Islamic Relief USA’s Reem El-Khatib summarizes the statistics and charitable sentiments shared at the “Feed the Future” iftar, hosted by IRUSA, USDA and USAID on Aug. 7, 2012.

On Aug. 7, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) held its annual iftar, “Feed the Future: Together We Can.” It was cosponsored by Islamic Relief USA and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

Alhamdulilah, some 100 guests came together for the event, to break fast together, to celebrate the charitable spirit of Ramadan, and to bring attention to food crises facing millions in Somalia, across East Africa, and around the world.

“Ramadan is school for us,” said IRUSA CEO, “to connect with God and to feel with others … to think about those who are unfortunate, who cannot find food to eat.” He added that generosity and caring for your fellow brother and sister, tenets emphasized during Ramadan, can simultaneously defeat greed and help move the world toward food security for all.

“Food security is one of the most basic human rights,” said USDA’s Darci Vetter, “and that is the premise behind the Obama administration’s ‘Feed the Future’ initiative”—also, the namesake of the Aug. 7 event. She noted that the combined efforts of USDA with USAID, the American Refugee Committee, and Islamic Relief USA help alleviate poverty around the world.

It was summer last year when Islamic Relief USA launched its efforts to provide emergency humanitarian relief across East Africa, which was facing the worst drought to hit the region in 60 years. More than 13 million were hit especially hard by the drought, and some 4 million in Somalia are still food-insecure. Alhamdulilah, through the generosity of Islamic Relief donors, hundreds of thousands of individuals received help. But, the need is still there, and the efforts continue.

In addressing the crowd, USAID Administrator Dr. Rajiv Shah spoke to the power of working together at the community level to bring attention to crises, like the one facing East Africa, and to effect change: “I had the opportunity to visit the Somali-American community in Minneapolis, and in that visit, we spoke about ways we could collectively improve our response, we could urge the world to do more, and we could better leverage the capacities, the ideas, creativity and relationships of the Somali diaspora community. I’m so pleased that the partnerships that have sprouted in that moment have persisted and, in fact, have helped us get over the worst of that crisis.”

Shukri Abdinur, a Somali-American with American Refugee Committee, exemplifies the power of grassroots action that Dr. Shah alluded to. Motivated to help the people of her country, Shukri shared that she and her friends began organizing local events in her neighborhood in Minnesota to build awareness and financial support for Somalia: “Our first car wash raised close to $1,000. Not only that, but soon, CNN, Al Jazeera and many other news outlets would get this story around the world … I never imagined what my journey would hold,” she said.

The positive results of discussions and actions like Shukri’s, Dr. Shah noted, make it easy to recognize now, as food crises again face millions around the world, in Yemen, Afghanistan, the Sahel (West Africa) and still in East Africa, that discussion and collaborative efforts are integral to alleviating suffering: “The World Bank estimates that for the first time in the human race, we can virtually eliminate extreme poverty within a generation.”

That hope was visually represented and summed up in the closing keynote and gallery presentation by IRUSA’s creative director Ridwan Adhami. Through his “Scars and Smiles: Faces and Stories From the Horn of Africa” photos, Adhami took the audience on a journey through Somalia—to the places and to the people he met while there in September 2011.

Adhami summarized the conditions facing the Somali people during the drought and the hope that emanated from the individuals he met and photographed: “We often hear about the bigger picture, the millions affected—but, I want to bring you the smaller picture, the individual story. I want you to meet her or him, and to know Somalia as a nation of people with stories, not as a statistic. Ultimately, theirs is a story of hope and an outlook on the future that we can all be proud of.”

Click on the photos below taken by IRUSA’s Nabeelah Naeem or check out these photos on Flickr taken by Lance Cheung for USDA to learn.