What can you do to help?

WHAT more can you do to help Brahana Girma, her five small children, and the millions more like them suffering from starvation throughout sub-Saharan black Africa?

Brahana had six children but one died. She trudged into the Alamata emergency feeding center from a distant, abandoned village, ''and even if it rains I won't go back there,'' she says sitting on the dirt floor of the camp. ''There's nothing left.''

Up to 10 million people in Ethiopia alone need food now. Drought is widening in Sudan. It is dire in the West African Sahel region, and down the east coast to Mozambique and beyond.

Since this summer individuals in North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia, and elsewhere have responded dramatically to television films and news reports. In fact, they have urged their governments to do more.

The Reagan administration, pushed by Democrats in Congress, has earmarked 550 ,000 metric tons of emergency food for Africa worth $200 million since the end of September - already more than the 505,000 metric tons in US emergency food aid for Africa in the 12 months to Oct. 1.

US-based relief agencies report the largest outpouring of voluntary public contributions since the Kampuchean (Cambodian) refugee crisis five years ago. Schoolchildren, businesspeople, retirees, and students are sending checks, manning phones, and hosting fund drives across the country in a major grass-roots efforts to aid disaster victims.

The six largest US relief agencies report a total of more than $10 million donated since the pictures of starving Ethiopians filled television screens five weeks ago. Other instances of public giving include:

* A toll-free hotline set up by Interaction, an umbrella organization for 120 American relief agencies, is receiving public pledges of $200,000 each week.

* More than $18,000 was raised among local communities in northern Michigan after Mark Bonter, a Traverse City businessman, broadcast an amateur TV commericial asking for donations.

* In Boston, more than $8,000 was contributed by the local Ethiopian community during two recent fundraisers. One cab driver donated his entire day's take of $70.

* In Pennsylvania, schoolchildren at local high schools collected 41 tons of whole wheat flour, brown rice, and powdered milk during two recent drives that raised more than $35,000.

Officials from the Save the Children Fund agreed to accept the food and ship it to Ethiopia at a cost of up to $185 a ton, but added that the schools ''did exactly the wrong thing.'' Relief agency officials said the $35,000 in cash would have brought food to the drought victims faster.

* Ed Stein, a Colorado newspaper cartoonist, raised $10,000 in five days by selling his original editorial cartoons.

* US individuals chartered jets and small planes to carry food, blankets, sweaters (it is now extremely cold at night in Ethiopia's highlands) and plastic sheeting to Africa.

British households flooded relief agencies with (STR)8 million ($9.6 million) between July 19 and Aug. 31, added more than (STR)1 million ($1.2 million) more by September - and, in a new wave of giving after seeing more television coverage, gave more than (STR)5 million ($6 million) more in October and November.

* Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip sent a personal check. The Queen Mother sent another. Amounts were not disclosed, but were described by relief officials later as ''generous.''

Pensioners sent (STR)1 notes. Children sent their pocket money. Boarders in high schools stuffed pound notes into collection boxes. One private school in Surrey raised (STR)350 ($440) in two days.

The Oxfam (UK) relief agency reported as many as 400 telephone calls an hour in October.

* David Williams, editor of the Brighton Evening Argus on the south coast of England, wrote a Page One appeal for funds, raised (STR)50,000 ($60,000) in a matter of days, spent half of it in fuel for a chartered Boeing 707 whose owners provided the plane itself free, had Oxfam donate 25,000 blankets, and accompanied the Boeing to Addis Ababa himself.

* Ted Hynds, a magazine publisher in Exeter in southwest England, helped raise (STR)4,000 ($4,800), hired a small Beechcraft plane, and flew 1.5 tons of plastic sheeting to Addis. The journey takes a commercial jet six hours. It took the Beechcraft four days and nights. It flew through sheet lightning near Athens, discovered that navigation beacons on the Sahara desert were out of action, and landed in Khartoum with only 10 gallons of fuel left.

Individuals have helped in other ways:

Hollywood actors Eddie Arnold, Dennis Weaver, Harvey Korman, and Jeff Bridges attended the annual Presidential World Without Hunger awards in Washington a few weeks ago. Singer and actor John Denver led a group from the California-based The Hunger Project to Somalia, Zimbabwe, and Mozambique Sept. 15-Oct. 11 to make a TV documentary.

A manicurist in Los Angeles now talks with clients one day a week about the need to help Africa's starving people.

Relief workers from Susan Barber in Addis to Jacques Wilmore in Harare, Zimbabwe, work on the spot to alleviate suffering.

''People think they don't matter,'' says Joan Holmes of The Hunger Project. ''But if we think we can help, we do. . . . We can go to our schools, for instance, and see what they are teaching about Africa.''

Says Rep. Benjamin A. Gilman (R) of New York, member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee: ''If you ask people, 'Are you prepared to help the hungry?' they say 'yes.' But if you ask them, 'Do you support more money for foreign aid?' they say 'no.'

''We have to bring these two ideas together. If people see the need, they'll respond. But we have a long way to go.''

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