who helped me bring aid to the most affected in Ethiopia. Thank you!

To continue reading about Maya's journey to Ethiopia, follow me on Twitter (@MarcusCooks)