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Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Cultures & immigration beat: Lighting a torch for Somalia's athletes

By: Allie Shah , Star Tribune

The two-person Somali Olympic team

The locals call it the "road of death," a bullet-pocked street in Mogadishu, Somalia, where warring factions exchange gunfire in the country's decades-old civil war.

It's also where Somali runners training for the Olympics in London had been forced to practice, having no formal track or training facility.

Now, the two-person Somali Olympic team and its inspiring story are attracting fans in Minnesota.

The American Refugee Committee (ARC), a Minneapolis-based group that helps refugees around the world, is rallying support for the duo, while also raising money for those still struggling in Somalia, with a global fundraiser on Facebook.

Visitors to the "I Am a Star for Somalia" page are being asked to "cheer" for the Somali Olympians. For every "like," "post" or "share," $1 will be donated to Somalia relief work.

In addition, the ARC is building a paper chain as a symbol of all that online cheering. A link will be added for every dollar donated.

The goal is $50,000 by Aug. 11. So far, there are more than 25,000 "likes" for Team Somalia.

The two-person Olympic squad consists of a man and a woman: Mohamed Hassan Mohamed and Zam Zam Farah, both runners. Farah is competing in the 400-meter race and Mohamed is participating in the 1,500- and 400-meter races.

Although there are signs of hope for Somalia and its capital city, the road to recovery for athletes and the nation as a whole remains a dangerous one. Earlier this year, the head of Somalia's Olympic committee was killed in a suicide bombing attack in Mogadishu.

"We saw these Olympians as symbols for this country," said Therese Gales, an ARC spokeswoman. "They've gone through all these struggles and have gotten this far and are now on the world stage."

For more information go to: STARforSomalia or call the ARC at 612-872-7060.

Allie Shah • 612-673-4488

Source:  Star Tribune

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