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Famine in Somalia: The Lives We Can Save

Courtney O’Donnell, Communications Director to Dr. Jill Biden, reflects on their visit to a refugee camp in Kenya that was originally built for 90,000 people, but now has more than 420,000 Somalis who have traveled there seeking food, water and medical attention.

This week, Dr. Jill Biden visited Kenya with Senator Bill Frist, USAID Administrator Raj Shah, Assistant Secretary of State Eric Schwartz, and Special Assistant to the President Gayle Smith to bring attention to the humanitarian crisis as thousands of Somalis flee famine and seek refuge in Kenya and Ethiopia. Courtney O’Donnell, Communications Director to Dr. Jill Biden, also traveled with Dr. Biden and visited the world's largest refugee camp. The camp was originally built for 90,000 people, but now has more than 420,000 Somalis who have traveled there seeking aid. Upon her return, Courtney shared her experience with

In the weeks prior to our trip, Dr. Biden had seen the news reports and the images from the region and wanted to find a way to help. So the goal of our trip was a simple one - to try to bring attention to this famine and the need for aid, and to tell the stories of the people we met. As Communications Director, my role is to find ways to make more people aware of this need and get the message across to as many people as possible.

While our government and others around the world have acted to support the region, there is an urgent need for individuals to act. The pace of the famine is relentless, and without additional assistance, hundreds of thousands of children could die of starvation and disease in the coming months.

Already more than 29,000 children under the age of five have died in the past three months in the region. In an interview with, Courtney reflected on how the trip impacted her as a mother:

I was drawn to all of the mothers and the children that I met. Most of these women had walked barefoot, through days and nights, for 10, 20 or 30 days carrying their babies and children to get to the camp. Think about that. Most of them have the clothes on their bodies and nothing else. Many people are robbed or face violence on that journey. Oftentimes it’s a mother who’s the head of household, so you have a mom trying to bring her children to safety and get them food through this incredibly long and hard distance. You think about this journey and all they go through so they hope they can get the basic supplies to keep their kids alive. Anyone who’s a mom would understand that you’d do anything for your children and the mothers at the camp were doing just that – in circumstances that we could never fathom.

Throughout the day, I kept thinking of my own children back home in Washington, D.C., two rambunctious and chubby little creatures who have spent their lives getting regular checkups with pediatricians, loads of preventive care, as well as endless snacks and feedings. It is so striking that these two scenarios could co-exist across the globe....

We met a mother with four children, and her youngest child had diarrhea. She had walked for 20 days to get to the camp and she asked us to help her child. In her situation, diarrhea can be fatal given the already severe dehydration and malnutrition these children are facing. Again, it was hard for me not to think about my own sons at home and all of the preventive care that we take for granted. That contrast made the deepest impression on me – and has stuck with me. Support will make a huge difference, I have seen it.

These stories are stark reminders of how desperate the need is, but people can literally save lives with small donations. Learn more and take action at Read Courtney's complete article at