By Farid Omar.
The UN has declared the humanitarian crisis in Somalia “the worst disaster” in the world as the war-torn nation faces the worst drought in 60 years.
Days after U2’s Bono, and Somali-Canadian rapper, K’naan, met with Minnesotan Somalis to raise awareness on the ongoing famine and drought afflicting Somalia, Lauren Howe, the newly-crowned Miss Teen Canada -World gave her voice to the victims of the crisis calling upon Canada and the international community to expand relief efforts for the humanitarian disaster in the Horn of Africa region.
On July 16th, Lauren Howe beat a strong field of 74 other contestants to be crowned the 2011 Miss Teen Canada-World in a colourful pageant held at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, in downtown, Toronto. Stunningly beautiful, Lauren won the competition because of her strength in the live interviews and her prowess at blogging.
Rightfully the teen queen of beauty and brains, Lauren will now represent Canada at the Miss Teen World pageant in Houston Texas August 1 – 5. The big night is the pageant’s final on August 5th when she could become an international celebrity. This year, there are 24 other contestants from countries all over the world in what promises to be an eventful pageant.
In an exclusive interview with FaridNet, Lauren, 18, outlined her national platform of raising awareness on hunger and homelessness in local communities, where untouched wasted food could be given to the homeless. Stating that the prevalence of hunger is also a global issue, the Miss Teen Canada-World called for concerted international action to address the unfolding crisis in Somalia, the epicentre of the drought and famine affecting millions in East Africa.
At the Minneapolis event, Bono, the U2 front man and K’naan, the Somali born rapper and poet performed a duet of “stand by me,” in solidarity with the people of Somalia. Minneapolis, Minnesota is home to the largest Somali community in America.
Likewise in Toronto, which is home to the largest Somali Diaspora community in Canada, Lauren said that the victims of the humanitarian disaster in Somalia and East Africa in general require urgent help.
“Given the scale of the crisis in Somalia, the population affected by the ongoing disaster should be accorded hundred percent support by Canada, the United Nations and the international community” said Lauren.
Aid agencies observe that the humanitarian disaster in Somalia is taking its toll on its youngest generation with the majority of the population affected by the monumental crisis being children and young people under 18 years of age.
A news maker and a high profile teen, Lauren ’s humanitarian appeal to the international community brings much needed attention to a crisis that is threatening to decimate Somalia’s future generation if swift action is not taken to curtail the ongoing suffering. The UN says that malnutrition rates among the over 2 million children affected by the crippling drought are severely high.
The majority of Somali refugees displaced by the drought and conflict end up in the Dadaab camp, located in neighbouring Kenya. Built to house 90,000 people when civil war broke out in Somalia, the Medicins Sans Frontieres (MSF) says that Dadaab is now home to more than 400,000 refugees making it the world's largest refugee camp.
UN officials state that 12 million people in East Africa are in urgent need of humanitarian aid. Lauren notes that the “flow of thousands of Somalis displaced by the drought into refugee camps in neighbouring Kenya attests to the gravity of the situation on the ground.”
David Mitchell, the British Minister for International Development recently decried the slow international response to the crisis calling it “derisory and dangerously inadequate”. While Canada has pledged over $60 million to help alleviate suffering in the drought and famine zones of East Africa, Lauren states that the “burden of relief efforts should be divided among all countries in the world and especially the wealthy nations in the West that are better endowed”.
“Canada may have budget allocations for different priorities. But with the worsening humanitarian situation in places like Somalia, I think it is time Canada re-directed more aid and resources to this crisis” said Lauren.
Known for her blogging prowess and commitment to social justice, Lauren further calls for progressive initiatives to combat negative stereotypes attached to certain communities.
“In Somalia, media depictions focus on the negative such as reports on the scourge of piracy and pirates” says Lauren adding that “droughts and famine are disasters that need to be tackled, but they can often be associated with images that can depict affected population in negative light. In the ongoing crisis, the media should refrain from dwelling on negative stereotypes and focus on the important issues being raised; helping those who need help most”.
Having visited Ghana in the past, Lauren notes that Africa is unfairly being presented in the global tourist sector as an “exotic” continent full of wild animals.
“Africa is not a wild place. It is like any other continent that has its own state structures. Although it faces challenges, there are many things that Africa can always improve on” says Lauren.
In her campaign to fight hunger and homelessness, Lauren is an ardent advocate of food recovery initiatives. In Canada, a lot of good, unused food that goes to waste is often discarded. According to the food recovery model, non-perishable foods such as rice and other canned, dried foods can be recovered and redistributed to the poor.
Lauren’s platform of food recovery is echoed by others in the Somali community. In a recent interview with Ogaal Radio (88.9FM), Somali-Canadian activist Suad Aimad stated that “Canada is the land of plenty where people throw food into garbage while people in Somalia are starving”. The food recovery model has been used by the UN during the Haiti crisis and Lauren feels that communities can apply a similar model to Somalia by working closely with the UN.
Lauren’s social activism is not limited to fighting poverty and homelessness. She is in the forefront of advocating for the still underway Patent Pool, an initiative that could make available affordable HIV/AIDS drugs to patients in the developing nations who can’t afford antiretroviral drugs priced beyond their reach.
Having explored this concept in one of her school projects, Lauren, a scientific researcher, observes that the Patent Pool concept is a possible solution to the pandemic as it allows for the “voluntary licensing of intellectual property, where companies and researchers may access the patent pool to retrieve the patents in exchange for a royalty payment to the inventors. This is a win - win situation because more people would access the pool and more manufacturers will gain the right to sell HIV drugs to the public” says Lauren.
Planning to pursue a biochemical degree at University level, Lauren hopes to bring her expertise and activism to this issue in pharmaceutical circles at an appropriate time. The sky is the limit for the energetic, outgoing and optimistic Miss Teen Canada-World who is set to take the world stage by storm.
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