Residents in Ottawa are feeling the humanitarian crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

“They left us a message saying, ‘Please help us, we are starving,’” said Azeb Gebrehiwot, an Ottawa resident who has family in Tigray and part of the Association of Tigrayan Communities in Canada. “Imagine how painful it is to hear that and not being able to call them back.”

It was a voice message that Gebrehiwot waited for months to hear, confirmation that at least her nephew is alive in Tigray.

“I don’t know if they are alive or dead; if they’re starving to death,” she said. “I think about my nieces and my nephews.”

She says her entire family is in the Tigray region, an area of Ethiopia where a war has been underway for more than a year. Blockades prevented food and aid from reaching millions. It is the world’s worst hunger crisis in a decade.

The UN estimates that 90 per cent of the six million people in the region are in urgent need for humanitarian assistance.

A convoy of food aid trucks finally entered the region on Friday. It was the first since mid-December.

“When it comes to genocide, we should not be watching idly,” said Gebrehiwot. “The whole world should be rallying together to end a genocide.”

Dozens of protesters took to the streets in Ottawa’s ByWard Market on Saturday to show support.

“We are trying to raise money to send 40 medical kits to Tigray, we have raised $20,000 and we are trying to raise $20,000 more,” said Tsion Tekie, of United Tegaru Canada.

Supporters are trying to put pressure on the Canadian government to enforce sanctions and save people from dying.

“It’s one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world, but unfortunately it’s a crisis that much of the world doesn’t even know about,” said Feben Gebru, who lives in Ottawa and is an activist for the region.

For Gebrehiwot, the worry never ends.

“Imagine the guilt and the shame that you feel,” she said, “being unable to help your family and not being able to send them money because there’s no banking service in Tigray.”

She believes her nephew was able to get through to her in the voicemail because of help from the International Red Cross.

Now, she waits and hopes to hear from them again.

Organizers say the fundraising efforts are being put together by United Tegaru Canada.