From the Adams-Morgan neighborhood that serves as a kind of restaurant row for their native cuisine, Ethiopians here are busy raising money to help feed the starving millions "back home."
The famine in the African country on the Red Sea has lately drawn the attention -- and contributions -- of Americans, but relief efforts in the Washington area's approximately 8,000-strong Ethiopian community have been going on for months.
"We've sent $7,000 in the past year," said Hermela Kebede, who heads the volunteer-staffed Ethiopian Hunger Relief Coordinating Committee.
The group is holding its third fund-raiser today, aimed at collecting $10,000 to $15,000, and hopes to sustain a steady pattern of contributions thereafter.
"We're trying to raise every penny and send it back home," said Kebede, who also is president of the Ethiopian Community Center. "We don't want the aid to stop as soon as the media stop mentioning the famine. The families will still be in need for another two years."
Recent news stories about Ethiopia's drought-caused famine, including film footage of starving children, have helped dramatize the problem and led to many offers of assistance, according to Kebede.
Kebede said calls from all over the country are coming to the center at 1929 18th St. NW and that local groups are contributing to Ethiopian aid through the hunger relief committee. A law student at George Washington University collected more than $1,900 on that campus alone.
All the money is being passed along to the London-based Save the Children Fund, which has six food and medical relief centers in Ethiopia.
Kebede and Pietro Togeia, another volunteer who is handling the committee's public relations, say the group selected this organization after surveying nearly a dozen international charities about their food-distribution methods, administrative costs and reports to donors.
The chief concern, they say, was to make sure the food is actually getting to the people who need it most.
But like the civil war that has divided the country since a Marxist takeover there in 1974, Ethiopians abroad also are split on who should be the conduit for relief efforts.
"The monies and food given to organizations that work with the Ethiopian government are not reaching the people most affected, the ones who are antigovernment," complains Yared Berhe, the U.S. representative for the Sudan-based Relief Society of Tigray.
The group plans to hold a fund-raiser at 6 p.m. Dec. 15 at Howard University's Blackburn Auditorium. There will be speakers and a film on the famine in Tigray.
Tigray, a province in the northern part of Ethiopia, was the country's capital in biblical times and today is a rebel stronghold, a factor that has complicated and often stalled relief efforts.
The famine has spurred several organizations to mount relief efforts in Ethiopia and other African countries. In addition to those being used by the Ethiopian community here, several national and local groups, including UNICEF, the World Alliance of YMCAs, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision, the Hunger Project and others are collecting funds for famine relief assistance.
Berhe said his group, working with a different set of charity groups, including Lutheran World Relief and Grassroots International, sends food and medical supplies through the Sudan, bypassing the Ethiopian government and working directly with agencies in "the liberated areas."
Berhe believes that less than 5 percent of American relief contributions, if funneled through groups like Save the Children or the Catholic Relief Services, are reaching the rebel-controlled Tigray area. But Kebede and Togeia dispute this.
"In areas where there is war, it is very hard to deliver the food, but we are assured by Save the Children that it is operating in Tigray province," Kebede said.
Kebede said that it is the policy of the hunger relief committee to work through international humanitarian organizations that have a base in the country rather than local relief agencies in Ethiopia, whether pro- or anti-government.
"Our primary concern is that everyone who needs help gets it, regardless of political sentiments," said Togeia, who stressed that Ethiopians are grateful for food and other assistance, no matter where it comes from.
Today's fund-raising event, to be held at the Capitol Holiday Inn, 500 C St. SW, will be a day-long program featuring Ethiopian entertainment. Admission is free, but Ethiopian arts and crafts and food will e on sale and relief donations will be solicited. This evening, beginning at 8 o'clock, a banquet, poetry reading and raffle will be held. Guest speakers will be Rep. Howard Wolpe (D-Mich.), and officials from the State Department, Africare and the World Bank.
Tickets for the banquet, for which local Ethiopian restaurants are donating the food, are $15 and may be purchased through the center or at the door.
The hunger relief committee is putting the event together with the help of the staff of the Voice of America -- Amharic Service, a radio broadcast to Ethiopia in the Ethiopian language.
"We really would like to say thank you to the American people for being so much concerned," Kebede said.