“Dr. Hawa Abdi is the fiercest, most compassionate frontline humanitarian and doctor on the planet. The story of her extraordinary life, which defies imagination, instills courage in each of us” – Eliza Griswold, journalist and author of Tenth Parallel
Last week I received an email from ONE Moms, a nonpartisian group I work with as a Community Partner to advocate against extreme poverty, that an inspiring humanitarian, doctor and human rights lawyer was coming to town. Dr. Hawa Abdi known as “The Mother Teresa of Somalia” and a Nobel Peace Prize nominee was coming to Minneapolis to speak on the release of her recent book co-authored by American writer Sarah Robbins, “Keeping Hope Alive” which is an incredibly moving memoir about how Dr. Hawa along with her two daughters has helped 90,000 of her fellow Somalis remain safe, healthy and educated for over 20 years during a time of intense turmoil, violence and destruction in Somalia.
I had never heard of Dr. Abdi or her work before yet I was immediately fascinated. The thought of one woman saving so many people’s lives by building a hospital and a community of over 90,000 people in her backyard during an extremely dangerous civil war seemed unfathomable. I had to hear her story.
“Dr. Hawa Abdi embodies the resilience, compassion, and grace of the human spirit.” – Alyse Nelson, preseident and CEO, Vital Voices Global Partnership
The event was scheduled on a April 9th, an unseasonably cold night only blocks away from my house in Southwest Minneapolis. Minnesota has the largest population of Somali refugees in the United States and its strong community has been ever increasing over the years. As a fellow Minnesotan and advocate on social good, I desperately wanted to learn more about Somalia – its culture, history, war, suffering and women’s rights. I was hoping that attending Dr. Hawa Abdi’s event and reading her book would answer some of the questions I had and educate me on Somali life.
The bookstore was packed with people from all over the city including a large amount of Somalis who had come to Minnesota to start a new life. During the next thirty minutes, I sat at the edge of my chair and listened in utter amazement to the exceptionally beautiful, haunting and powerful story of Dr. Hawa Abdi’s work. How Dr. Abdi persevered during so many awful hardships and tragedies. How Dr. Abdi became Somalia’s first female gynecologist. How she continued on to build her hospital which began only as a small one-room clinic to an entire community serving 90,000 people with health care, education, a women’s center and job training. How this courageous, strong-willed woman stood her ground against violence and even being attacked by the militia. She is truly a testament of the sacrifice, courage and selflessness that one woman can have to help humanity.
Following the event, I received the great news that as ONE Moms and Community Partners we had the unique opportunity to conduct a Google + interview with Dr. Hawa, her daughter Deqo and co-author Sarah Robbins. The live interview happened today where we were able to ask Dr. Abdi more questions about her work.
Dr. Abdi talked about how hard it is to change the traditional Somali roles of women being inferior to men. However, it is proof that it can be done as Dr. Abdi and her daughters are living proof and role models of amazing, powerful leaders in the community. Their example has lead to change.
Her biggest fear is constantly the fear of being attacked. In May 2010, her hospital and camp were brutally attacked by armed militia leaving innocent women, children and families defenseless. Although the situation in Somalia has improved and stabilized over the last year with Somalia’s first somewhat stable government, years of history prove that this stability is fragile. There still remains much division among Somalia people and clans.
Finally, the last question was what can we do to help. Obviously achieving sustainable funding for the camp and hospital are critical. The only way this war-torn country is going to ever change is by providing hope: Hope to an education, hope to an escape from poverty, hope to an end of fighting and suffering, and hope for a better life for all.
Bio: Dr. Hawa Abdi
Dr Hawa Abdi Diblaawe was born in 1947 in Mogadishu. Her father was a worker in the city’s port and her mother died when she was very young. As the eldest child, Hawa was forced to raise her four sisters in conditions of poverty. But she never lost hope sight of her dreams.
“My father was an educated man,” she recalls, “He made sure I had the chance to become a doctor.”
With the help of a Soviet scholarship, Hawa studied medicine in Kiev and soon became Somalia’s first female gynecologist. She then completed a Law degree at the Somali National University in Mogadishu, where she later became an Assistant Professor of Medicine. She soon opened a clinic on her family’s ancestral land in the Afgooye Corridor, using the profits from her family land to provide free health care to all of her countrymen.
When the civil war began in 1991, Dr. Hawa started housing her employees on her land, feeding them and caring for them. Soon their friends and relatives came seeking shelter, then after the friends and relatives of their friends and relatives. Dr. Hawa welcome them all, providing shelter to all those who came regardless of where they came from. In 2012, Dr. Hawa’s land housed more than 90,000 refugees, most of whom are women and children.
Today, Dr. Hawa Abdi continues to fighter for the women, children and elderly people of the Hawa Abdi Village. With the help of her two amazing daughters, Deqo and Amina, both of whom are doctors who have followed in her footsteps, Dr. Hawa continues to keep a candle of light lit for the people of the Afgooye Corridor. Dr. Hawa has won numerous distinctions and awards, including the John Jay Justice Award, Vital Voices’ Women of the Year Award and a nomination for the Noble Peace Prize in 2012. U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has called Dr Abdi “a perfect example of the kind of woman who inspires me”.
The Hawa Abdi Village
The Hawa Abdi Village has developed over the last twenty nine years as individuals have come to Doctor Hawa’s land in search of relief and shelter. There were 90,000 residents living in the Hawa Abdi Village in 2012, mainly consisting of women, children and the elderly.
The Hawa Abdi Village’s well boasts the only source of free fresh water in the region, and we are developing a ‘smart farming’ agriculture program aims to give Somalia a defense against famine and climate change. Our hospital boasts 300 beds and provides vaccinations, along with maternal and pediatric care, to everyone who comes to our doors. The Waqaf-Dhiblawe Primary School meanwhile seeks to lay the foundation for a new future by educating a new generation of Somali leaders.
What began as a simple camp for Internally Displaced Persons has developed into a vibrant community. Dr. Hawa is extremely pleased to have given so many Somalis a place to stay and hopes to see the Hawa Abdi Village continue to prosper.
For more information, please visit the Dr. Hawa Abdi Foundation website at: http://www.dhaf.org