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Kenyans find unity in helping others

NAIROBI, Kenya -- Hashim Mohammed Elmogo spontaneously decided to donate his entire July salary of $376 to help those suffering from hunger after seeing a scrolling headline on television about a young child trying to nurse from his dead mother.

"I am very touched by the images of starving children and emaciated women," says the police constable, 36. "We need to do all we can to ease the situation and save our fellow Kenyans." Friends who heard of his generosity have since pledged to support him financially through the month of August.

Three years ago, postelection violence led Kenya to the brink of civil war and left the country divided along tribal lines more than ever before. Now in a show of unity, ordinary Kenyans, the majority of whom live on less than a $2 a day, have contributed more than $1.3 million in a little over a week.

Corporate donations to the "Kenyans for Kenya" drive brought in another $4 million for the relief effort.

While famine in neighboring Somalia has killed tens of thousands, there have been hunger-related deaths in Kenya as well. At least five people have died in Turkana, the hardest-hit area located in northern Kenya near the border with Ethiopia.

Joseph Kimeu, 31, a driver for a nongovernmental organization, donated $1 to the fundraising effort.

"The way I see those kids they are like my kids," he says. "If my kids are eating and I see another kid starving I feel like it's not good for a human being. Especially if you are a Kenyan, I feel it is still my family. They are my family too and that's why I gave."

Critics accuse the Kenyan government of being slow to respond. Kenya's well-paid legislators, including government ministers, are preoccupied fighting a move by Kenya's tax authority ordering them to pay back taxes for their hefty allowances.

Currently 2.4 million people are receiving food aid in Kenya. The UN's World Food Program is feeding 1.6 million and the government of Kenya another 800,000. But the UN says the number needing food assistance is expected to rise to 3.2 million by mid-August.

Ikal Angelei, a program officer with Friends of Lake Turkana, said fundraising done by Kenyans is commendable, but says the government needs to implement long-term solutions to help the Turkana people withstand the recurrent droughts in the region.

Angelei said it shows bad management by government when people in parts of Kenya are going hungry while other parts of the country have such bountiful harvests that food is rotting in the farms.

In another troubling sign, eight women in Turkana were killed by Merille tribesmen from Ethiopia on Friday because of conflicts over pasture and water, Angelei said.

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