A plea for famine victims 

Family of adopted Ethiopian child asking Whistler to give


While residents of Whistler were complaining about the cold start to summer a different kind of weather-related tragedy was unfolding on the Horn of Africa - the worst drought in 60 years.

The plight of families there has prompted at least one Whistler family to make a plea for the community to reach out and help.

"Unfortunately Africa is not top of mind because it's not a sudden crisis, because it's always a crisis it seems," said Genevieve Ciebien who along with husband Mike adopted daughter Céleste from an Ethiopian orphanage in 2009, witnessing first-hand the poverty in that country even before a famine was officially recognized.

"I'm hoping to put it out to people and tell them that this is very urgent. The people have no access to food and they're dying every day. I'd like to see my community respond in a generous way and spend money right now, or to make contributions on a long-term basis."

Ciebien has personally made famine donations to Oxfam (www.oxfam.ca), one of the established aid organizations that qualifies for matching funding from the federal government.

"They have been updating their website frequently about the crisis," she said.

"They already have people on the ground, which was important," said Ciebien. "Oxfam had reports out of Ethiopia, Somalia and Kenya."

Ciebien said they have educated their daughter about Ethiopia, her native country and culture, and although she's only three she understands that there is a famine in the country she was born.

"The other day I found a dime on the street and gave it to her, and she said she wanted to save it for the kids in Ethiopia," said Ciebien. "She wants to help, and I told her what I tell everybody, that every little bit will help."

More than two years without significant rainfall has triggered a massive famine that threatens the lives of millions living in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The famine is complicated by the political and security situation in some countries, but aid is getting through thanks to agencies on the ground. A lot will be needed with an estimated 12 million currently at risk of starvation.

Recognizing the seriousness of the situation, governments are starting to increase their aid to the United Nations effort, which has a goal of raising $2.5 billion. Canada has contributed $72 million to date towards the international effort and the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) has pledged to give one dollar to the Canadian East Africa Drought Relief Fund for every dollar donated to a charity that is responding to the crisis, until Sept. 16.

While the situation in Africa keeps getting pushed out of the public eye by issues like the stock market and rioting in London and Chile, that could change soon. Some 150 stars are urging fans to purchase "High Tide or Low Tide" by Bob Marley at www.imgonnabeyourfriend.org . An original song is also reportedly in the works. The goal of the musicians is to get the famine into the public eye as much as possible.




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