In 1993, four-time Grammy Award winner and British-Nigerian singer Sade released a song called "Pearls," and it's become one of her most enduring hits.

But did you know this song is about a woman and child living in the 1992 Somali famine?


Sade rocks out. Photo by Valery Hache/AFP/Getty Images.


That fact flies by some because one doesn't really need to listen to the words Sade sings to get the effect of her music.

The main character in Sade's story is picking "pearls" off the side of the road. These aren't actual pearls but grains of rice that have fallen off relief trucks passing by her. To her, they are as precious as pearls because in her life, they are just as rare. Mothers in Somalia's food situation are forced to live a life where they can't just pop over to the supermarket to get some food.

Here's what the lyrics in "Pearls" mean:

Somalia has had three separate famines in the last 25 years: In 1992, from 2010-2012, and in 2014.

The famine (a period of extreme hunger) Sade is singing about claimed 220,000 lives in 1992. The 2010-2012 famine claimed another 260,000, and in 2014, the death toll of the ongoing war caused partially by Somalia's hunger problems is still climbing.

As of September 2013, there were more than 1.1 million Somalis displaced internally and nearly 1 million refugees living in neighboring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, and Yemen.

The population of Somalia is 10.5 million; a tenth of the country is displaced from their homes without their choosing. That's a lot of people.

You know how many? 125 football stadiums of people.

One-third of Somali children are underweight.

According to the World Health Organization, 32.8% of Somali children younger than 5 are underweight and malnourished. America and other countries have been sending aid to Somalia since 1993, but still the problem has persisted. For every 1,000 Somali children, about 146 won't make it to age 5.

It's hard for people in drought and famine situations to even think about the situation they're in day in and day out.

This one is a little less fact-based, so I'm going to ask you to use your imagination: You know when you get a new pair of dress shoes and the leather is crisp, stiff, and unwrinkled ... you almost don't want to wear them yet because they're so doggone perfect? And then you put them on and walk out the door, and you already have blisters on the edges of your feet and want to take them off? This is what I think Sade means.

What can we all can do to help?


Somali refugees in Kenya after fleeing the 2011 famine. Photo by Oli Scarff/Getty Images.

All this time, I never thought about what I should do. She's speaking about a problem — hunger in Somalia — that has been a problem since I was 10. I'm 32 now.

  • Keep up with what's going on in Somalia by visiting Oxfam. (If you scroll to the bottom of this page, there is news about what they're doing to help.)

  • You can donate to Oxfam or UNICEF, if you'd like.

  • Most important: Be vocal, share news and articles about it, and keep it fresh on peoples' minds. If we aren't talking about a problem, how are we going to help fix it?
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