Yesterday I presented you with a rather bleak picture of Somalia and the Horn of Africa region. But I didn’t give you much help in figuring out what to do about it. I don’t expect that any of you will plan to move your family to Africa (although if you want to, let’s talk), so where does that leave you?

Its no wonder photos of cute puppies, fancy food, and DIY crafts get more hits on the web, more ‘likes’ on Facebook, more retweets. Those things are relatable. They make sense to most Americans because most Americans have pets, eat food, and make stuff.

Matt Erickson, founder of The Poet Nation posted a video on Facebook called “Voices of Dadaab,” a documentary filmed in a Somali refugee camp at the height of last summer’s famine. The refugee camp is in Kenya and has actually grown to become Kenya’s third largest city. The post got no comments, no likes, and just one ‘share,’ from me. Around that same time, Matt’s wife posted a photo of their new baby wearing a bib crocheted by her 10-year old sister. The post got 15 comments and 22 ‘likes.’ (including from me, so I’m not condemning this, just making a point).

It is easier to pay attention to things that make sense and to things that we can do something about. So, I’m not saying that you have to move to Africa and I’m not saying you should stop ‘liking’ adorable baby photos. But don’t use staying in the US as an excuse to ignore the world, or at the expense of deeper caring, of acting.

To that end, I realized I can’t leave you without some guidance. I made two lists. One is things you can do, the other is a list of (as far as I can tell) charities doing quality work in the Horn region.

What Can You Do?
1. Serve. Go to Feed My Starving Children and pack boxes. Tutor Somalis in the US so they can improve their quality of life and affect change themselves.
2. Become an educated voter. Find out which representatives care about justice and peace.
3. Teach yourself. Put a world map on the wall and learn about Djibouti, Lesotho, Bhutan, and other countries most people have never heard of and can’t pronounce.
4. Become aware. Watch the Voices of Dadaab video, read the newspaper, listen to the news beyond the headlines, ask questions of Somalis (or Syrians, Egyptians, Sudanese, Nepalese…) neighbors around you. (this is my personal favorite for Americans – get to know people from volatile regions and find out what they think would help, develop a friendship)
5. Give. Time, skills, money. NGOs are always in need of volunteers, funds, and creative help such as web-design, photography, newsletter development…
6. If you are a person of faith, pray.

Who Can You Give To?
In 2011, Americans spent almost $51 billion on pet supplies. What could that have done for human beings? However, it isn’t as simple as giving out money. Here is an insightful article in The Observer about how giving $50 here and there isn’t going to solve the problem of Somalia, that long-term investment is needed to make long-term change. Yes, there are current crises, but meeting them with momentary bags of food won’t solve the problem for the next generation. The solution has to be both/and.

(I’m not personally endorsing any of these except REI, since I have not worked with or for them, just a list that, based on my research and experience, seems legit)

Here are some organizations doing immediate relief aid for women and children:
1. Feed My Starving Children
3. International Rescue Committee and here is an article about one of their advocates, actually in Dadaab refugee camp.

Like I said, long-term change will only come through long-term investment, which is partly why we are still in the Horn, after more than nine years. Very few western organizations are able to be in Somalia. Some operate from Kenya or Ethiopia or Djibouti, others partner with local Somali women.

1. Resource Exchange International. Of course I show my huge bias, this is our organization! But I believe they meet the standard of doing quality, long-term work that affects both the immediate needs and future development issues.
2. Sister Somalia. I don’t know much about this organization, they have been featured in the New York Times. It is run as a partnership with a Somali woman living in Mogadishu and is a rape crisis center, among other things.
3. Samaritan’s Purse. We know some of their staff; good people doing good work all over the region.
4. Islamic Relief. They are able to go places and do things unthinkable for western organizations.

For a larger list, check out this page in The Washington Post.