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Praying for rain: Sustainable strategies deliver water, hope to East Africa

How one man's faith is helping end famine with help from LDS Church

Published: Saturday, April 14 2012 1:00 p.m. MDT

But to Abdulahi it is just as important. He grew up in a town like this, called Werder. His people were pastoral, as most Somalis are, and relatively poor, although his father owned a truck that he used to ferry animals and building equipment across town for a small fee. He dreamed of a better life for Abdulahi, his middle child, even though the odds were stacked against them as dark-skinned Muslims in a country dominated by the lighter-skinned Christians to the north.

"We felt marginalized," Abdulahi remembers. "If you had a Muslim name, you couldn't go to school, and they made no investment in this region. There were no paved roads, no schools, no way to progress."

And so his father moved the family to Mogadishu, the capital of Somalia, where Abdulahi began his education until the government collapsed and civil war broke out. Forced back to Werder, Abdulahi's father sent his 14-year-old son 300 miles away to Jijiga, where he could finish his studies and enroll in college.

This is why Abdulahi sees hope here. If he can leave a village like this one, get two degrees and become a college professor anyone can.

"I don't think I am particularly smart or more talented than anyone else in my family," he says. "The one thing I do is work hard. Maybe I worked harder."

It is work that Abdulahi believes in, and it is hard, grueling work that he is here to do. The plan is to help 22 villages along the border that the Ethiopian government has identified as most in need of help. IRD also wants to find a way to get medicine in to hospitals in Somalia. Abdulahi will coordinate these efforts with a small staff of Somalis. The funding will come from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a long-time IRD partner in disaster relief efforts around the world. It is just one of 111 such projects the Mormon Church will do that year, but it may be the most important.

Abdulahi has never heard of the LDS Church, but he will take help from wherever he can get it.

Bringing rain

He begins by driving out to the 22 villages he is tasked with helping. It takes two hours to get to the closest one on a bone-jarring road that cuts through dry riverbanks and little towns cloaked in dust.

When he arrives at the village of Sala-Jama, which sits at the base of the dun-colored mountain, he meets Issaq, who leads him in to a shaded hut. Together with the other village elders, they sit and talk over tea about the need for water and food.

Abdulahi knows the history of charity work in Africa, and so do the villagers. In the 80s and 90s, after the Ethiopian famine captured the world's attention, well-meaning do-gooders descended on the continent hoping to "make a difference."

It went something like this: dig a well, put up a plaque, take off. It brought to mind the colonial era of Africa, when the Italians started roads they didn't finish and the Soviets left their tanks to rust in the sun, a time none of these fiercely independent pastoralists recall too fondly.

Abdulahi explains that his approach is different. He is there to help, but he is also there to listen. This is the model IRD and LDS Charities use throughout the world: to partner with the locals to improve their own situation, and Abdulahi has embraced it.

Issaq reveals that he might move his village to a closer water source. While Abdulahi has ideas that will improve the life of the villagers, there is an immediate need to be met.

He returns several days later and tells Issaq that IRD and LDS Charities will begin trucking water to the villages, as well as plastic storage tanks.

Issaq is skeptical.

NGOs are known for making empty promises. But within days the water trucking begins --20,000 liters to 22 villages in the region, including Sala-Jama. It lasts for 10 weeks.

When Abdulahi returns to the village with his staff to see how things are going, the people celebrate his arrival. The water trucks are an answer to prayer.

"It rained," they tell him. "Even though the ground is not wet."

An old man approaches him. "We were all praying for you, even the birds in the sky were praying for you."

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