Most attention the east African nation of Somalia gets from outsiders is for the dire situation of its citizens, who have been ravaged by famine and civil war.
Thanks to Facebook, the country's two Olympic athletes are gaining supporters from across the globe and bringing hope to the country in need. Fans from around the world are giving the Somali team virtual cheers, in the form of Facebook likes and shares, on the page I AM A STAR for Somalia. People from more than 80 countries, from Peru to Turkey, have liked the page so far.
So far, the page has received more than 27,000 likes and individual posts have received hundreds more. The American Refugee Committee, who is spearheading the campaign, will receive a donation from Somali telecom company Hormuud for $50,000 once the page hits 50,000 new posts, shares and likes, which the non-profit will use toward relief. According to the ARC, more than 2.5 million Somalis are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.
"The two Olympians have lived their entire lives in a wartorn country, and now for the first time, they can actually be in a peaceful country," Brett Hines, an American Refugee Committee correspondent following the team in London told Mashable. "It's such as incredible Olympics story of overcoming obstacles. I think it's really admirable and fun to encourage people on the net to watch Somalia, and to help them help their country."
Zamzam Mohamud Farah, 20, and Mohamed Hassan Mohamed, 19, the two Olympic runners who competed on Friday, trained for the games on a dirt track in Mogadishu, receiving essentially no investment and facing death threats for their participation in the Games. The two now share stories to the Somali team's Facebook page.
“It is so kind of people around the globe who don’t have any connection to Somalia to put energy and money to help us,” Zamzam says. “I was really surprised to hear it. Now, I feel that I’m not alone. I never imagined that people in places like Malaysia or Taiwan are thinking about Somali people. I used to hear that the world had forgotten us.”
The ARC's relief efforts in Somalia include providing food, clean water and medical care for the families living in displaced persons camps. The Committee sees improvements in the capital city — people who fled are returning, new construction is booming and businesses are reopening.
"For these two Olympians who don't usually have access to the Internet, the idea that they can connect with fans in Mexico and Malaysia and Norway is a big deal," Hines says. "I'm helping them wrap their brains around what they want to acomplish and share their story of what London has been like."
The campaign has an offline component as well — ARC volunteers in Minnesota, home of North America's largest Somali community, are looping together "rings of hope" in the form of a paper chain.
In addition to updates on the Olympians, Facebook supporters from around the world are privy to updates from the ARC about the situation in Somalia, providing a gateway for cultural exchange and global citizenship. How should the Olympics continue to foster international learning and support?