- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 27, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS — Mohamed Hassan gets emotional when he hears about the famine devastating Somalia, recalling his own months-long walk from the capital of Mogadishu to Kenya two decades ago as a teenager fleeing the civil war.

Now Mr. Hassan and other Somalis here are digging deep to help.

“I’ve lived through starvations, hunger. I’ve lived in a refugee camp,” Mr. Hassan said. “Because of my relationship to the people of Somalia back home, but also because of past experiences, I feel the pain. I cannot afford to sit back and watch people go through these experiences.”

From Facebook campaigns to car washes and concerts to local collection sites, Minnesota’s Somali community - the nation’s largest at an estimated 25,000 people - is using its prosperity here to help the starving masses over there.

Though an overall total isn’t known, Somalis have helped raised roughly $100,000 for the American Refugee Committee, including $47,000 at a single event last week. Another group, Amoud Foundation, reported raising $94,000 from the Twin Cities in less than two weeks.

“I don’t think we’ve ever seen an emergency like this where the diaspora is at the center of the response,” said Daniel Wordsworth, the president and chief executive of the American Refugee Committee. “They are all taking a lead. … We don’t have to convince the Somalis to care. They care more than we ever will.”

But Minnesota Somalis are taking precautions. The state has been the center of a long-running federal investigation into the recruiting of Americans to join al-Shabab, an Islamist terrorist group responsible for much of the violence in Somalia.

As part of that investigation, two Minnesota women were accused last summer of soliciting money and clothes for refugees in Somalia but steering the money instead to al-Shabab.

To guard against that, Somalis are carefully partnering with or donating to long-established relief organizations.

Before donating, people “have to think twice,” said Hassan Mohamud, the imam at Islamic Da’wah Center in St. Paul and an organizer of relief efforts. “Everybody wants to pay and everyone is generous to pay, but they want to make sure they won’t be in trouble if they give this.”

“The community is very careful,” said Safia Yasin Farah, who started a Facebook page, Somalis Without Borders for Drought Relief. “We don’t want to have anything to do with al-Shabab. We just wish they would go away.”

Mr. Wordsworth said the American Refugee Committee began working with the Somali community two years ago. In April they announced a partnership called Neighbors for Nations, which gave Somalis a safe way to send humanitarian aid back home.

Now, he said, his group and the American Relief Agency for the Horn of Africa have a joint team in Mogadishu that is providing food baskets and items such as blankets to thousands who have flocked to the capital city.

The United Nations estimates that more than 11 million people in East Africa are affected by the drought, with 3.7 million in Somalia among the worst-hit because of civil war there.