It was a gathering last night for a cause you probably have not heard of -- something that distressed most of the gathered. There were former Peace Corps people -- like Sen. Paul Tsongas (D-Mass.) and Rep. Thomas Petri (R-Wis.). There was Mayor Marion Barry, saying he had turned down other events for this one.
There were the members of Congress whose names had gone out in bold black letters on the invitation -- Rep. Pat Schroeder (D-Col.) and Rep. Andrew Maguire (D-N.J.) There was local television news anchorperson J.C. Hayward of WDVM, and there was Cleveland Browns running back Calvin Hill.
The event ws a benefit, held at the Capital Children's Museum, for the African refugees in Somalia, of which there are more than 1 million, mostly form Ethiopia. Somalia has the largest number of refugees in Africa, according to the Committee for Somali Refugee Relief, Inc. They have been displaced by "continued military activity in the area," according to the flyers from the committee.
There are four or five major ethnic groups in Ethiopia, one Somali explained last night. "The eritreans," he said "are fighting for independence, the Oromos are fighting for independence, the Somalis are fighting for independence, and the Tgraye are fighting for self-preservation."
We're not pro one country or another country," said Martin Ganzglass, who started the committee after he returned from Somalia last October. "The idea is to raise money for the children [the majority of the refugees]."
And at a benefit like this, the subject of the other refugees of the world could not be side-stepped. "I understand the feeling toward Cambodia." said Ganzglass. "It's a guilt issue. We ruined their country in the war. But when you look at the refugee problem, you see more in Africa than anywhere else and less aid per capita than anywhere else. Pat [schroeder] has been in Thailand and she says they're awash in doctors and supplies and the tents have floors. When you look at Somalia you see there are two doctors for every 34,000 refugees."
"Well, not awash," said Schroeder last night. "But when Andy Maguire and I went to Somalia [with the Armed Services Committee] I was blown away by conditions in Somalia. The international agencies aren't there.We send food, but that's it. There's no refrigeration, no housing, no shovels to dig latrines. It made Thailand look palatial -- not that it is."
J.C. Hayward told the group that when she found out about conditions in Somalia, she was "appalled."
"It was a silent tragedy -- no one knew anything about it, no one had heard about it," said Hayward.
She plans to rectify the situation by doing a half-hour documentary on Somalia, independent of WDVM.
Last night's benefit, attended by approximately 200, was expected to raise $3,000.